Patricia Nell Warren's comments to NAS porn panel (resend)
- Date: Mon, 08 Jan 2001 11:00:52 -0500
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- Subject: FC: Patricia Nell Warren's comments to NAS porn panel (resend)
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[Patricia's comments to the NAS panel that I forwarded on Saturday were cut
off. Here they are in their entirety. BTW Eudora 5.0, which I am now using
for some email, rated this message with two hot peppers, saying it is
"likely to offend the average reader." Shows what computers know. --Declan]
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I'm still trying to figure out how the message got truncated, since my AOL
"sent mail" showed it going through entire. But I've heard of other recent
incidents where AOL mail truncated messages. To be on the safe side, I am
resending it in two parts. This is Part I, and Part II follows. Sorry about
Patricia Nell Warren
Subj: Comments on National Academy of Science workshop/online porn
Date: 01/05/2001 5:54:39 PM Pacific Standard Time
To: email@example.com, Gpritcha@Nas.Edu, Dllata@Nas.Edu
Dr. Herb Lin
Ms. Gail Pritchard
Mr. Daniel D. Llata
Senior Project Assistant
Dear Dr. Lin, Ms. Pritchard, and Mr. Llata,
Someone forwarded your workshop announcement to me. I was unable to attend
the workshop, owing to the lateness of your announcement, but want to offer
some personal perspectives on the history and "human nature" aspect of youth
accessibility to materials deemed "pornographic."
My credentials: I've worked as a volunteer teacher in Los Angeles Unified
School District. There I also served as an LAUSD commissioner of education,
on both the Human Relations Education Commission and the Gay and Lesbian
Education, doing everything from parent outreach to advisory work for board
member Caprice Young, and addressing the L.A. Board of Education on vital
issues. I've lectured in schools for many years, and edited an online
publication called YouthArts. In addition, I've been a plaintiff in both
ACLU lawsuits against the Justice Department, ACLU/ALA v. Reno I and ACLU v.
Reno II. As a published author, I've written widely about history and
It is difficult to pinpoint what "Internet porn" is. As I'm sure you're
aware, some citizens, lawmakers and government officials who want the
Internet regulated for content are willing to target it narrowly. Others
want to cast a very broad net, barring minors' access not only to hardcore
sexual porn, but to any content on sexuality, sexual health, AIDS, feminist
philosophy, violence, and of course anything relating to sexual orientation.
In this commentary, I'll use the broader definition, because inevitably, in
a reactionary time -- the kind we're living in -- broader censorship creeps
I am almost 65 years old, but vividly remember the last era of American
history where large numbers of our citizens were ouchy about what young
people -- especially minors -- could legally view. In my 65 years I have
learned three things:
1. Many kids find their way to forbidden subjects anyway, in spite of the
most determined preventive efforts by adults. Indeed, our history shows that
bans and barricades actually make kids curious, and eager to climb over them.
2. Kids who do NOT respect their parents' dictums about certain things will
engage in forbidden behaviour, whether it's substance abuse or viewing online
porn behind their parents' backs. Or, to put it another way, kids don't
respect their parents when parents don't respect them in return.
3. Today the key to minors' Internet use is not what's legal or illegal. It
is the degree of RESPECT that exists between a minor child and the parents.
Control is not a substitute for respect. It amazes me to see parents who
support "family values" demanding government censorship on the Net. In other
words, their family values have failed, and they can't control their
children, so they expect the government to control the situation for them.
But all the government laws and regulations in the world cannot fill this
vaccuum, or force a child to respect parents' wishes if respect is absent in
the family. Respect is important whether the family is a conservative
religious family or a liberal freethinking family.
I grew up in a small conservative Montana rural town -- Deer Lodge (pop.
6000). In the postwar 1940s, there was no Internet or television to censor
-- just radio, newspapers, magazines, books and movies. U.S. broadcast and
news media were still sewed up tight. Beyond the wartime censorship
mandates, certain types of news were not inked or broadcast simply because
they were viewed as "not fit for people to know." My small town was crowded
with active churches -- Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, First Baptist,
Methodist, Jehovah's Witness, Presbyterian, Reformed Church of Latter-Day
Saints, even a Christian Science reading room. So religion had its say about
I vividly recall how Deer Lodge students learned about a sex crime that was
not reported in the local press -- a crime that today would be routinely
reported on the evening news (albeit with the under-age criminal not
identified). I was 12 at the time. A boy in my 8th-grade class, who was a
popular athlete and straight A student, was charged with a crime against a
little girl. We kids found out about it anyway, through our own
investigative efforts, because we had to know why Martin was suddenly not in
class, not at home, nor seen about town. Our hair stood on end because of
the extreme hush-hush atmosphere around this event. Martin simply vanished
from our lives. There was no "grief counseling" or "crisis counseling" for
those of us who had liked and admired him -- the matter was simply ignored by
adult authorities, and we were left to figure out for ourselves what "rape"
meant. Martin was tried and convicted behind closed doors and sent to the
state reformatory. His family moved out of town. Nobody ever learned who the
little girl was.
So the local censorship network did fail...yet we children were left with
lingering emotional wounds because of the absence of information.
Local censorship also failed to keep us from knowing when a schoolmate got
pregnant. There were two or three cases of unmarried pregnancy in my
graduating class of 80, in 1953. Like Martin, these girls simply vanished
from the town. The grapevine told us that they had been sent to the
Crittenden Home for Wayward Girls in Helena to have their babies, and the
children put up for adoption. Censorship did succeed in keeping an aura of
secrecy and shame around the subject of unmarried pregnancy, and in helping
destroy this young girls' lives.
Ditto the subject of sexual orientation. So dire was secrecy on this subject
that my schoolmates and I had only a vague idea of what "fairy" or "queer"
meant. With "gay liberation" still 70 years in the future, I never met a
student or teacher who was openly "gay," or read a gay book, or saw a gay
film. But the total blackout didn't keep me from knowing that I was
But things were changing. No doubt the town's 1940s sensibilities were
deeply impacted by returning young men and women who had been in the war.
They had left Deer Lodge with their sociological "virginity" intact -- naive
and uneducated about certain things. After months in the barracks, and
months or years of European or South Pacific combat, and the wild social life
that usually comes with wartime, they returned home strangely changed.
Publically they had little to say about the violence they had participated
in, atrocities they had witnessed, sexual relationships they'd had in the
countries where they'd been sent...beyond what would fit into the war-time
rah-rah expressions then allowed.
It's worth mentioning "violence," which some people today also want banned on
the Net. I need to remind you that there was little censorship of "violence"
in those wartime and postwar days. Perhaps our government and news media
agreed that violent images would keep U.S. citizens inflamed against the
Japanese and German enemy right to the end. So the news photography that
reached the newsreels and newsmagazines was way more graphic than those
allowed today. I can still remember some of the unblurred war scenes that I
saw in Movietone newsreels and Life Magazine. They were more gruesome than
anything you'd see done with special effects in a Hollywood film today,
because we all knew they were REAL. On top of this, children's games and toys
and comic books of the day focused on war and weapons, whether the ubiquitous
cap pistol or the toy soldiers. G.I. Joe toys go all the way back to World
Did these powerful lingering violent images, and those that came out of the
Korean War scant years later, turn me and my schoolmates into a generation of
violent criminals? If anything, these images made us lovers of peace.
History records that it was young people of my generation, and those who
grew up during the Korean War, who stuck daisies up gun-barrels and marched
against the Vietnam War. If anything, the violent media of our childhoods
made us turn against violence.
(go to part II)
World War II saw the crumbling of other sex-related censorship bars too --
portrayals of divorce, fornication, etc. Real life was leading the way. ¬ Some
servicemen returned with pregnant war brides -- clearly they had been
fornicating out there. ¬ Other marriages crumbled under wartime pressures, so
there was more divorce and remarriage. ¬ This happened in my own family, when
my mother's sister divorced her alcoholic husband and married a Marine
fighter pilot. Books and movies were quicker than radio, newspapers and
magazines to move onto this cutting edge of greater sexual explicitness,
because they could deal in the "fictional." ¬ Yet censors saw books and movies
as scary sources of controversial ideas filtering into young minds. ¬
The publication of "Gone With the Wind," and release of the movie in 1939, is
a case in point. ¬ It showed how U.S. social resistance to airing certain
subjects was already crumbling in the 1930s. ¬ Yet well into the postwar
period, in some localities, this book and film stirred controversy as intense
as some Internet controversies today. It's strange to look back at this --
today the book and film seem so bland, so venerably classic, controversial
only for their portrayal of blacks. ¬ But in the 1940s some parents viewed
"Gone With the Wind" the way some parents view Playboy Online today. ¬
Since there are no explicit sex scenes in either the movie or the book, what
was the uproar about? ¬ ¬ The storyline portrayed a woman who flouted social
mores and did what she pleased -- still a touchy subject in those days when
women had enjoyed the right to vote for less than two decades. ¬ This, and the
story's frank mentions of childbirth, divorce, attempted rape, wartime
atrocities -- even the famous scene where Rhett Butler carries Scarlett up
the stars, and Scarlett's smiling sated expression the morning after, which
hinted at passionate sex -- did not sit well with many Americans of those
times. ¬ Even passionate sex between married couples (Scarlett and Rhett were
married) was a touchy subject.
After World War II, the film was rerun, and returned to the Rialto theater in
Deer Lodge. ¬ Sermons against it were preached from a few pulpits. ¬ ¬
families, especially, held that GWTW was verboten because Scarlett's family
were Catholic and she had therefore flouted Catholic moral doctrines. But
some Protestant families in town also forbade their children to see it. ¬ The
absence of ratings and ID protocols meant that it was up to parents to
control their kids. ¬ The box office simply sold tickets to any kid that
showed up. ¬ Children who respected their parents' wishes stayed away from it.
¬ Children who didn't respect their parents' wishes sneaked to the theater and
saw it anyway. ¬
My liberal Republican Presbyterian parents had no problem with the film,
since they were very interested in history, so the whole family went to see
it -- an exciting experience that I've never forgotten. ¬ I saw it again with
my best girlfriend and her sisters, whose liberal Catholic family also let
them see it. ¬
The same local pattern developed around the book. ¬ Some Deer Lodge parents
wouldn't allow it in their homes. ¬ It was not found in the high-school
library. ¬ I recall a muffled controversy about whether the Deer Lodge public
library should have a copy of GWTW. ¬ But any kid who was curious about the
book, and didn't want to be seen checking it out of the public library, ¬ had
no problem borrowing a copy from a friend whose parents had the book in their
The book entered my life as a Christmas present around 1946, when I was ten.
It came from an aunt and uncle who knew I was a voracious reader and loved
history. ¬ On Christmas morning, by the time my parents had dressed and come
downstairs, I was well into the book. ¬ My parents had a brief discussion
about whether my aunt and uncle should have asked their permission before
giving it to me. ¬ "Oh well, she's already reading it, and it's not going to
kill her," they shrugged. ¬ And it didn't kill me, and I wondered what the
furor was all about.
As with the violent images I saw, I can't say that my life -- or the lives of
schoolmates -- were destroyed by the socially challenging images in "Gone
With the Wind", or seeing the film. ¬ Yet there were people in my childhood
who were as adamant about keeping them away from me as there are people today
who want "online porn" outlawed. ¬ Both my best friend and I grew up to be
law-abiding adults and good citizens, in spite of having seen "Gone With the
Wind". ¬ Neither of us have ever been arrested.
Speaking of religion, those were the heydays of the Index of Forbidden Books
in the Catholic Church. ¬ Though I attended public high school, I converted to
Catholicism at 16 and went to a Catholic girls' college in the mid-50s --
Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. ¬ We girls were fully under the
thumb of the Index. ¬ ¬ The first intellectual stirrings of 1960s revolt could
be felt among us students, so the Index actually spurred us to be curious
about certain books. I was one of those who read them in secret. ¬ Off campus
we had no trouble finding copies of "Fanny," Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man," "Catcher in the Rye," the writings of Gide and Sartre, etc.
¬ I remember a battered paperback of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" being
bootlegged around the dormitories when the good sisters weren't looking.
Eventually, after Vatican II, the Church abandoned the Index, because they
could see that it wasn't working. ¬ They no longer had the power to police
society and punish people for reading forbidden books.
It is my observation that all systems of censorship are doomed to fail,
because they do no more than stimulate citizens' curiosity about forbidden
material. ¬ As someone of 65, I have seen the USSR -- once our dreaded enemy
-- fall apart. Its vast system of Communist censorship, which sent so many
Soviet dissidents to labor camps and death, vanished almost overnight. ¬ I
married a Ukrainian emigre writer in 1957, and lived in the Ukrainian emigre
community in the eastern U.S. for many years. ¬ There I was connected with a
group of young emigre poets called the Noviy Poety, and knew many older
emigre writers and intellectuals who had survived the Stalinist terror and
escaped during World War II. ¬ Despite these extreme efforts by the Communist
system, dissent continued to fester. ¬
In the mid-60s, when the Soviet "thaw" began and the first Soviet artists
were allowed to visit the U.S., I met Soviet Ukrainian dissident writers like
Ivan Drach and Vitaliy Korotych, and heard their personal stories of
resistance to censorship. Communist censorship covered everything from sex to
politics, but it seldom succeeded in keeping people from getting their hands
on forbidden material. ¬ Indeed, people risked their lives to circulate
dissident writings or smuggle in "forbidden" Western publications. ¬ My own
Ukrainian poetry was circulated underground in Ukrainian SSR, where it was
officially viewed as "decadent Western trash".
Where is Soviet censorship now? ¬ It is gone. ¬ The USSR is gone. ¬ Think
The same thing has happened with governments at the other political extreme
-- those ruled by fascist Christian regimes. During the 1960s, I spent a
great deal of time in fascist Spain as a journalist and editor. ¬ I was
working for The Reader's Digest then, spoke Spanish and was helping RD
develop editorial material that could be run in the company's Spanish
edition, Selecciones. ¬ With a state religion in place, the country was still
under strict Catholic and fascist censorship, covering anything of a sexual,
spiritual and political nature that wasn't acceptable to the regime.
This system had been in place since 1939,and the Spanish people were growing
weary of it. ¬ There was a brisk trade in smuggled foreign newspapers and
books, along with the birth-control pill and condoms outlawed in Spain.
¬ Spanish people began traveling abroad in greater numbers, and seeing
uncensored media everywhere. ¬ Spanish students went abroad in greater numbers
to study. ¬ Old and failing, even Generalisimo Franco could see that
censorship's days were numbered, and he relaxed the Press Law somewhat in his
last years. ¬ Belatedly, even some Catholic bishops recognized the Church's
loss of credibility with many Spanish citizens, so they began agitating
openly for change. The moment Franco died in 1975, the new King Juan Carlos
and the Cortes began to liberalize the country. Religious liberty came to
Spain for the first time in over 40 years.
So where is Spanish Catholic/fascist censorship today? ¬ It is gone. ¬ The
regime that mandated it is gone. ¬ Think about that.
Here in the United States, we stand in the doorway of a trend towards strict
censorship. ¬ Your institution, and your hearings, stand in that doorway. ¬ I
don't doubt for a minute that, with a Republican president in the White
House, and growing influence of the religious right on the Republicans, the
U.S. will see increased pressures for censorship at the national, even the
international level. ¬ I'm sure that parents who approve of strict censorship
feel that they are acting in the best interests of their own children, and
other people's children. ¬
But it is my belief that those who seek to censor are ignoring the lessons of
history -- our own history, the history of other modern nations. ¬ The
National Academy of Science is supposedly populated by scientists, so
hopefully you scientists will look at this issue more objectively than do the
political and religious hotheads who advocate censorship.
Today, as in the 1940s, Internet censorship will do no more than create new
levels of curiosity among young people -- whether it is about sex on the Web,
or about violence, or any other controversial content. ¬ Kids will find their
way around the barriers, as they always have. ¬ No one will be able to stop
them, especially since so many of them are technically sophisticated and able
to bypass technical controls. Increased policing of speech -- arrests,
prosecution of adults -- will only accelerate the loss of credibility in
government among young people.
Indeed, looking at the growing severity of juvenile justice, I can foresee
that minors themselves might be prosecuted for viewing objectionable
materials on the Internet, or helping others to view them on the Web --
either on school computers, public-library computers or home computers. ¬ In
some states, kids are now being actually prosecuted for smoking. ¬ Censorship
also is a concern for over-18 students, because some courts deem that even
adult students' speech and access to certain content should be limited on
campuses because of need for "public order." In my opinion, a system that
prosecutes kids for flouting censorship laws will do no more than sow the
seeds for revolt against such a system.
Said Justice Abe Fortas in Tinker V. DesMoines (1969): "In our system,
state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School
officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in
school as well as out of school are 'persons' under our Constitution."
Adds the ACLU, in a cautionary against growing restrictions on youth: "In
spite of the Supreme Court‚Äôs ringing endorsement of students‚Äô rights in
landmark Tinker decision, constitutional violations are far too common in
public schools across the country. Articles about controversial subjects
written for student newspapers are censored. Lockers and backpacks are
searched without reasonable suspicion. Minority students are
disproportionately shunted in lower track programs. Majoritarian religious
practices are officially sanctioned by teachers and school administrators.
Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities, and gay
students are intimidated into silence."
Take it from somebody who hasn't forgotten being one of those rebellious
kids. Parents who want to "protect" their children from certain influences in
our society ought to work at having a good relationship with their children,
rather than insist that the government bail them out by imposing legalistic
and punitive types of "protection" from without. ¬ ¬ Too many parents want to
shuffle their parental responsibilities and challenges onto the government
and the schools and the juvenile-justice system. ¬ I respected my own parents,
and they respected me in return... they didn't overprotect me, and allowed me
a reasonable amount of freedom to read and think...which even included
allowing me to change religions when I was 16.
Thank you for your attention.
Patricia Nell Warren
8306 Wilshire Blvd. Box 8306
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
323/966-2466 phone ¬ ¬ ¬ 323/966-2467 fax ¬
Copyright 2001 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.
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