Onion Won't Be Killed for Its Illustration (But It Might Do Time)

LOS ANGELES—Okay, we took some liberties with our headline about The Onion's brilliantly satiric illustration depicting Moses, Jesus Christ, Ganesha and Buddha "engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity," but only to make a point.

Of course, The Onion had its own point to make in the post titled "No One Murdered Because Of This Image." Text accompanying the illustration states, "The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way."

That's no doubt true, but considering the image depicts fisting, it's easy to imagine a context in which the creator of a real-life version of the Onion illustration would be prosecuted in the United States under obscenity laws and sent to prison. Think it can't happen? Ask Max Hardcore. He just got out of the slammer after serving time for making movies that many people believe are equally as offensive as the religious abomination depicted by The Onion. Would the person who created the cartoon still be unafraid if he knew incarceration awaited him?

In a cool case of media synchronicity, on the same day The Onion posted up its illustration Forbes published an article titled "The Obscenity Police Are Coming." In it, writer Susannah Breslin addresses the threat made by presidential contender Mitt Romney that he will ramp up obscenity prosecutions if elected. Breslin mentions Max Hardcore; John Stagliano, who just escaped a stint in jail by the skin of his teeth (and prosecutorial ineptitude); and Ira Isaacs, who awaits sentencing after being convicted of obscenity recently by a Los Angeles jury.

Isaacs’ scatological productions live at the outer edges of the industry, to be sure, but then so does fisting a deity. Isaacs' defense rested in no small part on his insistence that he is an artist who creates art, an argument that clearly failed to impress the jury that finally convicted him after the government hauled him into court three times. The point being that being in the crosshairs of the state probably feels a lot like being subject to a firing squad of sorts. You just know you're not going to survive.

So, no, most religions don't resort to killing people who make fun of their sacred texts or prophets, but in the United States there is still a real-world penalty to be paid for making stuff not that different from what The Onion published.

Image: The Onion illustration, courtesy of theonion.com.