Sunday, September 11, 2005


Jerking Of(f) The Knee

I see that this government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided on a new law banning the viewing of so-called 'rape porn,' hardcore pornography which purports to depict non-consensual acts. This has been a response to the 'Longhurst case', in which a young teacher, Jane Longhurst, was killed by a psycho named Graham Coutts, who was allegedly obsessed with violent porn.

This is one of those cases that happen every so often in which libertarians like myself have to stand up for material that we find unappetising. I have never viewed any pornography that was non-consensual, and I frankly find the idea of doing so pretty digusting, but that isn't the point. After all, the true mark of tolerance is the ability to accept things that we personally find disgusting. There are many, many reasons why this law would be a foolish mistake, and here are some:

1) On 13th March 1996, Thomas Watt Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School and opened fire, killing sixteen children and one teacher. As a result of this tragedy, the Snowdrop Campaign was formed. This was an exceedingly well-meaning and ultimately successful petition and campaign that called for a total ban on handgun possession in Britain. Nobody at all doubts how well-meaning the petition was, but the fact is that the resultant law is fairly universally regarded as one of the worst-drafted pieces of legislation in living memory. Not only that, but it has been all but completely ineffective. Handgun possession and crime continued to rise irrespective of the ban.

The moral behind this is simple: laws based around one aberrant case make for bad legislation. The grief of the Liz Longhurst, as with the Dunblane relatives, is obviously perfectly right, and it's understandable that people in these situations wish something to be done. I'd be the same, I'm sure. However, it remains the fact that single cases just don't make for good laws, for any number of reasons.

2) One of those reasons is obvious in the 'rape porn' debate. That is simply that the boundaries between what is legal and what isn't becomes exceedingly blurry and problematic - in this letter to the Melonfarmers, a Home Office official clearly has little idea what will be legal, what will be illegal, and what will be subjective, objective, or whatever. Even that bastion of prudism, Mediawatch-UK, have criticised the law as 'badly put-together.'

3) The production of this sort of pornography in Britain is already banned, and so all this law is doing is making it illegal to download. The last comment on that link, by the way, is very definitely worth reading, as are these articles. This is going to cause problems in any prosecutions under this law, since it will be impossible to even prove whether or not the porn in questions was non-consensual, or merely consensual sex pretending to be non-consensual. This will either make prosecutions all but impossible, or, sadly but more likely, make a it illegal to view a legal act. This is related to:

4) There's no way to be sure of this, but past precedent suggests that exactly the wrong people will be prosecuted under this law. To my mind, the two most likely groups to suffer are:

a) People who access the material, and yes, even download it, accidentally. Contrary to popular opinion, this can, and indeed does, happen, as the Landslide Productions case shows. Landslide Productions was a porn webring, and users paid a fee for access to a number of sites. The allegation was that these sites featured child pornography, but the investigation, entitled Operation Ore, was riddled with problems. Firstly, it was impossible to tell from the credit card details that were seized what pornography, if any at all, people had viewed. The other problem, pretty major, was that it was pointed out that much of the incriminating data found on some suspects computers could simply have arrived by pop-up, or other means beyond the control of the user. Oops. So far, at least 33 people accused in the case, many of whom may well have been guilty of nothing more than paying to look at straightforward, adult-to-adult consensual sex as can be found on the most mainstream of porn sites, have committed suicide. Way to go.

The police will inevitably find it easier to target people who either recieve the material accidentally, or are just a little bit too inquisitive once in a while, than they will to target any actual perverts who take the trouble to cover their tracks.

b) The other group who will clearly suffer under the law are the BDSM crowd. Obviously, in spanking videos, that the act is seen to be non-consensual is almost always an integral part of the plot, yet the actors and actresses involved will have signed releases and contracts beforehand, and be taking part consensually in material for which there is almost always an intricate system of safeguards. Most BDSMers are well aware of the potential dangers of their material, and consequently their system of safewords and so forth is frequently safer than an average couple buying a pair of kinky handcuffs from Ann Summers.

5) One last reason to disapprove of the legislation is the waste of money that it will undoubtedly be. Costs of policing in Britain are already soaring, and I see little reason for my taxes to go towards a foolish, illiberal law like this.


Our moral betters have given us some reasons to be cheerful, however. The news this week that Roberta Findlay's 'Tenement - Game Of Survival' has been passed by the BBFC uncut 18, having been previously banned, is good news indeed. I have no idea if the film is any good, although it seems to have kept some of the more extreme gorehounds happy, but what is a cause for celebration is the continual narrowing of the 'Banned' lists. In point of fact, the number of 'serious' works left is getting smaller and smaller, with most of the works on the list being mondo documentaries from Bumfights, a series of instructional films on the growing of recreational drugs (why the hell were they ever submitted?) and a bunch of films so reputedly terrible that not even the distributors feel it worthwhile resubmitting. About the only film left on the list that needs re-submitting is Jim Van Bebber's no-budget vengeance film 'Deadbeat At Dawn', which enjoys a good rating at IMDb and also delighted the usual suspects. I would be willing to bet that it would pass at 18 today, maybe even without cuts in the lee of the 'Tenement' decision. The film has had problems with distribution in the past - Van Bebber was so unhappy at the Synapse DVD release in America that he made his arguments public. So did Synapse, when they released his drunken answer-phone messages to the public. They also market the film in America with 'BANNED IN THE UK!' in enormous letters on the front, according to the Melonfarmers. Whoever holds the UK distribution rights should get their act together and resubmit.

Deadbeat would pass the censor today. Please resubmit it!

Reactionary/exploitive legislators must be a universal.
Here we have similar crap surrounding the "Hot Coffee" mod for the popular game "Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas"

As if content you have to HACK YOUR COMPUTER to access could somehow damage vulnerable youths.
Listen, sweeties, if your 13 year old hacked his computer to watch badly rendered digital sex, chances are he's already sampled the hard stuff online.

Yet it seems every poli-hack wants to be on the record on this one, and I bet some friggin' law will be out.

Forever marveling at the hardening of the arteries of america:
fat, prudish, fearful and stupid:America
Another day, another moral panic.

I've already commented on this here, so I'm not going to repeat myself in detail. But in short, it's a bad piece of legislation driven by the government's desire to respond to an emotional appeal and - if it get's passed - it will do more harm than good.
Mr Inspector -

I've been meaning to have a go at the Hot Coffee thing for ages, but I keep forgetting. What a pathetic furore that was. It's only because the politicians have lost the arguments over general 'adult' material.

I was somewhat disheartened to see Mrs Clinton at the centre of the argument. It's becoming increasingly clear that she's at least as censorious as an average Republican.

Paul -

For the record, I thought your piece on the matter was spot on. There was a bloke in the comments of SBBS saying that the legislation would end up emasculated in the Lords when they realised it would affect their own bondage sessions. We can but hope.
One can only hope Mrs. Clinton is merely paying lip service to garner support.
I guess its pretty sad when a best case scenario involves intentional hypocrisy.

Leiberman has been involved in this bullshit forever, but I had hoped for better from Clinton.
Yeah, good luck with the choice in 2008 or whenever it is. . .
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