Danni Ashe is one entrepreneur who’s figured out how to make real money on the Internet. According to U.S. News & World Report, Ashe’s website brought $1.2 million in sales last year.
But Danni Ashe is no ordinary entrepreneur. Danni is a former stripper. Her website offers X-rated videotapes, live peep shows, and digital photographs. And it’s a smashing success. A million and a half people visit Danni on-line every single day.
The Danni Ashe website is just the tip of the Internet iceberg. The amount of sexually explicit material on-line is mind-boggling. And the same technology that enables Danni Ashe to thrive is making it increasingly difficult for communities to control the spread of sexually explicit materials.
Access to smut used to be controlled by a combination of stigma and law. People who wanted steamy magazines and X-rated films had to visit an adult bookstore in a seedy neighborhood. If they bought smut through the mail, they would receive the infamous “plain brown wrapper” that all but announced “pervert!”
THE AMOUNT OF SEXUALLY EXPLICIT
But today, people can peruse steamy photographs through the Internet without leaving their homes or risking embarrassment.
The Information Age has also affected the power of the law to restrict the spread of sexually explicit material. In 1962 the Supreme Court, in Miller v. California, ruled that each local community could determine what was “obscene” according to its own particular standards.
The Miller standard allowed communities to declare themselves “smut free zones” and prosecute the purveyors of pornography. By declining to set a national standard defining obscenity, the court freed places like Kansas City and Tulsa from having to adopt the more liberal standards of New York or San Francisco.
This may have worked when community meant people living together in the same neighborhood or town. But, as MIT professor Michael Dertouzos writes in his book What Will Be, in the Information Age distance is measured not in kilometers but in keystrokes. A man in Copenhagen is as close to you as your next-door neighbor.
So if a man in Tulsa buys pornographic material from an on-line vendor in San Francisco, whose “community standard” applies? Even if you conclude that Tulsa’s standard applies to the pornographer, in all likelihood, he will simply move his operations overseas. In fact, that’s already happening.
Furthermore, if physical proximity isn’t essential to community, like-minded folks from Honolulu to Hackensack will be able to insist that they belong to the same “community”—and that way they can claim immunity from the standards of their real-life local community.
If parents want to protect their children from on-line purveyors of porn, they will have to be especially vigilant. If your own kids spend a lot of time on-line, find out if the access provider has the capability of blocking out the smut. If it doesn’t, switch to a provider that does. And then, learn how to use the software yourself. In an age when strippers like Danni Ashe make millions through on-line red-light districts, you and I must become as comfortable on-line as our children and grandchildren are.
That’s the only way to help them benefit from the Information Age technology… without being victimized by its dark side.