By Hardy Jackson
Today, as what has been called the “silly season” is going full swing, as legislative bodies are passing laws willy-nilly, as candidates and their supporters are promising great things if they win and disaster if they don’t, two words come to mind: typical and ironic.
(You were thinking other words, weren’t you? Shame, shame.)
Loyal readers of this column will recall that Southerners use the term “typical” to suggest something you would expect but you don’t necessarily approve of. As revealed in this conversation:
“Willard was gonna cook ribs for us but had trouble getting the charcoal going so he threw some gas on it and burned off his eyebrows and the ribs too.”
“Now ain’t that just typical.”
“Irony,” on the other hand, is a little more slippery, for it involves an action that one would expect to go in one direction and, whoop, it turns around and goes the other.
Alabama politics typically drips with irony.
Consider. Once upon a time our legislators revisited the state’s anti-obscenity law. It was passed back in 1998 at the behest of a representative from Madison County who discovered women dancing naked up there and asked the legislature to put a stop to it. (How did he make this discovery? As we say in South Alabama, “some swamps don’t need draining.”).
Seeing this as a great chance to go on record for morality, our legislators decided to outlaw unclothed choreography in the rest of the state as well. Then, just in case some pervert wanted to watch that sort of thing on film they added a clause that put a crimp in the distribution of X-rated videos.
Now if they had stopped there, you probably never would have heard another thing about it, but they didn’t. At the last minute, someone decided that while they were doing all that criminalizing they might as well strike sin another blow, so they outlawed the sale of SEX TOYS!
We are not talking Ken and Barbie unrobed, no sir. The bill made it illegal to sell “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genitals.” (Never let it be said that moral crusaders can’t get graphic when they have to.)
Who wouldn’t want to protect the public from that?
So, it passed.
And everybody was happy, right?
Well, no. It seems that folks from a company that called itself, with a fine feeling for words, “Saucy Ladies,” went to court. You see, what our legislators consider sex toys are “marital aids” to saucy ladies. And besides, the company claimed these devices are used in the privacy of one’s own home, where the government has no business going.
The state, not wishing to appear soft on the sex toy scourge, fought back. And lost. The court ruled that the relationship between a person and his or her “aid” was not for regulating and told Alabama to rewrite the law.
Alabama, of course, appealed.
OK, lets run through this again. Legislators, upset with something going on in Madison County, outlawed it there and everywhere else, even though it might not have been going on everywhere else. All this ends up in court and guess what? Alabama loses. And guess what else? Alabama appeals.
Ain’t that just typical?
‘Course it is.
But is it ironic? Not yet, but I’m getting there.
While all this appealing was going on, and lawyers were getting rich, our legislature set to reconsidering the anti-obscenity law, which is pretty much unenforceable with the sex toy/marital aid clause in it.
So, you would think that legislators would solve the problem by taking one of those big old black magic markers and crossing out the offending section, leaving the rest intact.
Not in Alabama.
When a representative from Birmingham proposed simply taking the ban out of the bill, a majority of our legislators, not wanting the folks back home to think they approved of such, voted to keep those things illegal. They also, in effect, voted to keep the court case going and the court cost rising. But if it’s in the name of public decency it’s OK, I guess.
Typical again. But where is the irony?
So what happened?
Nothing. A federal judge told us we couldn’t have an anti-obscenity law that includes a toy/aid prohibition. We passed one anyway. But we can’t enforce it because the judge told us we couldn’t.
So passing this anti-obscenity law leaves Alabama without an anti-obscenity law.
Isn’t that ironic?
Ain’t that just typical?
Alabama all over again.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.