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Home > Culture and Society

Don't Watch That, Watch Th... Oh, Don't Watch This Either

1 September 2006

Liz Longhurst can't really be blamed. Backed by MPs and a 50,000 name petition, she's just won her court battle to get a ban on the violent porn which she believes had a hand in the murder of her daughter. Any of us would be likely to seek the same in our rage and grief - whatever we fiercely defend now, we'd be very likely to try and pulverise it out of existence if it killed someone we loved. It might be more Buddhist to forgive, of course, but when it's something abstract like porn which society doesn't especially smile upon anyway, then the moral imperative isn't there. The assumption is that porn, unlike, say, cars (which kill people relatively often), serves no positive purpose. So it can go, and it's better all round. No argument.

The campaign has led to the government announcing plans to make the possession of violent porn an offence, carrying a penalty of three years' imprisonment. This apparently 'closes a legal loophole'. But where 'offensive material' is concerned, there's a whole scarf of possible loopholes, depending on where your line of squeamishness is. The material gobbled up by Graham Coutts allegedly inspired him to strangle Jane Longhurst, and we'd totally buy that in part, it did - of course, you need a disturbed mind to begin with, but extreme porn is more likely to trigger the latent murderous urge than extreme mountain-biking. We can't be sure what the material consisted of, exactly, but we'd probably be shocked by it. It's probably stuff that's way beyond what we can stomach, despite priding ourselves somewhat on our dauntlessness in the face of gruesome things. We don't like sexual violence all that much, thanks, and we probably wouldn't want to go drinking with people who film it for a living.

And yet once again we find ourselves trotting out the same tired anti-censorship drivel to ourselves, because we sort of have to. It's bothering that the government are seeking to draw firm lines across porn, tidy up the legislation, and decide what makes its watchers dangerous and what just makes them a bit horny. Once you get into 'extreme' territory, lines start to get inevitably blurry - one person's extreme is another person's gentle pursuit. A couple of nanoseconds online throw up a whole dossier of evidence against puppy-burning, skull-fucking, child-eating Marilyn Manson, who genuinely frightens and angers thousands of people. You might not be able to watch his naked sacrilegious cavortings in polite company, but it's not really horrific - it's just the somewhat provocative work of a clever bloke with a strong visual sense and a rather childish love of swearing. Not that you can compare the video for 'The Fight Song' with whatever Graham Coutts was watching, but for some people the line of tolerance is so far back from both, they might as well be cut from the same heaving slab of evil. (Not to go too far down this road, but 'The Exorcist' and 'A Clockwork Orange' were both banned until a very few years ago.) Trusting a government to be able to draw sensible boundaries is difficult, especially when you suspect they'd pretty much ban all porn if they could. (They'd have a fine example in their US counterparts, who are busily sending the FBI into public libraries to rip the throbbing, tumescent menace out at the root.)

The thing with porn is that plenty of perfectly well-adjusted people use it in order to healthily and normally and peaceably wank themselves into stupors. It's a legitimate thing for a person to do in a free society. Some people are built to need nastier, more dubious material to get them going - some of them may not be very pleasant company, but that doesn't remove their right to look at what they choose. Even though they might go on to commit a crime, which may or may not have anything to do with what they've been looking at - you have to let people look at porn just as you have to let people drive cars. The activity is not inherently dangerous. Porn serves a need, otherwise it wouldn't exist, and whatever issues its existence raises it can't be denied that it makes many people pretty happy.

But despite the well-documented problems with sexual dysfunction and repression which the lack of an outlet can cause or perpetuate, the government is never going to consider for a breathless second that porn (in essence at least) must be protected as a valuable resource. As with drugs, it's just a lot easier and cleaner to Not Go There, and file porn away as one of those irrational little evolutionary blips that serve no purpose whatsoever. Like vestigial tails. (We're sure there's some porn on that, but you can look it up yourself, you craven degenerates.) It's something people consume because they simply don't know any better, not because it serves a basic requirement in their lives. Trouble is that if that simple equation were acknowledged - porn = release + (maybe a fag) - a few difficult theoreticals might follow...

Such as 'If violent porn led to violent crime in this one case, how do you know there weren't a thousand other potential murderers who never fulfilled that potential, because they were sufficiently mollified by the same material?' And then, y'know, you'd have to start on about the same principle when it comes to child porn, and what the rate of correlation is between watching and doing, and how many people convicted of possessing child porn used it to work out their grim fantasies and that was that, and then maybe tentatively think about some kind of safe scheme where you could provide already existing material to paedophiles, like a methadone programme, and... Or maybe you'd be forced to acknowledge some banal truths about psychology, and how people have inbuilt limits, and how some of them could live in a nice house with no telly or Internet and they'd still kill because of something they thought, not observed.

Yeah, fuck it. It's too complicated. Ban all of it. Put it all in the Oxford Street branch of Ann Summers and petrol-bomb the fucker. That way there'll be no more sex crime, or at the very least no more hilarious saxophone interludes.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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