Legal Dictionary

obscenity

Legal Definition of obscenity

Noun

  1. An elusive concept used in the context of criminal law to describe a publication which is illegal because it is morally corruptive. The common law has struggled with this word as society has evolved towards greater tolerance of alternative sexual behavior. Historically, it included any lewd material which had no apparent social value, which was offensive to contemporary community standards of decency, and even material which tended to invoke impure sexual thoughts. As an example of a modern definition, Canada has defined obscene material as any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and crime, horror, cruelty or violence.

Definition of obscenity

Noun

obscenity (plural obscenities)

  1. (countable) Something that is obscene.

    Martha wouldn't go into the art museum because, as she put it, "They have obscenities just sitting out, on display!"

  2. (countable) An act of obscene behaviour.

    Bestiality was outlawed as an obscenity in the strongly conservative community.

  3. (countable) Specifically, an offensive word; a profanity; a dirty word.

    Eliza couldn't stand her daughter's music; as she saw it, it was just shouted obscenities and a heavy drum beat.

  4. (uncountable) The qualities that make something obscene; lewdness, indecency, or offensive behaviour.

    The coalition of religious conservatives was campaigning against, in their view, rampant obscenity in the entertainment industry.

Further reading

An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious. The term is also applied to an object that incorporates such a statement or displays such an act.

In a legal context, the term obscenity is most often used to describe expressions (words, images, actions) of an explicitly sexual nature. The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as "obscene profits", "the obscenity of war", etc. It is often replaced by the word salaciousness.

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, that which is obscene (i.e.: an obscenity) is quite simply defined as repulsive, or disgusting to the senses.

The definition of what exactly constitutes an obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities. Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene, and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control materials that are obscene under these definitions: usually including, but not limited to, pornographic material. As such censorship restricts freedom of expression, crafting a legal definition of obscenity presents a civil liberties issue.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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