Last week, something very important happened. An American, upon leaving Canada to re-enter America, had his laptop, iPhone and iPad searched and was detained when the Canadian border official found manga that they considered to be child pornography.
There have been several excellent write-ups of this case and I strongly suggest you read them. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund immediately took up the case. Here is the CBLDF discussion of the situation. Also, Brigid Alverson wrote a cogent synopsis on Comic Book Resources. Obviously, I urge you to support the CBLDF in their defense of this person – it could be any of us.
Which bring me to today’s topic – self-defense.
In a perfect world, adults would be free to read anything they like without fear of repercussion. This is not a perfect world. And it behooves every one of us to be smart in order to be safe.
Let me digress for a moment into an analogy. If we hear of a woman who has been attacked, we are outraged. However, if evidence came to light that she was wearing provocative clothing, walking alone in an abandoned, poorly lit area, late at night, there are people who would become less sympathetic. In the same way, we are outraged to hear that a person’s laptop or mail was searched and they were charged with a crime by virtue of artistic expression. When facts come to light that some of the material does in fact include virtual/drawn/imaginary child porn some people will feel less sympathetic to the person charged. In both cases, there is a tendency to think “Well, then they weren’t very bright. They didn’t take precautions. They didn’t do the things a person should do to stay safe” or “Eww, that person’s a creep – they deserve it.”
The point of today’s article is not to argue with that human tendency to scapegoat. I do not in any way agree with it, but it is human. A woman should never be blamed for being attacked. No one should be prosecuted for reading a comic book.
But we can and should discuss the ramifications to our own behavior this case will bring. In the same way that, because it is not a perfect world, women need to take precautions against people who do not respect their persons, it behooves all of us in the manga and comics industry to take precautions for ourselves.
You might argue that no one has the right to search your laptop or mail, but this is not true. The Postmaster has every right to search your mail – Border officials have the right to search your laptop. Whatever you feel about the rightness or wrongness of this is irrelevant. These people have the right – and the responsibility – to do this very thing.
Watch What You’re Carrying
When you travel by any means that involves a security check, take some time to remove manga images from your electronic devices. You don’t really *need* that screensaver, do you? If you do need it, save it somewhere on the cloud and download it when you get there. Or perhaps you can put that presentation on a zip drive, which can be put in a bag inside your carry-on.
Be smart about manga you carry with you to read for fun. Perhaps Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivio would not be the smartest choice.
Don’t Assume a Reasonable Person Will Understand
Of course the manga you carry or the images on your laptop are not child porn. But – and this is quite possibly the biggest but you’re going to run into – do not assume that a reasonable person will understand that, or defend your right to have it.
Here’s why. In most legal contexts, obscenity is defined as something that a reasonable person would object to.
Now, seriously, go look at your manga collection. LOOK at it. Think about what your aunt or uncle might say about, say, Gokujou Drops. Or Qwaser of Stigmata. Or Lychee Light Club.
Now, think about trying to defend those against 12 average, reasonable people. Don’t forget that right now Tokyo itself is seeking to regulate books like these. This means that any lawyer who is going to defend you with the argument that social mores are different in Japan, might be met with a prosecution that knows that, and counters that Japan is itself beginning to reject such material.
Assume the Worst Might Happen
If you gentlemen reading this shied away from the above statement with a perfectly natural “But…why?” you now know exactly what every women everywhere has to contend with every day, all the time. We are required to dress in certain ways, walk in certain places, have companions, be aware of our surroundings, maybe carry a whistle, a weapon, a phone, our keys in our hands, our hands free, in well-lit places….
And now this applies to all of us…all the time. You no longer can assume that your have the right to purchase certain manga by mail and have them shipped to your house. You cannot assume you have the right to carry a few doujinshi on your laptop to read while on the plane. You cannot assume it won’t happen to you. You *must* presume that you will be searched and that someone who is not reasonable will have the right to decide whether what you are carrying looks questionable.
If this sounds wrong to you – and it should – please support the CBLDF in their fight. Let’s shape the future into the one we want to live in, where we have the right to read whatever the hell we want.