The Spectravision Squad

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Memo to Tarryl Clark: YOU ARE DUMB.

At the risk of painting with a broad brush just two days after mocking three state legislators, today I'm going to mock a state legislator. But don't say I don't mix things up for you - today's state legislator with a ridiculous idea is not only from Minnesota, she's a Democrat. Because you can find stupidity on both sides of the political spectrum, especially when well-meaning liberals venture into moral policing. You know, like Tipper Gore.

At first glance, senator Tarryl Clark's proposal is in the class of things I generally support - government using its power as a large purchaser to support socially-beneficial businesses. You know, like how Al Franken suggested that the federal government shouldn't have contracts with rape-friendly companies? I'm all for that, as long as what's being targeted is an actual social harm, and the social harm is easy to identify.

And surprise, surprise, Terryl Clark's proposal does neither of those. Her plan is to ban state employees traveling on public business from staying in hotels that offer "violent porn" to their customers. Which is, to put it lightly, a fucking mess, and I really wish there were more than a single AP story about this. I can't find a single press release about it from her, and would love to know what she's thinking. Because she's going up against Michele Bachmann for Congress this fall, and that means I've already effectively endorsed her, no matter how many problems I have with this idea.

And oh, what problems I have. The first being that porn isn't illegal. Nor is violent porn. Now, if State Senator Terryl Clark wanted to reduce the amount of violent porn the state of Minnesota purchases for government use, that'd be one thing. But I'm pretty sure that it doesn't buy any, or if it does, Timmeh's accountants just pencil it in as "bagels" and nobody's the wiser.

So what she's trying to do is make sure that a fraction of a dollar spent by a state worker on regular room charges doesn't end up going into the pockets of violent porn producers via the hotel management. And suddenly things get really, really iffy. Because first of all, when you go to a hotel that offers pay per view porn in your room, I'm pretty sure that what comes up on the list is not like, say, the wine list of a restaurant. The hotel people don't hire a porn somellier, who goes through a vast catalog of wholesale porn and picks out his choice selections and vintages. It's just a package from Spectravision or whatever. So it's not really fair to blame the hotels if the porn package they offer includes some unsavory rape fantasy or whatever.

And then there's the obvious question - since the bill does not penalize hotels for carrying non-violent porn, a line must be drawn between violent and non-violent porn, movies must be placed on either side of that line, and hotel porn packages must then be diligently pored over for those movies. In an industry that produces at least ten thousand titles per year, this is a nightmarish administrative task that far outweighs the benefits of the restriction.

Of course, that means that's not going to happen. Which means they're gonna take shortcuts. And when you're dealing with porn, any shortcuts you take invariably raise the specter of censorship and chilling effects. Again, since hotels don't, as far as I know, pick and choose their porn on a title by title basis, the net effect will be to be a boycott of hotels with in-room porn at all. Or just soft-core packages. Which defeats the purpose of the very narrow moralistic line Clark is trying to walk here.

There will, according to news reports, be a list of approved hotels maintained by the state administration department. This raises more questions - how will the list be generated? What is the screening process? Will hotels be able to demonstrate their lack of violent porn to get on the list? Will a customer complaint about the presence of violent porn get a hotel kicked off the list?

As someone with a certain familiarity with these levels of government, I'll tell you what's actually going to happen. Someone's going to put a certain amount of effort to create a Word document that lists all the approved hotels. This will take six to nine months from the day Clark's bill is signed into law. That Word document will then remain, untouched, for the next four to five years, as state employees pick hotels off of it because they're on the approved list.

Within two years, nobody will remember what separated "approved" hotels from the unapproved ones in the first place. And after five years, most of the hotels on the list will have changed names or closed down, rendering the list useless. This is not because government employees are lazy. It's because they simply cannot be bothered wasting their time giving more than lip service to someone's overblown, unnecessary crusade.

So please, Sen. Clark, ditch this misguided proposal. It makes you look bad. Even if it's a calculated ploy into getting the Sixth District morons to like you better than Batshit Bachmann, it'll just backfire. You're not going to win over anyone who voted for Bachmann in 2008, so you might as well just look as appealing as possible to the people who didn't get to the polls at all. Or were just uncomfortable voting for a guy named Tinklenberg.