Originally published at the Hedgehog Review.
Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock
by Amy Werbel
Columbia University Press, 408 pages, $35
The problem of pornography has never been worse than it is right now. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider: Online streaming porn is video, rather than text or image, which makes it categorically more seductive. It is not geographically restricted to seedy parts of town but accessible anywhere with an Internet connection, by anyone of any age. Much of it is free. Barriers to entry on the supply side are nil. The flood of content over the last decade means that producers have to compete for eyeballs, and because they can’t compete on price, the easiest way to distinguish their product is by going to further and further extremes in the content itself. Technology and social change have combined to push pornography to new frontiers: More of it is being produced, and what gets produced is more depraved.
It is baffling that this unprecedented state of affairs has not called forth a twenty-first-century Comstock, but then, the original Anthony Comstock, the antivice crusader best known for lending his name to a 1873 law banning distribution of obscene material through the mail, is held in low regard. His undeserved reputation is the result of a long line of hostile treatments by his ideological opponents, of which Lust on Trial is the most recent.