Cover image for The new politics of pornography
The new politics of pornography
Downs, Donald Alexander.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 266 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF9444 .D69 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Fresh empirical evidence of pornography's negative effects and the resurgence of feminist and conservative critiques have caused local, state, and federal officials to reassess the pornography issue. In The New Politics of Pornography , Donald Alexander Downs explores the contemporary antipornography movement and addresses difficult questions about the limits of free speech. Drawing on official transcripts and extensive interviews, Downs recreates and analyzes landmark cases in Minneapolis and Indianapolis. He argues persuasively that both conservative and liberal camps are often characterized by extreme intolerance which hampers open policy debate and may ultimately threaten our modern doctrine of free speech. Downs concludes with a balanced and nuanced discussion of what First Amendment protections pornography should be afforded. This provocative and interdisciplinary work will interest students of political science, women's studies, civil liberties, and constitutional law.

Author Notes

Donald Alexander Downs is associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is the author of Nazis in Skokie: Freedom, Community, and the First Amendment .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Downs ( Nazis in Skokie ) undertakes an objective and thought-provoking analysis of the unusual marriage of right-wing conservative philosophy and leftist extremist feminism in the crusade against pornography. According to Downs, just when American culture seemed to have achieved an equilibrium between First Amendment rights and protection from obscenity, grass-roots feminists and moralists in Minneapolis recast the issue. They lobbied for city ordinances that were passed in 1983 only to be vetoed by the mayor. A modified version was enacted in Indianapolis in 1984 but was ruled unconstitutional. Downs reconstructs the momentum and fervor of the activists, balancing his account with the perspective that the participants lacked, and deftly examines the national ramifications, both political and legal, of these local battles. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The springboard for this book is the Minneapolis obscenity ordinance created by feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. This ordinance rejected liberalism's doctrine of free speech, maintained that pornography consists of harm to women, and made pornography a civil rights offense. Downs (University of Wisconsin at Madison), citing pornography's potential for both benefits and harm, rejects the extremism of both liberalism and radical feminism. Instead, he attempts to balance the interests of the two by addings a fourth prong to the Supreme Court's 1973 Miller test that would, in effect, limit it to prohibiting "violent obscenity." Downs draws his conclusions from his study of the "new politics" of pornography as exhibited in the passage of the ordinance by the town councils of Minneapolis and Indianapolis. Based on transcripts of council debates and extensive interviewing, he faults the feminists for engaging in guerilla theater, and the officials for neglecting their duty to protect rights. The portrayal of MacKinnon as having exerted extraordinary powers over unsuspecting council members implies feminist witchery. In place of interviews with either MacKinnon or Dworkin, Downs relies on quotations from their works ripped out of context. A controversial issue and book. Recommended for all libraries. S. Behuniak-Long Le Moyne College

Table of Contents

1 The New Politics of Pornography and the Challenge to the Modern Doctrine of Free Speech and Obscenity
2 The Minneapolis Ordinance and the Feminist Theory of Pornography and Sexuality
3 The Politics of the Minneapolis Ordinance
4 Strange Bedfellows: The Politics of the Ordinance in Indianapolis
5 Pornography and Harm: Toward a New Classification of Unprotected Speech?