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(February 10, 2000, Gazette)

By Kelley Power

Nothing is more tiresome than a point belaboured or a topic talked to death.

Despite the fact that I know this and usually find it to be a philosophy to live by, I feel as if I just have to have my kick at the cat; I cannot let the issue of porn being allowed on the campus computers to go un-commented on.

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because this is a column – meaning that what I offer for your reading pleasure is my opinion – I feel as if I must defend my point of view by giving you a little bit of personal info.

I am not a prude. I don’t place particular restrictions on the content of the movies I watch, I don’t turn the channel at the first sign of an exposed breast or buttock on late night t.v. and I believe firmly in the individual’s right to have whatever peculiarities he or she might, as long as they are not harmful to others.

So, rest assured that you are not reading the ramblings of an uptight, morally-overburdened extremist. In fact, I’m probably more liberal than the next person.

Having said that, I feel I can now safely go on to describe the foul taste I get in my mouth every time the issue of viewing pornography in public rears its ugly head. And I’m not the only one that feels this way.
Just the other day I read a note posted on the bulletin board in the library that had come from the suggestion box. In it, a student complained about a fellow patron viewing pornography on a computer terminal in the QE II Library. And at the end of January, CBC broadcast a story about a parent in St. John’s campaigning for a law limiting Internet access at libraries.

My questions are, Where do we draw the line at freedom of expression and, Is it fair to allow one person such freedom when it trespasses on the rights of others?

Frankly, it frightens me that I live in a country where a man charged with possession of child pornography can be acquitted on the basis of ‘freedom of expression’. But then, just because he had that material didn’t necessarily mean that he was a potential danger to children. Right. Now yank the other leg.

Oh, sorry. There I go again, getting all upset about the many inadequacies of the legal system. Sometimes I despair over the future of laws, rules and regulations when half the time the purpose they were designed to serve is forgotten in the face of loose interpretation.

For example, returning to our library problem, in a page taken from the MUN Policy and Procedures Manual, in the section detailing the appropriate use of computing facilities, it states, “The University considers that all uses of the computing facilities by authorized users are appropriate, with the exception of the following activities, from which all users are expected to refrain: ... (4) any use which may reasonably be considered offensive to such a degree that it may hinder other users in the performance of their duties.”

Note the use of the word reasonably in that last sentence. Does it seem suspiciously synonymous with loophole? I mean, how can you enforce a rule that each person will interpret differently?

Myself, I consider porn to be way past the mark of ‘reasonably offensive,’ transcending into realm of ‘grossly disturbing’ when I have to see it in a public place. But if mine were the universal opinion, I wouldn’t be writing this now; based on the above regulation, porn would be forbidden in the QE II.

Perhaps there is a reluctance to outlaw porn viewing because – again, as per the manual – it is one of those uses that acts “ promote a spirit of intellectual curiosity and to foster the dissemination and discussion of competing ideas and points of view.”

I can see it now. I’ll be in the library some night and see a person turn to his or her porn-viewing neighbour and they’ll say, “Hey! Will you look at those! Definitely double-D. What do you think?” Or maybe, “I didn’t know people could do THAT. Did you?”

All very intellectual.

Maybe I’m supposed to approach this problem from the point of view that we live in a sexually-liberated society, that we should be comfortable with all aspects of sex. Fine. Sex, I’m comfortable with. What I don’t want is to be a party to a stranger’s personal cyber-life.
And, of course, we have to consider the evil of censorship. Admittedly, we do not want to create a Stalinesque society where everything we read and watch is regulated by Big Brother. However, I don’t think we risk becoming a police state when we seek to protect the general public from exposure to something which I’m sure most would agree, should be one’s own decision to view.

Now, I swore to myself that I would be long into wrinkle cream and shuffle board before I uttered the following statement, but I simply must say it – What is the world coming to?

We seem to be getting more tolerant and jaded by the day. I’m not an anti-individualist, but sometimes I think that we in North America carry the principle of individuality too far, sacrificing the general health of our society in the process.

And while this trend continues to manifest itself at our local university library, I guess I’ll just have to sit tight and look fixedly at my monitor the next time my neighbour decides to surf the Web – I can do without a glimpse of Marvellous Marla and her 101 novel tricks with a leather whip.