John Stagliano Trial

Bad Movies Make Bad Law or, Is Storm Squirters 2 or Milk Nymphos *That* Kind of Movie?


As the John Stagliano obscenity trial works through its third day of testimony, I think it's worth recalling one of the most famous sentences in legal history: Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's refusal to define "hard-core pornography" and willingness to deem materials the same.

The quote cames from a terrible 1964 case about a terrible movie called The Lovers (bad movies make bad law!). From Stewart's concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio that the movie was not hard-core porn and hence not actionable:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

More here.

What a terrible standard (even if it did lead to an acquittal in this particular instance)! If you can't define something intelligibly, then you shouldn't have any right to lock somebody up for making that kind of movie.

The flicks that Stagliano distributes are indeed those kinds of movies (hard-core pornography). Why that sort of speech and expression is not given First Amendment protection is criminal. It was good to see the courts throw out the idiotic "indecency" standard recently. But as Jacob Sullum noted earlier, if indecency is unconstitutionally vague, then obscenity certainly is as well.

NEXT: Some Stagliano Links to Follow

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Jesus! Which one of you Reason Staffers are writin g a book about this guy?

    1. At least Stagliano knocked Drew Carey off the rotation.

      1. “Drew Carey saves Stagliano- a 35 part Reason series…”

    2. You realize Stagliano is a long time donor and “friend of Reason”, and actual friend of some reason folks. It’d be pretty effin disappointing if they weren’t all over this story like jizz on tits.

      1. Considering this is a federal trial of a man making films with consenting adults, and selling them to consenting adults, it would be odd if a libertarian magazine didn’t give this a lot of coverage.

        Frankly, I have no desire to see anyone get milk (or any other kind of) enemas. But anyone who wants to should be able to. The “obscenity” laws were dubious when porn had to be bought in stores in a plain brown wrapper. In an age where no one but the buyer ever has to be exposed to it in any way, these laws are insane.

        I don’t care if the films have any artistic value, and only appeal to prurient interests. Frankly, I find the prurient interests of the enema fetishists far less obscene than the fetishists of the authoritarian dicklords who want to shove their morality up our asses.

    3. Right! Given the extensive coverage in mainstream news, the Reason articles are obviously gratuitous.

      Oh, wait?

  2. I’m detecting a trend that libertarians do enjoy teh pron.

  3. What about people who make movies which just plain suck? Can we throw them in jail?

    1. Avatar should draw some jail time for plot embezzlement.

  4. Can we get some obscenity charges going on Twilight and Predators?

  5. libertarians do enjoy teh pron

    If only. They’re titillated by lawyering. A truly obscene perversion.

    1. Now THAT truly is perverse and obscene.

  6. OH wow, OK that sounds like a lot of fun dude.


    1. Woah, it totally does make sense, when u think about it.

      Milk really does do a body good!


  7. There hasn’t been an obsession this big among reason staffers since the Ayn Rand orgy awhile back.

  8. Scary thought of the day – Storm Squirters was so successful they made a sequel. I fear a “Storm Squiters vs the Smog Monster” in our cinematic future.

    1. Will Reason have an MST3K style showing of Storm Squirters on the cruise?

  9. The only difference I can really see between the “I know it when I see it” standard and the current three-prong community standard is that the latter uses a lot more words.

  10. A showing of the film in Cleveland Heights, Ohio’s Coventry Village resulted in a criminal conviction of the theatre manager for public depiction of obscene material.

    This must have been at the old Centrum. It’s a bar now, and is frequented by douchebags, as is the hookah bar upstairs.

  11. Stagliano should take the stand and blow milk out of his ass.

    “Your Honor the Defense rests.”

  12. They should get Roger Ebert to testify. If he can find serious artistic merit in movies about child prostitutes, I’m sure he can come up with something for Stagliano.

    As long as there’s no violence. Violence is icky, you see.

    1. Violence is icky, you see.

      Not if you’re the MPAA. Maybe they should act as consultants for SCOTUS, since they are experts in applying vague “know it when we see it” standards.

      1. The good thing about the MPAA is that they provide information about films before the public sees them. For non-douchebags, this means they can read “NC-17 – for graphic scenes of milk blowing out of some woman’s ass” and conclude that they might not enjoy that, and go see Toy Story 3 instead.

        For douchebags, it’s a lightning rod to see the films so they can forward them to the latest incarnation of Mary Beth Buchanan.

    2. Are you saying there can’t be serious artistic merit in a movie that depicts actors playing child prostitutes?

      1. like, um… taxi driver?

  13. What really is obscene is the number of laws that are essentially the same as “I know it when I see it” such as the “failure to provide honest service”…

  14. Some of the problems posed above are obviated by Cincinnati’s declaratory judgment procedure. It’s not supposed to have a chilling effect on speech that may or may not be obscene, because there are no penalties except for violating a court order after the material has been found obscene. But it’s not prior restraint either, because it has to go to court first. If your communication is found obscene, there’s no liability if you withdraw it immediately.

    1. no criminal liability. but there is a liability in paying to get all the copies taken off the shelf/destroyed and all the money that you WON’T make selling them, because it’s now illegal, thus the money you wasted on production, etc.

  15. The flicks that Stagliano distributes are indeed those kinds of movies (hard-core pornography).

    Opinion, not fact. To a sufficiently jaded person, might fall be considered softcore.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.