Friday 12 December 2014

Face-Sitting and Freedom

From the marches, rallies and strikes of the labour movement through Reclaim the Night and slutwalk set pieces, occupations outside St Paul's, sit-ins, teach-ins, kiss-ins, die-ins, hashtags seething with rebellion, round-robin emails, flash mobs and naked bike rides; the repertoire of modern protest is a multifaceted thing. Surely everything that can be has taken place under the contentious sun. Or perhaps not. This afternoon a group of protesters gathered outside the Palace of Westminster and ... sat on each others' faces. Hardly a mass action to be sure, but its heavy trailering in the Indy and, interestingly, The Telegraph ensured plenty of press were about on an otherwise quiet afternoon down the village.

Despite it all being a bit Carry On, or, Confessions of ..., there is something serious afoot. As has been covered by the press. It might be described as a bit of legislative tidying up, bringing paid for porn streamed off the internet in line with rules governing adult content in DVDs and the like. What has upset protesters and people who care about individual liberty (apart from Tim Stanley, and perhaps some Trots) is that while films featuring certain sexual acts can still be purchased, pornographers here have been banned from selling certain content. Most S&M staples are out, including spanking, caning and restraints. Humiliation and fisting are no-noes, as is verbal abuse, things to do with toilets, female ejaculation and, of course, face-sitting.

Now I'm not about to argue that porn is a bit of harmless fun. Male-centered heterosexual porn can be deeply problematic because of the exploitative framing of scenes and the sexual condensation of gendered power relationships. However, it is worth noting that most UK-produced mainstream porn will be unaffected. As Charlotte Rose reportedly puts it, these measures will disproportionately affect queer, dominatrix and woman-centered product. i.e. Stuff that upsets gender roles and plays with them.

To think someone was actually paid to sift through hours of porn and tick acceptable and not acceptable boxes for pornographers is a bit strange. Then again, it's not in a contest of the British state having a long and inglorious history when it comes to "deviant" sex. In R v Brown (1993), a group of men were successfully prosecuted for consensual S&M under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act. A number of these men served time for aiding and abetting others to cause injury to himself. Incredible. It's also not that long ago when Section 28 was still on the statute books, there was no age of consent parity for straight people and gay men, and that the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexual acts permitted them only under certain circumstances (in private, between no more than two men, both have to be alone in a building, etc.) Not content with policing people's bedrooms, the state has been happy to vet erotic and otherwise obscene material, most notably Lady Chatterley's Lover. But as recently as 2012, in R v Peacock (AKA the obscenity trial) the state unsuccessfully brought a prosecution alleging the defendant's manufacture and distribution of gay BDSM material on the grounds it may "corrupt" and "deprave". Bizarrely, the Met even sent an undercover officer to the defendant's home to buy DVDs. What a waste of time.

The British state's interest in matters sexual operates on all sorts of seemingly innocuous levels. From next April, married couples, regardless of sexual orientation, will qualify for a tax break. If you're civil partners or merely live together, tough. Your relationship, and by extension, your sex life is not sanctified by the state and you should be financially penalised.

It is of course right that some things are beyond the pale, such as the publication of and commissioning acts of sexual abuse of children and animals. But the state's censorship in this case is about trying to police taste what would green light the misogyny in mainstream straight porn but outlaw firms whose aesthetic challenges that. Call me old fashioned, but as a general rule the state has no business censoring or banning sexual activities, subversive ideas and subversive people, or using legislative instruments to try and nudge people into what it deems acceptable forms of sexual and relationship practice. Socialist politics, among other things, are about realising freedom; of securing the social conditions in which petty authoritarian impediments no longer exist to prevent the full exercise of our faculties and inclinations; of the means to explore and realise ourselves as fully rounded-out human beings. Just because something is distasteful is not justification for banning it - far better it be left up to the good sense of people themselves whether they wish to avail themselves of humiliation pay-per-views, BDSM DVDs, and what our dear Prime Minister might call maso-sadism.

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1 comment:

DFTM said...

I think feminism and feminists have a lot to answer for in this modern moral panic, and those on the left who give them an easy ride.