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    Utah takes blue ribbon and golden pacifier for its censorship-chic

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    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

    New York City and Utah are at it again. Will their incessant rivalry never end? This time those scrappy competitors are vying to see which can more thoroughly control taste and propriety for its adult population. Both have enlisted the help of experts to help them ride this wave of censorship-chic.

    Always edgy Utah started the trend. Last year, the state Legislature enacted a law ordering the appointment of a "porn czar" whose job it is to help police coordinate efforts against filth. As two high school students who rallied against porn at the state Capitol told the Salt Lake Tribune, it's about time the state did something about the scourge of "R-rated movies" and "Michelangelo's David."

    Not to be outdone, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has announced plans for a decency commission of his own -- a whole pod of porn czars who would bring "values" back to the city's art museums. Giuliani's current tantrum is over the Brooklyn Museum's display of artist Renee Cox's depiction of the Last Supper in which Jesus is offered up as a naked black woman. Giuliani has had it with the city's museums choosing artwork that challenges convention, depicts disturbing themes and doesn't look nice on an office wall. And he believes New Yorkers are tired of trudging through their venerated cultural institutions and not finding a single Thomas "painter of light" Kinkade painting or Precious Moments sculpture.

    If I were judging this contest, though, I'd have to give it to Utah. Its porn fuhrer is a former prosecutor, a religious Mormon and a 41-year-old virgin (got to be from central casting), whereas Giuliani's moral righteousness is somewhat tempered by his public flouting of the seventh Commandment (the adultery one). I know New York City likes to think of itself as the best in everything, but it can't compete with Utah in the babysitting-adults category. In this, even Utah's amateurs outpace New York's finest.

    I've lived in both places, and though Times Square has gone from Red Light to pastels, Utah still wins. Its idea of risque hasn't changed since 1952: the titillating flash of bra-strap on a Miss Provo contestant.

    When I lived in Salt Lake City, the resident anti-porn crusader was Joy Beach (a name that ironically seemed to come right out of adult entertainment). Beach was a thin, older woman who styled her hair in a Phyllis Schlafly bouffant, wore only polyester and spoke about rampant perversions to anyone who would listen. Her many acolytes included the power elite, who were always jockeying to out-moral each other.

    For example, in 1983 the state enacted a law regulating the sexual content of cable television. Then it spent $700,000 defending the new rules in court. It lost.

    Poor Utah, when will those interfering federal courts start understanding the value in parens patriae, the state as parent?

    In 1988, Salt Lake City was so bereft of actual pornography that it went after the cult movie Cafe Flesh. As the film began showing to a packed theater at the Blue Mouse, a local art movie house, city vice officers raided the place and confiscated it. In exchange for not charging the employees with distribution of obscene materials (and an expensive court battle), theater management allowed the city to keep the film, which it reportedly burned.

    And then there was the time when the city told the Salt Lake City AIDS Foundation that it would be barred from distributing condoms with a safe-sex brochure during a festival at a city park.

    See, I don't think New York can come close to this. Sure, the mayor is nutty about any depiction of Catholicism that doesn't comport with his Hallmark-card conceptions. But he hasn't proposed setting up his own movie-ratings system because the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings are too lenient. That idea was Utah's alone.

    No, without a doubt Utah's censorship-chic is the most retro. There is simply no place that does a better job of infantilizing adults by stripping them of the discretion to choose their own art and entertainment. The blue ribbon and golden pacifier will soon be on its way to the beehive state to adorn its new porn czar's wall.

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