censorship, popular culture and pornography

In the past fifty years we have been the victims of many ill-advised social experiments. One such experiment was the relaxation of censorship.

It began in a major way in the early 60s and at first it didn’t seem like it was going to be a major problem. But of course it didn’t stop with just a relaxation of censorship. The relaxation continued until it reached the point where censorship became almost non-existent. There are many on the right who consider this experiment have been a disastrous failure. On the whole I agree with them although my views on the subject are a bit more complicated and I have no doubt that many in the social conservative and traditionalist camps are not going to approve of some of those views.

I should probably make the point here that I’m speaking of censorship in a broad sense. In the days of the Production Code Hollywood movies weren’t subject to government censorship. The censorship was done by the industry itself. The end result is however the same. It is important to emphasise that whether censorship is imposed by government or by corporations it is still censorship.

In my view there are two separate issues at stake when it comes to sexual material and censorship. There is sexual material that is imbedded in popular culture (and these days it is very deeply and thoroughly embedded) and then there is actual pornography. To my way of thinking it’s the sexual material that so thoroughly permeates our popular culture that is the biggest problem.

The reason I see this as the main problem is that sexual material in popular culture is inescapable, it is all-pervasive, it often takes the form of outright propaganda and it is extremely difficult to protect children from it.

It’s worth mentioning as an aside here that the Hollywood Production Code was introduced as the result of pressure by groups like the Legion of Decency and their main concern was not so much the explicit content (which was pretty tame even in the pre-code era) as the attitudes towards sex that were being encouraged. There was some nudity in pre-code Hollywood movies (such as the notorious scene of Jane skinny-dipping in Tarzan and His Mate) but the bigger concern was the number of movies that not only dealt with subjects like adultery sympathetically, they glamourised and celebrated that kind of immorality. Such attitudes were seen, quite correctly, as being extremely dangerous. Even more dangerous in that the immorality was sometimes presented in a less obvious way. Hollywood was always good at propaganda and while the propaganda was sometimes blatant it was often done in a more subtle and more pernicious way. The Production Code laid down very strict guidelines governing not just overt sexual content but also the messages that films were delivering.

And that’s the problem today with popular culture. It’s not just that there’s a good deal of inappropriate overt content. There’s also a relentless message encouraging and celebrating sexual depravity. The overt content is often graphic enough to be a huge problem in itself but the insidious messages are worse. A pop song glorifying anal sex probably does more harm than a fairly graphic sex scene in a movie. No matter how hard you try it’s just about impossible not to encounter such material and there really is no way you’re going to prevent children from being exposed to it.

Pornography is a different matter. My views on this subject might not be popular but to me it’s a matter of context. If you’re watching music videos or you’re watching a TV drama series or a thriller and suddenly you’re presented with graphic sexual content or messages then to me that’s a case a wildly inappropriate context for such material. You’re not prepared for it and you’re being exposed to it even if you don’t wish to be. And your kids are being exposed to it.

On the other hand if you buy a girlie magazine or visit a website that specialises in pictures of nude women then you’re expecting pictures of nude women. If you watch a porn movie you’re expecting to see people having sex and it’s hardly going to come as a shock. It’s an appropriate context. If you don’t wish to see pictures of naked women then you don’t have to visit that website or buy that magazine. If you don’t wish to see people having sex don’t watch a porn movie. It’s avoidable. It’s compartmentalised. You have to seek it out and it’s your choice. It’s not suddenly thrown at you when actually you’re expecting to see a straightforward thriller.

As long as you have to make a conscious decision to view the material it doesn’t worry me all that much. Of course there should be limits and restrictions and depending on the graphicness of the material there should be some hoops to jump through before you can access it, in order to make sure that people don’t stumble upon it by accident and to ensure that minors can’t access it. I do realise that these restrictions don’t work as well as they should in the internet age but to me that’s a technical problem rather than a moral problem.

My attitude towards this subject also varies depending on the exact nature of the material. There’s an extremely wide range of pornography, but broadly speaking to my mind you’re dealing with three categories. There’s softcore, which is basically naked women and simulated sex scenes. There’s hardcore, basically explicit images of real sex. And there’s the extreme end which covers some very disturbing and frankly disgusting stuff. The extreme stuff worries me and I’d be happier if people didn’t want such material and it is possible to make a fairly sound argument for banning a good deal of it outright.

Hardcore material worries me a good deal less as long as it is confined to the depiction of normal heterosexual activities (and perhaps I should mention in passing that I most certainly do not consider sodomy to be a normal heterosexual sexual act). If it stays within such limits I don’t think it’s a huge problem although of course it should be made impossible (or as near to impossible as can be managed) for minors to access it.

As for softcore porn, I have to be honest and say I don’t really have any problems with it at all. I can’t really imagine anyone being psychologically scarred by seeing pictures of naked women.

My principal concern is that pornography should be kept separate from mainstream popular culture, and that pornographic material should not be permitted to be infiltrated into mainstream popular culture. In my view this is where the real harm has been done. Sex is part of life but when popular culture becomes pornographic it encourages the idea that sex is all that matters in life.

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censorship and the sexualisation of pop culture

The process of dismantling censorship began during the late 1950s. It gathered stream during the 1960s and by the beginning of the 70s it seemed like most of the barriers had come down. There was resistance but at the time it didn’t seem likely to be all that disastrous. It was a classic example of the workings of the slippery slope.
In 1967, President Johnson established the National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The commission came to the conclusion that pornography was pretty much harmless. Given the amount of pornography around at the time, and the type, this conclusion might well have been quite reasonable. I’m inclined to think that girlie magazines and similar material really were pretty harmless. The trouble is that old slippery slope. The commission could not have predicted the explosion of hardcore porn in the US from the early 70s onwards, the rise of home video at the end of the 70s and the later advent of the internet, all of which changed not only the type of pornography that was around but much more crucially led to dramatic increases in both the quantity and the ease of access.
While I admit that pornography today is a problem I’m actually much more concerned by the ways in which porn has seeped into the mainstream popular culture. The relaxation of censorship allowed pop culture to become incredibly sexualised. While you still have to make a conscious effort to seek out pornography pop culture is inescapable. This has consequences when it comes to children. The average 13-year-old girl is very very unlikely to go looking for internet porn but she is going to be exposed to pop music, to popular movies, to TV, to the social media culture. All of which are awash with sexuality, mostly of a fairly unhealthy variety. Take your daughter to a Disney movie and she’ll be exposed to homosexual imagery, and this in a movie clearly aimed at children.
It’s not so much the explicit content that is the problem, it’s the attitudes. Young women are being encouraged not just to behave sexually like men, to behave sexually like homosexual men. As explained in a recent horrifying post at The Knight and Drummer Teen Vogue is encouraging your teenage daughter to explore the wonderful world of anal sex. Sexual perversion is being normalised and while porn has played a part in this it’s the mainstream pop culture that is doing the greatest harm.
I do have some sympathy with the idea that maybe censorship should not have been relaxed anywhere near as much as it was but any attempt to reintroduce meaningful censorship will be futile unless it targets that mainstream popular culture. 

blasphemy laws and why we may be stuck with them

I wasn’t going to mention the Stephen Fry blasphemy case but now Richard Dawkins has jumped in on the issue. Dawkins of course wants the blasphemy law repealed.
My position on this is a bit complex. I believe that if you have a mono-cultural mono-religion society then you don’t need blasphemy laws. The reality is that we don’t have that type of society any longer. We now have a multi-cultural multi-faith society. In such a society blasphemy laws are an unfortunate necessity. Minority views do need to be protected. If they’re not protected you’re going to have trouble. That’s just reality. We have something even more difficult to deal with – a society divided not only on cultural racial and religious lines but even more bitterly divided on ideological lines. A multi-cultural multi-faith multi-ideology society is a society in which conflict is going to be continuous and bitter. 
We already have a society in which Christianity is under never-ending and vicious attack. Now increasingly we have each of a variety of religions, including atheism, in a state of permanent low-level war. We also have a society in which atheists like Dawkins are permitted to attack religion without limits. If there are no limits to the viciousness of the attacks it’s all going to end very very badly. Unfortunately I do think some limits are needed on the extent of the viciousness of the attacks. Did Stephen Fry cross the line? That would be for a court to decide.
Of course in an ideal world we would never have allowed our society to become a multi-cultural multi-religion war zone. But we did allow that to happen and one of the unfortunate consequences is that blasphemy laws may be required in order to dampen down the conflicts.
This is the world that liberals (like Stephen Fry) wanted. Now they have to live with it. If you want diversity you end up needing all sorts of intrusive and unpleasant laws, such as blasphemy laws. A diverse society will either destroy itself or it will become a police state. You can have freedom or you can have diversity. You can’t have both. We chose diversity.

exposing the crybullies

One of the more sinister developments of the past couple of years is the rise of the crybully. The crybullies are people who pretend to have been victimised and pretend to have been traumatised by this victimisation when in fact they themselves are the actual bullies.
We’re all familiar with this phenomenon from recent events on American university campuses, with students claiming to have been reduced to tears and claiming to have suffered damage to their mental health by having to listen to the opinions of evil white right-wingers. A recent post on OzConservative details one of the more extreme recent examples.
In fact of course these students (most of whom spend more time indulging in “activism” than actually studying) have not been the least bit traumatised. They have discovered a new and powerful weapon with which to crush dissent and silence any remaining vestiges of freedom of speech. All they have to do is burst into tears or claim to have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or some such nonsense and they know that cowardly university authorities will cave in to their demands and prevent anyone from expressing opposing views on campuses. They are not victims. They are liars and they are bullies and they are determined to impose absolute uniformity of thought and speech.
If this was something that only happened on university campuses it would be bad enough but similar tactics are being employed in workplaces in the real world, in the mainstream media and in social media. It is a tactic being used to impose even more draconian limitations on freedom of speech on social media in particular. 
Of course the argument is often made, especially in the US, that social media is run by private companies so any protections in regard to freedom of speech do not apply. This is nonsense. If you run a social network you are establishing a public space and if you impose controls on freedom of speech then you are practising censorship. The internet is a public space. Those who control social media effectively control the internet. For such companies to impose censorship is in practice no different from the government imposing censorship.
The Social Justice Warriors are determined to control all public discourse. The crybully tactic is a terrifyingly effective tool that they are using with a great deal of ruthlessness.
To some extent this applies to the modern anti-bullying hysteria in general which can be employed for the same ends. It is a convenient cover for ever more sweeping hate speech legislation which means ever further limits on freedom of speech.
The crybully tactic needs to be exposed for what it is – another weapon with which to suppress any expression of dissent.

the thin end of the PC wedge

What’s worrying about the The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s recent action against Sydney shock jock Kyle Sandilands is not just that it’s yet another attack on freedom of speech. It’s the vagueness of the ruling, and the secretiveness of it. He’s been ordered “not to say anything that could be regarded as offensive or demeaning to women or girls.” Now what on earth does that mean? It sounds suspiciously like offensive or demeaning can mean anything this particular totally unnecessary bureaucratic waste of time wants it to mean.

The fact that The Australian Communications and Media Authority won’t reveal what it means adds to the suspicions.

Whatever this guy said is not worth yet more restriction on Australians’ freedom of speech. He might be an ignorant arrogant yobbo. But if we won’t defend his freedom to speak we will all lose. Freedom of speech must include the right to offend, otherwise it’s meaningless.

And it’s yet another yard of lost ground for defenders of freedom of speech. For defenders of freedom of speech everywhere, not just in Australia. The Thought Police operate internationally. If they get away with restricting freedom in one place they will use it to attack freedom somewhere else. Even the US with its constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech is not immune. If freedom of speech disappears in other countries the Thought Police will argue that the US is “out of step with the international community” and that Americans must accept limitations on this right as well. That “out of step with the international community” line is one of their favourite arguments to extend the global reach of Political Correctness.

It’s also one of their favourite arguments to extend other aspects of their political agenda. If they get abortion on demand or gay marriage in some places they then tell other people that they are now “out of step with the international community” if they don’t allow such things.

With the PC lobby you always have to beware of the thin end of the wedge.

censorship by stealth

The biggest peril to freedom of speech today comes from corporations that are willing to cave in to pressure from lobby groups and introduce self-censorship.

While it’s true that leftist governments, such as the current Australian government, are determined to do all they can to crush dissent and prevent freedom of speech the fact is that government censorship is at least relatively open and therefore easier to oppose.

Censorship by stealth in the form of self-censorship by media outlets is more insidious and much harder to fight against. And while the mainstream media has for decades been keen to toe the politically correct line the danger today is that the internet will go the same way.

This is a danger that conservatives have been slow to recognise. The left-wing bias of sites like wikipedia is potentially a greater threat than the left-wing bias of the dinosaur media like the New York Times, The Guardian and the Fairfax press in Australia.

An equally serious threat is that internet corporations, despite their brave talk on the subject of SOPA, will tamely submit to government censorship, or even the mere threat of it. The opposition to SOPA was driven mainly by the fear that it might cost them money. If it had been simply a matter of principle I seriously doubt that they would have cared.