Judith Reisman stalks Washington. The presumably mild-mannered researcher for the Justice Department has acquired countless issues of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and is studying them as part of the administration's never-ending fight against pornography. Until the project is concluded, no man is safe.
What then will happen to Reisman is anyone's guess, although the lady is clearly made of tough stuff. In a varied career, she has been a song writer for the Captain Kangaroo show and is now studying whether girlie magazines play a part in juvenile deliquency or the sexual exploitation of children. This is no small sacrifice she is making for her country.
But the Justice Department has not left her to battle porn alone. Having eliminated drug abuse, found every missing kid in America and sent the Mafia a dead fish, it has turned its attention to what Attorney General Edwin Meese said is the concern "a healthy society must have regarding the ways in which people publicly entertain themselves."
He impaneled yet another commission -- and not, as you might have guessed, to study whether the National Rifle Association and various gun magazines contribute to the premature deaths of many Americans, but to study pornography. Apparently, guns don't kill people, dirty pictures do.
The pornography commission has 11 members and a budget of $400,000. By no means should it be confused with the Reisman project and its $737,371. That means that an administration that has been yelling and screaming about government spending, not to mention getting the government off your backs, is not only going to spend over $1.1 million studying pornography, but will do so looking over your back at the way you "publicly entertain" yourself.
By Washington standards, a bit more than $1 million is not a lot of money. But, as Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) pointed out, it's more than the government has requested to study youth suicide. It is also just the latest attempt by yet another administration to prove that pornography -- a category without definition -- does more than get you what used to be called "hot." The Nixon administration had its own commission, and, with three dissents from anti-pornography crusaders, found pornography harmless for adults. The brave and truly selfless Reisman is about to test that proposition.
Aside from the sheer waste of money, none of this unnatural obsession with sex would matter much if it did not have the usual goal in mind -- censorship. All this attempt at empiricism -- Reisman literally awash in a sea of smut -- is just an attempt to dress up the old censorship imperative in the glad rags of scientific findings. It is fondly hoped by some that pornography will be shown to drive men to rape and women to the vapors.
But even if pornography is found to stimulate someone to commit a crime occasionally, would that then be grounds for censorship? If so, then just about every cops-and-robbers show on television would have to be junked. More than one criminal has gotten the idea for his crime from a television show. No one ever said that ideas are not occasionally dangerous.
But even more dangerous is the urge to censor. Pornography in and of itself is hardly worth defending were it not that it acts as a sea wall that takes the brunt of the censorship urge. If that wall is breached, the censors would march on. After all, to the censor, the ultimate in pornography is never a picture. It's always an idea.
I joke about Reisman and, of course, the fact that she can read so much smut and not go ga-ga, refutes at least some of the censor's arguments. But her study is the product of a mentality -- one that has always seen censorship as a way to resolve anxieties regarding sex or, for that matter, politics. Not Reisman herself, but what her study represents stalks Washington and it is not just men who are threatened, but everyone. No one is safe from the censor.