Sunday 17 July 2011

Pornography and its Discontents

I went on holiday by mistake - or at least on the spur of the moment - this week, hopping up to the Lake District town of Staveley with a friend to spend a night in the unique surroundings of the Eagle and Child Inn, then have a wander around Ambleside. So far, so not exactly Withnail and I, but I hadn't figured on one thing that would cause a problem: tha lack of a decent mobile signal in the wilds of the Lakes, particularly on a stormy night like Friday.

Stranded in the pub, twitterless, I would have been stuck for something to read in the quiet moments while I waited for my friend to return from the toilet or the bar. Fortunately I had just subscribed to the Kindle edition of the Guardian this week and still had an issue backed up on the machine to work through. This would do, I figured, until I got to somewhere I could connect to wi-fi and download the weekend edition. And so it was that I wound up reading and agreeing with - up to a point, anyway - an article by Julie Bindel. (trigger warning: graphic descriptions of sexual abuse in pornography)

There are a lot of things I don't like about Bindel: her transphobia, her islamophobia, and her selective amnesia and special pleading when called out about both; her inability to take criticism, to the extent of siccing her good buddy, disgraced journo Johann Hari, on people as a kind of big fluffy attack dog; or the fact that I know, from personal experience, that she searches Twitter for her own name on a regular basis and chides people if they're not positive about her. But I think what we would both agree on is that the activities of the sleazebag 'Max Hardcore' are an affront to any notion of decent behaviour. Where we differ is on the inferences we draw from this privileged, cosseted little man's antics. Bindel sees this case as an inherent problem with pornography itself, comparing pornography as a medium to great human rights abuses of history:

'Other human rights campaigners rely on disturbing imagery to add strength to their arguments: footage of animals being caged and tortured; images of men being lynched in the American south by the Ku Klux Klan; pictures of mass graves in conflict zones.'

But there's a problem with this analogy. While what Max WankyNickname does to the women in his films is wrong, and while I for one would love to see him punished for it (at length, in a steel cage, by people wearing sap gloves - but then we all have our fetishes, don't we, Max), the fact remains that the porn industry is not the equivalent of the genocide against black people carried out by the KKK in the American south, or the genocide of other groups carried out by the millitias in Bosnia or Rwanda. I find this comparison both ludicrous and offensive. Porn - whatever problems you may have with it - is not the moral equivalent of genocide.

I do think Bindel is on to something with her analogy between the porn industry and the meat and animal research industries. Though I reject the dehumanising comparison between porn industry workers and livestock implicit in this analogy, it holds inasmuch as both industries are guilty of low standards of welfare, both represent the ugliest side of capitalism, both need tighter and better regulation, and both produce a homogenised, low-quality product which is a cheap perversion of the natural and desirable aspect of life - whether husbandry or, ahem, husbandry - which they distort to create factory-produced crap.

Prior to arriving in Staveley, I had been reading my friend another new Kindle acquisition of mine - Caitlin Moran's most excellent new book How to be a Woman. Moran takes a different attitude to porn, arguing that we need 'free range' porn and 'a 100 per cent increase in the variety of pornography available'. What Moran means by this is more than just the shallow 'variety' offered by the sexual Woolworth's pick-n-mix of DVDAs, hot grannies and interracial creampies, but a variety of approaches, of styles, of genres and ideologies underpinning the stuff people fap to.

This is an attitude to porn I can support, because to me the behaviour of someone like Max MyDaddyNeverLovedMeEnough is an industry issue, a workers' rights issue, and a rightness of content issue rather than an issue which suggests the entire genre in which he works should be banned. By way of a more fitting analogy, consider the action film, particularly the martial arts action film as popularised by Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude van Damme et al in the late eighties, early 90s. This genre of film has many similarities to pornography (many heterosexual women and gay men could argue with some justice that in the case of the early van Damme ouevre the distinction between the films' ostensible genre and pornography collapses completely) in that the 'plot', such as it is, exists primarily as a frame on which to hang a number of fight scenes of increasingly graphic character, in much the same way that the 'plot' of a porn film exists as a frame on which to hang a number of fucking scenes of an increasingly graphic character.

So far so good. But now imagine that someone decides to start making 'hardcore' action films, which contain only the fights - and make them real and basic, rather than choreographed and balletic, at that; which show no regard for the health of the participants, and in fact seem to delight in injury or trauma being inflicted upon them; and which dispense with any semblance of a plot, a moral, or an emotional core beyond vapid, dead-eyed ultraviolence. Would we allow someone to continue making such films? Would we accept it? No. We would not.

And this is where, despite my disagreements with Bindel, I part company with the extreme free speech advocates on the pornography issue, because I do not believe all porn is justified under the 1st Amendment or the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Pornography in which workers are abused by pathetic, petty tyrants who style themselves 'stars', in which audiences are abused by being pandered to with substandard content, needs to be regulated out of existence. Like the food industry, pornography is capitalism at its ugliest; and, like the food industry, it needs to be regulated more strongly and more aggressively, because the products of an UNregulated porn industry are bad for us all.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

The Appendices Will Be Printed In Heaven

Yes, I did delete the poem in the last post. That's coz I entered it in a competition and was worried the organisers might consider a poem I'd already blogged 'published' & therefore ineligible. Here's another new poem by way of compensation, based, like the first, on performances at the Newcastle branch of Dr Sketchy's, in this case a tribute to the late Poly Styrene:

Tank Girl Lives!

i.m. Poly Styrene 1957-2011

Doughboy-helmet, mirrored shades,
draped flag, glimpse of fishnet,

wrists bound, head Diana-tilted,
Bambi with a PTSD-stare,

a sneer honed by facing down
the mocking curiosity of bus stops;

upraised middle finger,
jagged ‘X’ taped on each nipple:

the back of the 50p-piece
as redesigned by Jamie Hewlett.

These Dr Sketchy's poems are part of a series I'm doing based on performances at the Newcastle branch, which are being combined with photos from the events and exhibited at Fifth Floor, the home of Spill Culture Club in Newcastle. Do get along to one of their events if you can, they're ace!