Friday, 2 April 2010
PORNOGRAPHY AND THE LAW.
So, I’m mulling over ideas for my blog. Just a short essay, I thought. I want to get back to writing my Erotic story; it’s liberating me and keeping me young.
Then, I started to wonder -- am I writing Erotica or Porn? Is there a difference? There must be.
So why not an essay to try and decide? Should be easy; find out the legal definition of Pornography, here, in the U.K. Perhaps in the U.S. too. Discuss where I’m coming from. Find out a few celebrated opinions; for and against.
But I discovered, right away, it wasn’t going to be straight forward. There doesn’t appear to be an absolute definition for Porn.
In the “Obscene publications act 1959” they have a “Test of obscenity”.
“For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.”
The Americans say more, but they don’t seem any clearer than the Brits. From the “Free Dictionary, on-line.”
“The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media scenes, of sexual behaviour, that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest. Pornography is the depiction of sexual behaviour, that is intended to arouse sexual excitement.”
Are you any clearer? I’m not. I’m not getting it. Considering the law in the U.K. is celebrated for its plain and unequivocal use of language, this surprises me. The only phrase that stands out to me is “deprave and corrupt”. Whom is being depraved and corrupted? Are Pornographers proselytising folk out there? Dragging innocent people off the street to make them a part of their depravity?
And the Americans aren’t much help either. I know that some of the stuff that I write “arouses sexual excitement.” The same with my writer friends. I remember reading THE BRANDING by Oatmeal girl. It seemed to come from a very dark place; as did DARK GARDEN by Remittance Girl. Janine Ashbless’ stories too, M.Christian’s and Jude Mason’s. Are we all unwittingly writing Pornography? Breaking the law? Or is the phrase “intended to arouse sexual excitement”, a get out clause? If it isn’t our “intention to arouse sexual excitement.” It’s certainly our intention to write a good story. We just happen to “arouse sexual excitement” as well.
I still want an absolute definition for Pornography. No-one’s giving me one.
I found this on the web.
“There is no legal definition of Pornography, which is very confusing! The law applies to the Internet in the same way as it would apply to any other type of media. What is illegal off-line is illegal online.”
“Pornographic material is considered legally ‘obscene' if it is judged to have ‘a tendency to deprave and corrupt' the intended audience. (Obscene Publications Acts 1959 & 1964, as amended). This normally applies only to the most violent and degrading adult pornography. It is currently an offence to ‘publish’ obscene material. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 has introduced a new offence of being in possession of 'extreme pornographic material'.”
There’s that phrase again; “deprave and corrupt”. But at least the article is going a little way further, talking about; “the most violent and degrading adult Pornography.”
They still don’t say what. It’s left to my lurid imagination.
Then I found this;
"Pornographic material which depicts necrophilia, bestiality or violence that is life threatening or likely to result in serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals has no place in a modern society and should not be tolerated," says a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice. (BBC News 2008)
At last, some words I can understand. I mean, this is important. Some stuff I want spelling out.
I’m feeling more secure. I’m being given some guidelines. What I, and a lot of writer friends publish has to be classified as Erotica. We don’t write about the stuff the Woman from the Ministry talked about. Therefore we are not Pornographers.
That’s right, isn’t it? Well isn’t it?
There have been a number of high profile cases brought against various individuals over the years, brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
From the Web again;
1960: the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, obscenity trial (found not guilty)
1971: the “Schoolkids’Oz” obscenity trial (found guilty, overturned on appeal)
1976: the “Inside Linda Lovelace”, obscenity trial (found not guilty)
1984: the “Gay’s The Word”, prosecution (charges dropped)
1991: David Britton’s "Lord Horror" prosecution (not prosecuted - banned under the
act, but later overturned)
2009: Darryn Walker found not guilty under the Obscene Publications Act for posting a story entitled "Girls (Scream) Aloud", a fictional written account on an internet erotic story site describing the kidnap, rape and murder of pop group Girl’s Aloud.
“A defence against the charge of obscenity on the grounds of literary merit was introduced in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The OPA was tested in the high-profile obscenity trial brought against Penguin Books for publishing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (by D.H. Lawrence) in 1960. The book was found to have merit, and Penguin Books was found not guilty — a ruling which granted far more freedom to publish explicit material. This trial did not establish the 'merit' defence as an automatic right; several controversial books and publications were the subject of British court cases throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.”
“There is a substantial overlap between legal erotic literature and illegal pornography, with the distinction traditionally made in the English-speaking courts on the basis of perceived literary merit. Purely textual pornography has not been prosecuted since the “Inside Linda Lovelace” trial of 1976. In late August 2005, the government announced that it plans to criminalise possession of extreme pornographic material, rather than just publication.”
But what’s really going on here? These are surely just fantasies; stories that we tell ourselves. Images and words to allure us and arouse. We’re grown ups, we know the difference between illusion and reality; don’t we? What is the government so afraid of that they need to censor our dreams -- and our nightmares?
Well according to the law, we do need to be shielded from certain types of Porn. Some people apparently can’t separate their dreams from the real world. The vulnerable do need to be protected from predators. Eminent men and women, report that viewing extreme, explicit Porn, can influence minds that are already disturbed.
Everyday news reports are loaded with stories of violent attacks, brutal rapes even murders. Whether the paedophile Roy Whiting, had viewed Porn before sexually assaulting and murdering little Sara Payne, we don’t know. Neither do we know if the Soham killer, Ian Huntley, had ever viewed Porn, before he murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
But children have to be protected from the violence of sick minds, as do women and men from the perpetrators of domestic violence.
Is there any proof that Porn aggravates the urge to do harm? That viewing it, or reading it, can make folk forget that they are right thinking human beings? That they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong? There’s a lot of opinion that Porn is an unhealthy trigger and can push people over the edge into a dark world.
There are also opinions that state that viewing Porn does not act as a trigger at all. The urges to commit sexual and violent acts, are inate in these people. Already in the psyche of the potential perpetrator.
Several years ago, Jane Longhurst, a teacher from Brighton, was murdered. It later emerged that her killer had been compulsively accessing websites such as Club Dead and Rape Action, which contained images of women being abused and violated. When Graham Coutts was jailed for life, Jane Longhurst’s mother, Liz, began a campaign to ban the possession of such images.
Supported by her local M.P. she found a listening ear in the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who agreed to introduce legislation to ban the possession of “violent and extreme Pornography.”
“This was included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which will get its final reading this week and will get Royal Assent on 8th May (2008).”(From BBC News. 2008).
I think that’s all enough to be going on with. At least I understand now what people mean when they talk about “extreme porn.” I had an idea, but I didn’t really know when I started out writing this.
Was I naïve? I don’t know. What I do know, and am very sure of is that I, and my writer friends, write Erotica. And, as Janine Ashbless said to me when people talk about Porn and how it should be banned. What they usually mean is; “Erotica I don’t like.”
It’s real, it’s scary and it’s out there. Really, it is. Perhaps the laws do need to be tighter -- perhaps, in the name of democracy the laws should be relaxed. As usual, as with any passionate debate, I find myself agreeing with the last person who has spoken.
One thing I did learn very early on, when I first started writing Erotic stories, is that there are areas which I will not, cannot venture into. I remember reading a castration story on the Literotica website. It made me want to throw up. So did a lot of things I’ve read, putting this essay together.
But a lot of stuff makes me want to throw up. Some years ago I read Joseph Conrad’s novel; HEART OF DARKNESS. That made me want to throw up. So did the film; PLATOON. Neither the book, nor the film are Pornographic.
Still made me want to throw up.
Clearly, we can’t add “what makes billierosie wanna throw up” to our still, much needed absolute, definition of Pornography.
Sometimes all I can say is; “I don’t know”.
I still don’t know -- so I’m going back to the cosy world of my Erotic story.
Burying my head in the sand? Yes; for now. But I’ll be back, thinking some more, when I’ve caught my breath.
(Thanks to Fulani and Janine Ashbless for their support and for giving me the ideas to put this essay together.)
Take a look at these ideas from well known commentators below.
From The Guardian. September 2006
Joan Bakewell. Broadcaster.
“Mrs Longhurst is to be congratulated on the success of her crusade. It shows that individuals can still be effective. But I see problems ahead. The first concerns the difference between reality and simulation. Will looking at images of gross brutality that have been acted out, without real harm, really be prosecuted? If so, we could be back to the case that beset The Romans in Britain, the stage play that included a simulated anal rape, which Mary Whitehouse tried to have banned.
Secondly, I would prefer to prosecute not those who look at the images, but those who put them there in the first place. This should be possible: making and distributing extremely violent pornography is already illegal. So why can't we censor the images that are produced, removing them from the internet, before they reach their intended audience? Surely if China can stop liberal ideas from reaching its people, Britain can keep extreme pornography from a much smaller population?
The idea that pornography causes murder is hard to prove. My television series Taboo tried to demonstrate the link. But the truth is that many people can watch films of cruelty and degradation without harmful effect. That said, extreme pornography degrades women and brutalises men, which is why I think that removing it from the internet would be the best way forward.”
Julie Bindel, feminist campaigner and journalist.
“For those of us who know how much harm porn does - to the women raped and beaten in its production, and the men who consume it and start to see women as meat - the proposed new law against violent pornography provides a glimmer of hope.
There are, of course, people who have never encountered extreme pornography, can't really imagine what it could be like, and therefore can't see why we need this law. Twenty-five years ago I watched a snuff movie with other anti-porn activists, journalists and special film-effects experts. One of the activists had gone into a porn shop in England and asked if the owner had something "really extreme". He gave her a film of a woman in South America being raped, tortured and murdered. As a finale, her hand was sawn off. By that time it was only the feminists left in the room, the others having run out to cry, or throw up. We knew what we would be seeing, because we had heard about it from activists in the US who were fighting the same battles.
We had proved that snuff existed (the film experts verified that there were no camera tricks to depict the sawing), and one of the journalists wrote copiously about the issue, urging police to take action. Nothing happened.
Since then the internet has allowed men to film themselves abusing women and children, and to distribute these images to thousands of people worldwide, within minutes. For a woman whose rape and violation is now a piece of entertainment, she has to cope with the knowledge that the record of this may well outlive her.
Earlier this year, I did some research for a film company on violent porn, and found an image on the internet that haunts me. It was a photograph of a dead naked woman in a ditch, who had been beaten and seemingly raped. Her flesh crawled with maggots. Some men will find that picture sexually arousing. Those men need to be stopped from creating the demand that encourages the murder of women simply in order to satisfy their grotesque desires.”
Holly Combe, member of Feminists Against Censorship.
“One of my main concerns for victims of genuine abuse is that their abuser is prosecuted, not whether somebody looked at the evidence and became turned on. I would also suggest that anyone who commits a serious crime is unlikely to put the results all over the internet, and that many of the sites likely to be affected by the new laws would actually be showing sexual activity between consenting adults. The government seems to be making the point that some sex acts are so wrong that individual consent doesn't count and that it is the place of authority to dictate our sexual preferences or place limits on them.
I would also add that even the original consultation paper for this bill openly states that there is a lack of evidence to support claims about the links between viewing porn and engaging in non-consensual, abusive behaviour. In my view, the proposed law potentially absolves killers who enjoy violent porn of responsibility for their actions.
The bottom line is that the majority of people aren't into BDSM [bondage/domination/sado-masochism] and that means it's all too easy for most of us to say, "It won't affect me if you ban that" and allow this bill to pass into law. But if we let the government tell us what we can and can't look at, who knows what they'll be able to achieve in the future?”
Jeremy Coutinho, chair of Object.
“Obviously these proposals are "a good news day" for women's human rights. They plug a legal loophole whereby the distribution and sale, but not the possession of violent material, was illegal.
Simply closing this loophole, though, does not in itself address society's attitudes towards women, which are still extraordinarily sexist and allow rape, sexual assault and discrimination to flourish. The mainstreaming of a porn aesthetic and outlook is now endemic.
So, for instance, in Virgin Airline's executive lounge at JFK, the introduction of urinals shaped like women's mouths was only abandoned after massive protest. Then there was Zoo magazine's "dictionary of porn" which described abusive porn such as "pink eye" (ejaculating on to a woman's eye ball). Zoo is sold without age restriction as a "lifestyle" magazine, often for as little as 60p.
Or take the Sport "newspaper", which described the sex life of Jane Longhurst's murderer as "an adventurous romp" on a page crammed with graphic adverts for sex chat lines and hardcore porn.
While I welcome this bill, the mainstream objectification of women has to be tackled too if the government is really serious about women's human rights.”
Bonnie Greer, playwright.
“The creation and use of pornography is as old as humankind. In the 18th century, pornographic novels were used to spread ideas that later became the foundation for the Enlightenment. Ulysses, arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century, was called porn. So was Manet's Olympia; Goya's The Naked Maja; Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
While snuff imagery, female mutilation and gynaecological surgery is not my idea of entertainment, these sites are usually made by adults and consumed by adults and it is as important to protect consenting adult behaviour as it is to protect children, the aged, racial minorities, and the disabled. While any decent human being can sympathise with a grieving mother, particularly in the face of an especially horrendous crime; we can allow neither her, nor 50,000 petitioners, nor a government that has lost its way, to criminalise legitimate, private, adult behaviour. The arena of adulthood must be allowed to exist for the sake of democracy.”