AS TOLD BY CONOR CORCORAN:As often bemused and bemoaned on this website, Philadelphia is a city of colossal contradiction and irony.
Our beloved metropolis, now an epicenter of the avant-garde in many aspects, is a parallel universe compared to the Philadelphia of the 1970s and 1980s. Our ne’er-do-well neighborhoods, once domains of deviance, now entice our citizens and enrich our economy. A new day has dawned in City Hall, heralding a new era of ennobling, political parlez-vous, and serving as a welcome flip-side to the deafening cacophony of a divisive Philadelphia that has plagued us for decades.
Sen. Arlen Specter, however, takes the cake. As District Attorney of Philadelphia, he prosecuted the owners of Robin’s Bookstore for selling Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Decades later, he would usher in the latest members of the Supreme Court, from his perch as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – the government body that determines who interprets our Constitution.
Philadelphia, you lascivious jezebel. I pine for you so.
I’m not immune to it. Heretofore an unrelenting professor of liberal thought, after finding my bicycle stolen this morning on my way to work, I thought about the Faustian consequences of registering Republican if, and only if, I got a chance to waterboard the son of a bitch who hastily absconded with my ride. Contradiction is the spice of life on the shores of the Schuylkill. C’est la vie.
It is with this joie de vivre, dear reader, that I respectfully submit for your cerebral percolation this submission for Philly Internet History Week.
After the jump, our resident attorney ponders Philly’s odd but appropriate role in the ongoing litigations for and against Internet freedoms.
Consider this, a conundrum of constitutional proportions, as only Philadelphia would have it. Since the 1990s, at the corner of 6th and Market, federal prosecutors have been stridently attempting to censor free speech on the Internet, just one block from where that same federal government became the progenitor of the very First Amendment that should be promoted and protected in the first place.
Congress first passed the Communications Decency Act, crafted to stem the growing prevalence of online child pornography. In 1997, concluding years of litigation initiated in Philadelphia, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Six months after that, Congress gave the okey-dokey to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which levied criminal penalties upon Web proprietors who proffered “material that is harmful to minors” on the Internet.
That crafty little phrase was defined so broadly that a cornucopia of online information could be the basis for a criminal prosecution if it offended “contemporary community standards.”
Can you imagine? COPA’s consequences were devastating. Riddle me this, Philebrities: Let’s say a Philadelphia photographer posted his work on his website (say, something à la Mapplethorpe, perhaps an enraptured, homosexual embrace). Then, suppose said photograph offended some flaming homophobe of a parent in, oh I don’t know, the space between San Francisco and Pittsburgh, because his ten year old caught a glimpse of Adam and Steve – well, said the Feds, you can kiss your free speech goodbye, because they want to put that photographer in the pokey. (Oy gevault. Food for thought: Is this not fodder for further conversation about why cities on the West and East Coasts should secede from the Union? Talk amongst yourselves.)
And so the whole circus began again, finally concluding just last month with a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (also at 6th and Market) that found COPA to be more constitutionally noxious than a dozen margaritas. The Feds have until the close of business today to file an appeal to the Supremes, which seems unlikely; but then again, in Philadelphia, anything can happen.
The lesson to be learned is this: The Feds want to limit children’s access to pornography, as well as their participation therein, and kudos to them. But in their hurried, manic rush to do so, they’ve run roughshod over the fundamental tenets of our society. (Sound familiar? This isn’t just the behavior of the Bush administration, however. Remember this: COPA litigation began under the auspices of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno).
In an era where our legislators are influenced by blithering religious fundamentalists and parochial lobbyists, where our prosecutors are overwhelmingly interested in their batting averages rather than the pursuit of justice, and where (to paraphrase Lewis Black) the Feds’ exacerbating response to dire threats tends to run along the lines of “Hoooooly SHIT! We’ve got to do EVERYTHING!”, there is to be found an acute pride in Our City of Fraternal Amorosity. Because here in Philadelphia, where freedom of speech was first crafted, the elemental tenants of civil society have been reaffirmed, time and time again, in spite of the delusions of the unlettered and the relentless tyranny of the majority. If you give a lick at all for your civil liberties, folks, Philadelphia is quite literally the place to be, for Philadelphia best exemplifies what it means to live, thrive, and express thyself in America. Philadelphia – get to know us, indeed.