A City in Search of a Pit

I have been searching for a consistent moral standard in L.A. by asking people how they feel about pornography. Two were for it, three against it and one said she wouldn't talk dirty with a stranger.

Of the two for it, one was a television producer and the other an autistic savant who could name dirty movies back to the time Hedy Lamar appeared nude in the film "Ecstasy."

The reason I went out searching for some kind of moral level was a ruling last week by Judge David Kenyon that there is no obvious community standard in L.A. regarding moral filth.

As a result, he threw out a case against a distributor of adult videos. How can you judge a film to be pornographic, he asked, when everyone has a different idea of what pornography is?

Size has a lot to do with it. In Argonia, Kan., for instance, with its population of 591, it would be easy to set a standard by declaring that anything your mother wouldn't approve of is dirty, and those who don't agree with that get out.

But in Los Angeles, with its 13 million drifting souls, some of whose mothers are topless dancers, taste varies to such a degree that what is slime to some is chicken soup to others.

One of those I spoke with in pursuit of a definition was the Rev. Jess Moody, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys and God's best friend in the San Fernando Valley.

A wily Texan who has parlayed down-home charm and an Oxford education into leadership of 10,000 parishioners, Jess once claimed to have discussed with God the possibility of moving his church from Van Nuys to Chatsworth.

God said go for it, but the neighbors raised such hell that God changed his mind and said maybe you shouldn't go for it.

Anyone who has talked to God, however, is worth listening to, so I asked Jess how he felt about moral filth. Asking a pastor how he feels about smut is like asking a cat how he feels about being chased by a dog. While the dog might consider it fun, it's not going to please the cat.

Jess came at me quoting the Bible, the Supreme Court, three teachers, a writer and his daddy to support his argument that Judge Kenyon should have set the community standard himself rather than leaving it up to the people.

"The man is a free-floating relativist," Moody declared with just enough fire and brimstone in his voice to indicate he was not fooling around. "He ought to be a ticket-taker at Dodger Stadium."

I was about to ask what a relativist was, but you don't goad a preacher on the pulpit. Anyhow, he was beyond that.

"You know what you get when you let people decide the law?" he demanded. "You get Jesus crucified and Plato forced to take Hemlock."

He defined Californians as not being discriminating when it comes to pornography. Too many of us like it.

"He who digs a pit will fall into it," Jess said quoting from the Book of Proverbs. Then he added cheerfully, "That ought to hold you for awhile."

I don't want to say anything to upset the ACLU and, God knows, I'd rather die than appear unhip, but there does seem to be a lot of hot sex going on and it isn't very subtle.

At one time, for instance, a movie, to indicate human fornication, would portray a man and a woman in decent swimming attire kissing on a beach and then pan away to sea gulls when the breathing got heavy.

Violins played while the sea gulls soared and sometime there was brass section fortissimo at the proper moment, but that was generally that.

Now the camera dollies in for the kind of tight shots that would make a gunnery sergeant blush and follows the couple scene after scene as they repeat the performance on a roller coaster, a kitchen table, halfway up the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and in the middle of the Piazza San Pietro.

And that's just the R-rated stuff. Take the same scenes, add horses, whips, handcuffs and a guillotine and you've got what the porn kings are peddling on videotape.

Judge Kenyon and Jess Moody are both a little bit right. I agree that Mom may not be capable of setting a single moral standard for L.A., but it does seem to me we ought to be panning away to the sea gulls at least once in awhile.

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