Provocative Op Ed of the Day

Garance Franke-Ruta takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page (generally hostile territory to folks of her ilk) to argue that in light of the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon, we should raise the age of consent for appearing in erotic content from 18 to 21:

Good. Joe Francis is a cultural pollutant. But as he contemplates life in prison, the rest of us ought to contemplate what he has wrought--or what kind of society we have allowed him to create on our watch. "Girls Gone Wild" and its skin-flashing antics--spring break, beach parties, Mardi Gras--may seem relatively harmless artifacts of our look-at-me culture, especially when compared with the mechanical bedroom scenes and stagey embraces of hard-core pornography. But that is precisely why they matter more: Mr. Francis's cameras have constructed a huge business out of recording the semi-nudity of "girls" who are not in "the business" at all: naïve girls, canny girls, drunken girls, pretty girls and not-so-pretty girls--regular girls, if one may put it that way. Above all, young girls. Mr. Francis has made it socially acceptable for a freshman at, say, Ohio State--living in a dorm room in Columbus like thousands of freshmen before her--to participate in soft-core porn.

If that phrase sounds too momentous for giggling (and often crudely embarrassing) flashes of skin, consider how much has changed in recent years. Once upon a time, a picture was just a picture. Today it can be wirelessly beamed to computers that can email it to networks where, once it is posted, it can be downloaded and endlessly reproduced by anyone who wants it. The detritus of 50 years of television is now available on YouTube, as are highlights from many DVDs. Just as Google transforms us all into archivists of previously fleeting moments, so too does the new digital recording technology give youthful acts a permanent life. In the case of Mr. Francis and his empire of imitators—not to mention angry ex-boyfriends with digital flash cards and a long memory—it can transform the playful exhibitionism of young women into scarlet letters that follow them around for life.

Is there anything to be done? Curtailing the demand side of such a “market” is difficult, requiring moralistic sermons and abridgements of speech. But the supply side is more vulnerable to change. It is time to raise the age of consent from 18 to 21—“consent,” in this case, referring not to sexual relations but to providing erotic content on film.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

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