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#260 September 2, 2015

Sheila writes: Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died on August 30 at the age of 82. The obituary in the New York Times gives an overview of this man's extraordinary career and contributions. The site Open Culture has a small post about Oliver Sacks' final Tweet which was a link to a video of a flash mob orchestra gathering to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in a large public square. Sacks' Tweet read: "A beautiful way to perform one of the world's great musical treasures." His curiosity and appreciation of life in all its variety remained intact until the very end. Here is the video of that flash mob which is, indeed, "beautiful."

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Torture porn: Want popcorn with that?

May contain spoilers

Peet at NegativeSpace knows it when he sees it.

In the 1957 case Roth v. United States, the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment did not protect obscenity, which Justice William Brennan characterized as a form of expression that was "utterly without redeeming social importance..." and which "... to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest."

In Jacobeliis v. Ohio (1964), Justice Potter Stewart wrote his famous description of pornography: 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 [Louis Malle's 1958 "The Lovers"/"Les Amants"] is not that.Nine years later, in Miller v. California, Chief Justice Warren Burger offered his famous definition of obscenity:The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.Today, of course, porn is made for the World Wide Interwebs, and so-called "torture porn" is mainstream multiplex fare. In a post called "The 120 Days of HOSTEL PART II" at The Exploding Kinetoscope, Chris Stangl argues that the phrase "torture porn" is simply a meaningless critical buzzword, "a non-position that allows a critic not to engage the work. It's critical name-calling." Stengl writes: "Any review, op-ed piece, or coverage of 'Hostel Part II' that includes the phrase 'torture porn' as if it were a meaningful genre designation, I will not finish reading. A line must be drawn. We all have our limits." (Thanks to The House for calling my attention to Stangl's site.)

I was about to disagree with this (after all, I happen to know torture porn when I see it!) -- but then...

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