Lenny Bruce, martyr

Salon: Lenny Bruce died for our sins (membership or day pass required). Fascinating look back at Lenny Bruce’s legal fights and the history of obscenity law, with a nod toward Singin’ John Ashcroft’s recent porn film busts. Quote from Supreme Court Justice William Brennan:

At the end of his career, in an extraordinary interview, Brennan admitted that his Herculean attempts to come up with a workable obscenity formula — he penned seven obscenity decisions — had failed. Speaking to journalist Nat Hentoff, a staunch Bruce defender and free-speech advocate, Brennan said, “I put 16 years into that damn obscenity thing. I tried and tried, and I waffled back and forth, and finally I gave up.” The key point, for Brennan: “If you can’t define it, you can’t prosecute people for it. And that’s why … I finally abandoned the whole effort.”

The article posits that, absent strong legal standards, only social mores are left, and that if society is confused about how to deal with the problem, the most powerful voice wins. It suggests that in this light, Ashcroft’s actions are best read as a power play.

Our attorney general in a power play? Say it ain’t so.