Patently offensive  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Patently offensive is a term used in United States law regarding obscenity and the First Amendment.

The phrase "patently offensive" first appeared in Roth v. United States, referring to any obscene acts or materials that are considered to be openly, plainly, or clearly visible as offensive to the viewing public. The Roth standard outlined what is to be considered obscene and thus not under First Amendment protection. The Roth standard was largely replaced by the Miller test established by Miller v. California (1973).

Roth standard

According to the "Roth Standard" a work is obscene if:

  • The dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to a prurient interest in sex,
  • The material is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters,
  • The material is utterly without redeeming social value

Miller test

The Miller test was developed in the 1973 case Miller v. California.

It has three parts:

  • Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. (This is also known as the (S)LAPS test- [Serious] Literary, Artistic, Political, Scientific).

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, writing for the majority, included the following definitions of what may be "patently offensive":

  • "Representations or descriptions of ultimate sex acts normal or perverted, actual or simulated."
  • "Representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, and lewd exhibitions of the genitals."




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Patently offensive" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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