Christopher Handley has plead guilty for possessing obscene manga. While on the surface it seems a simple matter, the implications are enormous and complex, and to tell the truth I’m not sure I can get around to everything that I feel is worth saying, but I will at the very least try to get people to think about the causes and effects and consequences of this decision.
Handley was threatened by the government through a variety of means. While it is legal to have obscene materials in the privacy of your own home, they tried to get him on charges of having obscene material shipped across states, which it was because it came from Japan. However, that material was never meant for others, it was Handley’s personal pornography, and it involved no actual people, only fictional characters, concepts in a story. Of course, that’s not how the government prosecution wants you to see it.
The whole matter comes down to underage pornography. While there is the matter of the government never being too specific on the manga that caused Handley to be charged in the first place, ultimately they want you to think that it’s child porn even if it isn’t, even if all the characters are well over 18 and have adult proportions, even if they mistake Gaogaigar for lolicon. That’s where this discussion will take place.
A minor in the United States is someone under the age of 18. I am perfectly fine with that number. It’s different in other countries, sometimes higher and sometimes lower, but 18 is fine. It is fine, that is, when applied to real people, and that’s what the law should be about. However, anyone would be daft to believe that teenagers under the age of 18 do not have sex. Legally, it would be ideal if this did not really happen, but it is the truth and it is reality, and fiction should have every right to depict an aspect of reality while not being completely beholden to it or the law. In other words, if fiction were to be forced to depict a world where everything is legally okay or turns out that way, fiction would die. Imagine Death Note without murder. Imagine Kare Kano without sex between its high school-age characters. Both are possible, but both are enriched by these acts which can be deemed wrong by some, and while both are not considered “obscene” normally, when you start to hack away at the “obscene titles,” what you might not realize is that you’re also chipping away at more “innocent titles.”
Luckily, the US is not controlling all fiction. Shows about teenagers dating and having sex have been a staple of television since the 90s, the most prominent example probably being Beverly Hills 90210. And sure, they eventually grew up and become full-fledged adults, but the start was always the sexualization of teenagers, even if those teenagers were played by adults. Here we are in America, sexualizing teenagers while also saying that it’s wrong. Again, I am perfectly fine with the law saying that a guy who is 30 should not be fooling around with a girl who is 16 along as this law is for real people and not fictional characters where that huge age gap and all the implications behind that age gap can possibly factor into the story. And it seems like for a lot of entertainment in America, the government understands this, but something is particularly dangerous about comics.
I have to wonder if the the idea of comics being “for kids” has influenced this perception in any way, that comics should not have the ability to go that far when in fact it might be more suited to taking things a step further than perhaps any other form of media or art or entertainment. Purely text fiction would not so nearly incur the wrath of the government or normal people as the potential for obscenity requires some digging; it is not as immediate as visual imagery. I do not ask comics to be like literature or high art, but what I do hope is that comics, comic creators, and comic readers as a whole can achieve all of the possiblities of the medium without having to worry about their ideas being considered too “obscene” or “wrong.”
If you think the material is bad, you are allowed to say so, but it should not be possible to run to the government and tell them on someone with whom you disagree, even if the “you” I mentioned IS the government.
I understand that not everyone is as closely connected with the world of fiction as myself or others, and they may see this guilty plea and its consequences as being very cut and dry, very black and white. “What does it matter that there are a few less stories out there,” one might say, “If it protects people from getting hurt?” But the “matter” is that ultimately these are ideas put on paper, and you are trying to protect people from harm that may or may not happen based on a fictional work where the motive of the work may fall entirely out of step with the perceived harm that it could potentially generate. It is thought crime, and while the term thought crime is bandied about and misused constantly, this is a very valid example and I ask that you consider the idea that your own private thoughts, thoughts which may exist only in your head and in a diary or journal in your home, could be turned against you without there being any actual evidence of intent to carry it out in reality.
As a final note, I want to talk about the manga Ressentiment. It is a title where people have the ability to have virtual sex with virtual girls, and the main virtual girl is depicted and designed to be around high school age, and it’s all designed to be a part of the story. It can be offensive, but it’s all there aesthetically to give the reader a sense of disgust or sadness. When she’s naked, or put into an obscene position, she is a fictional virtual minor. Who is harmed by this? Can the law extend so far as to protect a character who is part of the fictional world of another fictional world, and punish those who read about it?