Creepy guys, comics, kiddie porn and the first amendment

UPDATE: I clarified this over at mangablog but for some reason my post was removed. I am not arguing that Handley is a creepy guy. I am saying he put himself in the position of being judged one. That’s just the reality of the situation, and unfortunately that reality could include criminal prosecution right now.

UPDATE II: My post was back up on Mangablog sometime yesterday.

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A lot of coverage and discussion about Christopher Handley and his guilty plea for possessing obscene material. More here, here, here, here,here … Good analysis here and here.

It’s all over the place. There’s one thing I believe could be learned from all this and one point someone made that should be highlighted.

First, let’s look at the crime from the perspective of someone who follows crime. Here’s the description of what happened from the AnimeNewsNetwork site:

“Handley had received a package of seven manga that the Postal Inspector intercepted and determined to contain objectionable images. With a search warrant, the agents from the Postal Inspector’s office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Special Agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and officers from the Glenwood Police Department followed Handley home from the post office and seized his collection of over 1,200 manga volumes; hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, and laser discs; seven computers; and other materials. However, Handley is being charged for only part of his collection. ”

Assuming this is correct, and acknowledging that I don’t know any more specifics of the arrest, the part about the postmaster is interesting.
- It could have been pulled for a random check, since the government doesn’t have the resources to screen the contents of every package.
- It could have been pulled because it was from Japan. Yes, let’s acknowledge that there is racism. Glenwood is near Omaha, and I don’t know that there are a lot of book deliveries from Japan. Throw in the job cuts throughout the postal system, and you get motivation to examine anything that is out of the ordinary the hopes you get a high-profile catch.

But the idea I find most interesting is that maybe this wasn’t random at all. Maybe the return address or something else about the packaging caused it to be pulled. Maybe some identifier on the packaging is on a list or in a database that caused it to be automatically flagged for examination. Rightly or wrongly, maybe Handley ordered something from somewhere with a bad rep.

Or maybe not. You may find that hard to believe. I don’t.

So just in case you forgot (and I don’t know why anyone would forget) or didn’t know, your mail – electronic and otherwise, along with a whole lot of other communications- is being watched in some way. No, I don’t like it much either.

The other thing I want to highlight is the nature of what he did and why I believe that – while he might not be a full-fledged Creepy Guy – he certainly put himself in the position of being judged one. Notice I didn’t use the word “crime” here – there’s enough commentary out there about the current law, and for the record I don’t believe someone should be prosecuted just for being creepy.

That said, I’m sorry he’s facing what he’s facing, but it seems to me he knew what he was ordering through the mail. The responsible legal analysis I’ve seen and the fact that – despite CBLDF‘s willingness to assist in his defense – the defense lawyer felt the best option was to plea bargain suggests that the material crossed over into Creepy Guy territory. Jeff Trexler provides excellent analysis on that here.

Additionally, typical bad Creepy Guy judgment appeared to come into play when it was found that Handley was allegedly looking at the “Goth and Lolita Bible” among other things while he was being prosecuted for obscenity. I don’t believe that helped his case any. Haircut: check. New suit: check. Not looking at anything with the word “lolita” in it: hmm.

Why does it matter whether or not he’s a Creepy Guy? Here’s where I want to highlight the point Neil Gaiman made:

“You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it.”

So let me be clear: You know that book you’re ordering? The one that has cartoon images of little kids having sex with animals? That’s kind of creepy. Not to mention you might run into problems with the law. But mainly, it’s creepy.

And this isn’t advocating censorship, or supporting existing law or calling for additional laws, or curtailing anyone’s right to be a creepy guy. Except, you know, by choosing to be a creepy guy you end up driving the debates, pulling us into the courtroom and defining our precedents.

So insofar as improving the legal standing of comics and graphic novels here in the United States? You creepy guys AREN’T HELPING.

Just thought you ought to know.

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8 Responses to “Creepy guys, comics, kiddie porn and the first amendment”

  1. Ayame

    You might want to research just what the “Gothic and Lolita Bible” actually is before you pass judgment on it. One of his other “violations” of his release conditions was visiting AnimeNewsNetwork.com. Go figure.

  2. Hi Ayame
    Actually, I did look into the book – seems pretty harmless to me. But it doesn’t matter what you and I think does it? When you find yourself being judged in the criminal justice system, it’s a good idea to understand who may be judging you and not give them any reason to think negatively about you.

  3. admin

    This is a comment from Ed Sizemore, who had some trouble posting very early yesterday.

    Honestly, how much do you know about manga, particularly adult manga? I ask
    because it seems obvious that you’ve not looked though an adult manga anthology. They are a mixed bag of short stories. The vendors that
    sell these products to the US dont provide a comprehensive contents list, so you dont know what youre getting until you look through the book when it arrives. So Handley ordered an anthology believing he was getting the
    standard adult entertainment featuring adults and one story of at least 20 turned out to be kiddie porn. He didnt know that when he purchased it.
    Also, dont forget Amazon-Japan used to sell these products until last year or so. As you rightly point out, without knowing the specifics its hard to say. But its possible and most probable that Handley ordered an adult
    book from a reputable on-line book source and got a book that contains a small percentage of objectionable material. Theres nothing creepy
    there, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its this kind of analysis that ends up putting guys like Handley unjustly behind bars.

  4. admin

    Hi Ed

    Thanks for your thoughts, here’s my response.

    First, you seem to contradict yourself a bit.
    On the one hand, you report that adult manga anthologies are a mixed bag, and you don’t know what you’re getting until the book arrives. You criticize me for not knowing that. In reality, that’s been my understanding of the situation for a number years, and one of the reasons I’m not interested in “adult” manga (as opposed to manga geared to adults), is that material involving children could pop up.
    On the other hand, you seem to feel that not knowing whether child porn would be included in an anthology is the same as not knowing that it could be included. I don’t see that being the same thing, and – as you point out – it seems that generally collectors are aware of this possibility.
    But, regardless, it would be good news if Handley didn’t know he was getting the child porn. If so, that could go a long way to mitigating his sentence. I sure hope so.

    Secondly, I’m going to take issue with the idea there was nothing creepy there.
    Now, again, I don’t know Handley so I can’t judge him personally.
    I’m only going off of the online descriptions of the content in question, but drawn pictures of kids having sex with animals is creepy, OK? That’s not something I’m going to compromise on. You may feel differently, but there’s a whole lot of people who would disagree with you – some of whom may have been willing to work in Handley’s defense. (Unfortunately Matt Thorn’s post was removed where he gave his opinion about this kind of stuff.)
    You see, we’re not talking about a legal term here. No one has to be prosecuted or convicted for something or someone to be judged as “creepy.” And you can feel something or someone is creepy and still defend their right to be creepy. You just may have to hold your nose when you give money to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which I plan to do at this year’s Wizard World in Chicago.
    And we’re not the ones you need to worry about – you need to worry about the people who think you should be prosecuted for having comics, and there’s a whole lot more them and they have the law and public opinion behind them.

    Last, I quite obviously disagree with your characterization of my analysis. It’s the kind of conversation ordinary people who have faced prohibitions in the past had and will continue to have.
    At least the smart people will. They’ll examine the situation, figure out what the person did that resulted in them getting caught. See if there’s any way to change behaviors in order to avoid getting caught. Imagine the legal framework for overturning the law.
    And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t see a lot of alternatives out there. Prohibition against liquor was useless because so many people opposed it. There’s a prohibition against marijuana, but opinion is gradually changing and the money involved allows for a sophisticated distribution network that gets around the law.
    But this stuff – man. You may not have the law enforcement intensity of the “war on drugs,” but in many ways if you do happen to get caught it’s a lot worse. A huge uphill climb in public opinion, a law with very little chance of being successfully challenged and serious consequences if convicted. You’re in deeper crap than if you get caught with an amount of pot that’s the same weight as a typical trade paperback.
    Personally I don’t see a lot of upside here. Even if “Lost Girls” was brought up in the most enlightened and liberal courtroom in the nation, it probably wouldn’t work as a constitutional challenge because the charges would probably be dropped as the book wouldn’t meet the obscenity test.

    I think the best, most safe option is to stop buying stuff like and give the money instead to the CBLDF. (And there’s probably a business opportunity for someone to publish comics porn that would survive the legal challenge – bet they’re already out there )
    But, your mileage may vary.

  5. This is the main problem, if a jury is going to convict a guy based on not liking him then this is not justice at all.

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