Virtual Porn, Real Harm? Supreme Court Wades Into 1st Amendment Swamp

Posted: April 19, 2002

IF VIDEO A is a pornographic movie featuring real child actors, and Video B is the exact same movie, recreated to include "virtual" actors, that is computer-generated images of children indistinguishable from the real thing, is there a difference?

On Tueday, the Supreme Court said there's a big difference: Video A is illegal, but Video B is not.

And while that ruling, overturning the Child Pornography Protection Act, may make constitituional and legal sense - the court said it struck down the original law for being too vaguely worded - it doesn't make much sense on any other level.

To the naked eye, there's virtually no difference between the videos. To the heart and soul, there isn't, either.

But the damage to society's view of children that we can imagine being done by either of these movies is, unfortunately, only imagined, as is the fear that fake movies will feed a pedophile's hunger for real ones. The lack of connection between viewing "bad images" and damage to actual children was unproven. That's why the Court ruled as it did.

Since we're also champions of the First Amendment, we support the court's decision - but that doesn't mean we like it.

It's tempting to believe that the Internet, with its astounding ability to create a life-like world, invented the concept of virtual reality. Except that some version of "virtual reality" has probably existed as long as reality itself.

An example: In recent times, how about the contrast between the clay feet of many of our leaders, and the alternate reality they worked hard to create for their followers? The Camelot-drenched image of JFK as a saint despite reports of serious womanizing is one example of virtual reality.

The move away from sacred images and into realism of 17th century paintings is another. For that matter, the depiction of beasts on the first cave walls was a kind of virtual reality.

Artisitic expression, though, has usually been championied by the Supreme Court.

But sometimes, you have to wonder: Whose rights are more important? An adult's, to express himself in almost whatever way he wishes, or a child's right to innocence, even if it means being overprotective with our laws?

We're glad it's not our job to have to decide. *

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