The Clean City

Fear and Loathing in Staunton column by Chris Graham

Wanna know what has me riled up about Friday’s convictions in the Staunton Scopes Trial?

No, it ain’t about protecting people’s rights to access porn. Stauntonians can still get their fix on Comcast or satellite TV or the Internet …

Uh, wait. Check that part about the Internet.

If you read any of the media accounts of the goings-on this week in the Clean City, your eyes might have scanned across the name of one Mary Anne Layden, the director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. A delightful lady, almost cut Staunton Commonwealth’s attorney Ray Robertson off at the knees when she described an actress in one of the offending DVDs as appearing to be 12 years old and lacking developed body features, in the face of the judge’s warning not to try to make the trial a kiddie-porn trial.

Layden also happens to be an advocate of mandatory Internet filtering by service providers. I came across this item regarding a 2005 religious right-sponsored forum in Australia in which Layden promoted something called Internet Sheriff blocking software that had in 1999 been found to have flaws including the massive blocking of innocuous Internet content in its fishnet.

(Did I say fishnet? Good thing I’m typing in Waynesboro. I’d like to think there’s some artistic or social interest to this column, but I just looked up the meaning of “prurient interest,” and, well …)

So Layden believes that Internet porn is worse than crack, and she’s willing to risk shutting down your access to the outside world to curb your addictions. Remember how the editor at the NV got all riled up a few weeks back when Waynesboro introduced the since-approved ordinance mandating that moped riders wear helmets? Well, this is government intrusion on personal rights times a thousand. It all smacks of the limits on free speech that we’ve spent the past few years criticizing China for in the walkup to the ’08 Beijing Olympics that have been marked by the Cheatin’ Chinese sneaking in underage girls (yes, I just wrote that) to compete in gymnastics according to official government news agency stories that have since been deleted from the official record and almost no mention of swimming sensation Michael Phelps’ amazing run to seven gold medals out of apparent national jealousy over his successes.

For Layden’s filters to be effective at all, they would almost have to go overboard in terms of blocking sites that contain images that might run afoul of your average sixtysomething-year-old prosecutor or word combinations like “anal penetration” and “extreme insertions” that definitely would. (Once again, I am pushing the limits of “prurient interest.” My apologies.) And then, taking her mandatory filtering to the extreme, we get mandatory filtering of our cable and satellite TV, and then a little farther down the road I can’t go out, like I did tonight, as it turns out in Staunton, at The Visulite, to take in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” No, I’m not making that up – Woody Allen in Staunton, and, hubba, hubba, Scarlett Johannson and Penelope Cruz making out on the big screen. It was, ahem, tastefully done, of course, but even so, it was quite, quite prurient at the same time, and I half-expected to see the Staunton Taliban carting Visulite owner Adam Greenbaum to the stocks for a public flogging on my way out.

And yes, admittedly, I am going a bit over the top here. Mary Anne Layden is no more going to shut down Internet and cable- and satellite-TV and movie access in Staunton than Rick Krial is going to turn Staunton into Las Vegas. But that’s my point. This whole thing is so ridiculous that I am rendered awestruck. By inviting in the likes of Mary Anne Layden to make his Don Quixote-like tilting-at-windmills case for him, Ray Robertson has in an instant trashed 50 years of efforts to transform Staunton from being a closeted, bigoted, dying town into a forward-thinking, progressive, thriving city. And over bad porn.

Kudos, I guess.

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