Monica Foster commentary: well well well, it appears that being gross and disgusting isn’t something you can get away with by labeling it “art” anymore – good
Five years after he was first indicted and after two prosecutions ended in mistrials, a Los Angeles-based maker and distributor of niche fetish films was convicted Friday of federal obscenity charges.
Ira Isaacs, who produced, sold and sometimes acted in films involving scatology and bestiality, was convicted on all five counts of selling and distributing obscene material surrounding four films he sold through a website he advertised as “the Web’s largest fetish VHS, DVD superstore.”
The seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for less than two hours Friday after a week-long trial, the bulk of which was made up of the screening of the four films. Two were Isaacs’ creations, and two were films he imported from Japan and distributed.
Isaacs’ first trial in 2008 was halted after the judge recused himself, following a Times report that the judge’s personal website contained some sexually explicit material. Isaacs’ second trial earlier this year ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of guilt.
Isaacs took the stand in his own defense this week, as he did at his March trial, saying his intent was to create “shock art” inspired by authors and artists including Franz Kafka and Marcel Duchamp.
“I’m an artist, and my stuff is art because I say it is,” he said. “Art is what artists do.”
Department of Justice prosecutors contended however that his claim to artistic motivations was “obviously simply a desperate attempt by the defendant to avoid being held accountable under the law.”
Noting that his website contains no mention of “art” or “artistic,” prosecutor Damon King said Isaacs was simply after the profits he could make by selling fetish films pushing the limits of the law.
Under the legal definition of obscenity, the material in question must have no serious artistic, scientific, literary or political value, in addition to appealing to prurient interests and being offensive by community standards.
Isaacs’ attorney, Roger Diamond, told jurors Friday that the crux of the case was about freedom of speech.
“This transcends the movies that you saw. This case is about the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “The question here is whether or not the 1st Amendment means anything.”