Thursday, 11 June 2009

Outlawing violent porn

Warning: links contain very unpleasant material

Completely by accident, I stumbled on this article on the Guardian website. It's an excellent (if historical) debate of Britain's Criminal Justice Bill, which passed into law last year. Viewpoints both for and against the law are presented, including feminist views from both sides of the fence.

The Act was the result of a long campaign by one Liz Longhurst; a woman whose daughter, Jane Longhurst, was murdered by a man apparently obsessed with violent porn. Liz took the view - contested in the Guardian article - that the porn contributed to the violent behaviour of her daughter's murder.

The Criminal Justice Act outlaws 'extreme pornography', defined as:

- An act which threatens or appears to threaten a person’s life.

- An act which results in or appears to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals.

- An act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse.

- A person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal.

16 comments:

Danyl said...

- An act which results in or appears to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals.

- An act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse.


The first of these would ban Bergman's 'Cries and Whispers', the second would take out 'Bladerunner'.

Anonymous said...

The big difference would be both of those are not created purely with the specific intent of creating arousal, which (I could be wrong - I'll go and recheck it in a sec) is one of the requirements to make something legally porn.

AWicken said...

ISTR a story about one of the first obscenity prosecutions involving photography in France (19C). The artist's defence was that the image was based on a classical Greek myth, as illustrated by the backdrop and one or two Corinthian columns as props. The (successful) prosecution case can be summarised as "dude, she's having sex with a _donkey_".

Ahh, the eternal struggle between art and pornography...

Hugh said...

Anon, there's no over-arching law that defines pornography in a way that binds other laws - not here, and not in the UK. So this law's definition of pornography has to be read alone.

Anonymous said...

Another nail in the coffin of personal liberty. As long as what goes in the home stays in the home then there should be no issue. You cross the line, you do the time. Simple in my opinion. Start policing peoples thoughts and it is the beginning of a long and slippery slope.

Anna said...

I think there are a few issues going on in this debate. One is the intention of the depiction of violence (eg porn, art, social commentary, whatever).

The other is whether it involves real violence or is simulated. Most people would probably agree that porn featuring violence against non-consenting individuals is not a good thing.

Violence that is simulated (or consensual) is a different story. Arguably, no one is being hurt by the making of the porn - but, as a society, do we still want to affirm the 'right' of men to be aroused by the idea of hurting or killing women?

Tidge said...

Anonymous @ 8.59am, I believe the entire point is that the pornography in question DOES cross the line. The acts in it involve real people (usually women) being hurt - it is policing acts before the issue of thoughts even arises. I agree that there is a very fine line between art and pornography in some instances, and I don't believe that animated or textual pornography should be policed by this law, but considering what we know of the porn industry and certain societal power dynamics, I'd say it is precisely intended to stop actual people being hurt.

Danyl, both films are clearly ACTING right? The difference is that porn is not. The acts that occur are real, someone is actually doing them/having them done to them. The corpse section seems a bit open to interpretation - obviously if it is a real corpse then absolutely not, but I'm not sure I'm for saying "no you can't have necrophilic fantasies played out with porn actors made up to look dead".

The animal bit: uh, dangerous in the case of some animals, probably relates back to the other serious injury section, and also, how about animal rights? It's not far off abusing a child who is confused enough to get some physical pleasure from the abuse (yuck, I hate even writing that, but it's pretty common knowledge that sexual abuse can be very confusing due in part to this matter, right?).

Hugh said...

Anna, if you have a problem with men being aroused by hurting women, you've got a problem with the whole BDSM subculture. Would you go that far?

My initial problem with this was that it would appear that people who took photographs for their own amusement would get captured by the law. I was somewhat reassured when I read the 'serious injury' qualifier, which would presumably exclude whipping, spanking and other such stuff.

Not to say there aren't probably people who'd go further for their own sexual gratification, and potentially get in trouble if they photographed it.

Anna said...

Curly one. I don't have any 'instinctive' problem with BDSM, but I'd find it difficult to put my finger precisely on what distinction I'm drawing. I think the thing that makes me uncomfortable about violent porn is that its appeal is the fantasy of doing harm to a non-consenting woman. BDSM (as I understand it at least) is based on consent and the ability to withdraw consent, and doesn't have prescribed gender roles, so I would assume it's less likely to be a vehicle for someone who basically has a hatred for women (would be interested in other people's opinions on this)? I see it as completely possible for a man to be involved in BDSM while having respectful attitudes towards women, but I think that violent porn is based on a fundamentally disrespectful or dehumanising attitude. (That's not that same as saying that that watching porn induces men to act on misogynist feelings, though.)

Hugh said...

It seems to me Anna that what you're saying is you have a problem with men being aroused by the nonconsensual harming of women. Which I think almost everybody would agree with.

Unfortunately, the thing about BDSM is that although consent is required and can be withdrawn at any time, it often involes roleplaying scenarios where consent is absent. So an image of a consensual, violent BDSM scenario may look absolutely identical to an image of a kidnapping/rape. That's the main problem we're encountering here.

It seems to me that there is an ethically consistent position - that while the BDSM scenarios themselves are acceptable, images of them are not because they don't explicitly depict the activities of consensual. I'm not sure how people in the fetish community would respond to that though.

Anna said...

No, it's not a particularly robust argument. Arguments about violent porn (and often porn generally) tend to focus on the subjective effects of porn - either that it spurs individuals to commit crime, or that it encourages negative social attitudes towards women.

The link between porn and crime seems uncertain. The social attitudes issue is trickier. It's easy to see why women feel degraded or threatened as women by the idea of violent porn, and I think that exposure to violent imagery on a large social scale probably does affect people's views.

Of course, it's pretty hard to take a legislative stance against violent porn which doesn't end up censoring sexual material with no pornographic intent - more importantly, it does nothing about the attitudes of those men who condone or carry out violence against women, and who will probably find other ways to gratify these attitudes.

Although it might do more harm than good to try to legislate against violent porn, I don't think it should be celebrated as a 'right' either. I tend to think of it as a wart on the butt of freedom of expression, rather than a meaningful entitlement in a democratic society.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I don't agree with the premise that violent porn harms women to the extent that a law needs to be passed to protect them. It is ultimately a consensual act no different to BDSM, with the exception that money changes hands. However I admit this is contentious. So consider a thought experiment.

In aproximately 10 years, computer technology would have advanced to the point where real life movies of pornography could be made using simulated actors.

If these "creations" are undistinguishable from the real thing, would "outlawing violent porn" make the scenario described above illegal?

The answer to this question will put you firmly on the side of whether you believe in policing thought or not.

Anna said...

Anon, I don't think that's a thought experiment so much as a reality. There's plenty of material now which is pornographic but doesn't involve real people. I could write a story about sexually harming children and put it on the net, without involving or directly harming anyone.

I think that the issue of policing thought is a red herring. No one believes that it can actually be done, or has proposed it. And it's clearly quite possible to fantasise about harming women or children without any visual or others aids at all.

The more relevant question is whether we want violent porn, or enough of it, in our society to influence our social norms and imply that harming women and children might be OK. This isn't an example of policing thought, but of influencing it, or creating an environment in which particular kinds of anti-social thought can flourish. There are plenty of examples of portrayals of different groups of society encouraging negative perceptions of that group. You can go a couple of centuries back and find images of black people as licentious savages - the very ideas which lynch mobs bought into. You can come forward a bit in history and find images of gays as corrupt deviants, paedophiles and predators, or of Jews as subhuman. You can look at contemporary society and wonder how a large proportion of the US citizenry came to be convinced that Iraq harboured imaginary weapons of mass destruction, and launched a war on that basis.

Social attitudes affect people's perceptions of what is and isn't OK behaviour, and enough reinforcement of particular ideas can change the way people judge their own and others' behaviour.

I can't comment on whether simulated porn is or would be illegal either here or in the UK - I don't know enough about censorship laws, and I agree they're problematic. I don't, however, think that the right of a man to fantasise harm is as important as the right of a woman or child not to be looked at by a man who imagines raping him or her. Simply because you can't practically control such behaviour doesn't make it a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Hugh I was incorrect - but only slightly. This law itself defines pornography as something reasonably assumed to have been created for the specific purpose of arousal. Still making my initial statement (that those films aren't "extreme porn") valid.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I suggest you're splitting hairs.

You state that

"..I think that the issue of policing thought is a red herring. No one believes that it can actually be done, or has proposed it.."

but you go on to say

"..This isn't an example of policing thought, but of influencing it, or creating an environment in which particular kinds of anti-social thought can flourish.."

The majority is basically enforcing a view (against a minuscule minority admittedly) that this behaviour is undesirable and proposing legislation against it.

Make no bones about it, this is policing ones thoughts.

Consumption of this type of pornography goes on in the privacy of ones home. You might not like it but it directly affects no one.
Why should you enforce your social attitude on others?

Anna said...

If a particular way of thinking is legitimated on a large enough scale, it does affect people's actions. That's the whole point. If everyone around me thinks my racial prejudice is OK, I'm far more likely to act on it than if I know I hold a minority view which most people consider immoral.