The July 21, 2012 New York Times reports that
An antipornography group, Morality in Media, has in recent months launched a “no porn on the plane” campaign, and has contacted most major airlines to argue that they should commit to policing what people watch. The group took up the cause after its executive director, Dawn Hawkins, was on a flight in January and noticed a man in the row in front of her looking at images on his iPad of naked women whipping each other. She complained to the flight attendant, who told her he was powerless to force the man to stop, she recalled. The man eventually turned off the images, but Ms. Hawkins continued to press him on why he was looking at those images in public.
Well, good for you Dawn Hawkins—you did the right thing. So many other individuals would have sat there uncomfortably and seethed. You acted, and you were in the right.
What’s one to make of individuals watching smut on their Iphones and other personal media devices around other people?
Well, first and foremost—ewww! Really, how sad must an individual’s life be that he watches porn around strangers. It is pretty pathetic, and not just a little bit creepy. Get a life!
Beyond the visceral disgust, in part this is a predictable consequence of technological innovation. When cellular phones arrived, people began doing in public what they used to do in private—blabbing on the telephone. Often, VERY LOUDLY, and they are not hesitant to discuss matters that would not previously had been discussed within earshot of strangers (e.g., one’s latest proctological examination). With portable video, it was inevitable that some folks would bring dirty film into public places. People are just stupid that way. (This past week, I nearly ran down a guy who was looking at his cellphone and walked into traffic.)
Mostly, though, this is about courtesy and common sense. Pace some of the folks who commented on the Times article, this is not a First Amendment issue. Watching videos is not speech; there is no First Amendment right to consume pornography whenever and wherever you please.
Moreover, at heart this is not a media consumption issue. It is a media rebroadcasting issue. Nobody cares if someone watches dirty movies in the privacy of his own home. People do care if they are having smut pushed on them. This is why people are complaining. It is a pretty simple matter: people do not like to be stuck sitting next to someone on a plane who has music blasting from their headphones; nor do they appreciate having their neighbor read Mein Kampf at the top of his lungs at 3 AM. This is why airplanes, trains, and other public venues have rules prohibiting behaviors such as these—because they are rude and afflict others.
According to the Times, state and local legislatures are debating whether to pass laws to restrict this behavior. This saddens me, but not because I mind seeing people fined or jailed for watching porn in public places. Rather, it is a shame that government should have to expend precious time and resources because a small number of individuals (probably all men) are so grossly lacking in common sense or courtesy.
It is an old story, freedom is abused, freedom is curtailed. If we are lucky, more Dawn Hawkins sorts will step up and shame these people. I suggest taking a photo of anyone watching smut in public and then posting it online with hashtags like, #loser, #creep, #pornaddict, and the like. Or maybe one might stand up and announce to everyone, “This guy sitting next to me is watch farm porn! Look at him—what a loser!” Right now, it is a cost-free proposition for creeps to watch smut in public; taking actions of this sort would create a penalty that might get them to think twice. And it might obviate the need for government to get involved.
Postscript: With this issue comes the question, “What about public libraries? Should they block pornographic websites to keep patrons from looking at them and scaring other patrons?” My answer is, “yes.” Public libraries are under no obligation to stock every book published, nor every magazine published or video released. Public libraries have limited resources that they may expend to benefit the public according to the librarians’ professional judgment.
In line with that principle, I do not believe that public libraries are obligated to make their computers pipelines for delivering pornography. If a library want to set up filters to stop patrons from accessing pornographic websites, they may. The entire premise of public libraries is the notion that some people cannot afford access to books that provide knowledge, it is utterly absurd to argue that libraries must allow patrons to surf porn at them.
Moreover, a public library is just that—public. Allowing its computers to become movie screen for pornography is unfair to the vast majority of patrons who come to the library with no expectation of being exposed to smut. Really, should any person have to worry, “Am I (or my mother or kids) going to see a pervert ogling an orgy video when I step into a public library?” Public libraries are not adult theaters.
(And it should also be noted that many porn sites are fronts for criminal schemes that seek to implant malware on computers to steal credit card information and etc. Any library that allows access to porn sites ups the odds that its computers will be infected with malware. Which, again, means allotting limited public resources to pay for people to consume pornography.)