CAVETE: DISCUSSES STRONG MATERIAL
When I was a student psychiatric nurse, my class was looking at the effect of pornography upon how women were perceived by men and by themselves at one point. To research the subject more deeply, I bought The Pornography of Representation by the left-wing feminist Susanne Kappeler. When I brought it out of my rucksack in the house, my mother's gaze fixed on the second word, and she exploded: "What the HELL is that?" Pulling herself up to her full four foot eleven, she continued to thunder: "Let me tell you this, boy, THERE'LL BE NAE FILTH IN THIS HOUSE!!!"
When I explained that it was a critique of pornography by a female author who opposed it, she calmed down - a little bit. On reading the text, I got the impression of somebody who was incensed at the exploitation of women, although there wasn't much about how pornography, in reducing women to one function, also debases men - simply throwaway phrases describing intercourse as "phallic vexation" and a description of modern culture as a "phallocracy".
Where Kappeler lost me was in her struggle to differentiate erotica from pornography; at one point she concludes that the difference is in the reach either has - positing porn as a manifestation of what left-wingers thought symbolised the evils of modern industrial society, the production line - and decides that a Big Mac is thereby pornographic. Thus ended my fling with analyzing androcentric structures of oppression.
In today's Telegraph, Ben Leach reports that Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas, having commissioned a "Top Shelf report", wants to push a Bill through Parliament which would see "lads' mags", newspapers with pornographic content and both papers and mags containing explicit sex-ads carrying age-ratings like films.
Good luck to her. Really. The greatest resistance will come not from the press but from inside her own party. Diane Abbott, taking a rest from plucking pseudo-statistics out of nowhere to justify imposing abortion on Northern Ireland, is ostensibly backing Mrs Curtis-Thomas, but is actually agitating for any code putting publications with pornographic images to remain voluntary: a law which I could demonstrate to her to be honoured more in the breach than in the observation in half a dozen shops that I know of in Cambridge.
Abbott's position seems at first sight to be a strange one for a feminist, but on examination it shows a curious internal consistency: boy sees a girl depicted as meat, boy meets a girl, treats her as meat, girl ends up as meat on an abortion-clinic table.
I write the above sentence advisedly. There's no erotica here in the sense that the Song of Songs can be said to be erotica. According to the Telegraph article linked to, 100% of female students surveyed found images in three of the worst offenders, The Daily Sport, Zoo and Nuts found themselves "angry, offended or upset" by the images therein, and so did 11% of males; but, tellingly, 20% of males "admitted that looking at this material encouraged them to see women as sex objects".
When I was having a shower during Wake up to Wogan this morning, the news came on, and I stuck my head out of the curtain when a not unrelated item came on. The Internet Watch Foundation has advised British ISP's to bar access to a Wikipedia discography page on the rock band the Scorpions because it contained a picture of the album cover for Virgin Killer.
Googling the cover I realised that I vaguely remembered it, and it is shocking, featuring a rather young naked girl with a crack in the camera-lens positioned strategically; it's so strong that one blogger defending the picture had to post it blurred and in black and white. The title track, according to the band, is about time being the killer of innocence - I looked at the lyrics and was unable to make my mind up either way - google them yourself, if you wish.
The thing is, this image, unsavoury as it is, has been in the public domain, in record shops, on CD's etc, since 1976 - 32 years. Why has the IWF only just decided that it is a "potentially indecent image of a child"? (In my mind the "potentially" is unnecessary.) Has somebody chanced upon their old dictionary and looked up "morality"?
Cambridge is a mid-sized town in a corner of England, yet it seems that every few weeks there's a scandal involving somebody being found to have downloaded pornographic pictures of children to their computer (downloading satisfies the description of "making" a picture), so I imagine there's a lot of it going on throughout the UK, never mind the world. Most of these pictures are coming from the internet. Would identifying and blocking the sites and bringing their perpetrators to justice not be a more worthy goal than one which certainly raises awareness for the IWF, but also sees the Scorpions' and Virgin Killer's profile higher than it has been for decades? (And why pull the page with the cover for the Scorpions album, but let the one with a picture of the cover for Nirvana's Nevermind remain?)
The trouble is, many of society's public figures seem unable to identify where the line between acceptable and unacceptable is because much of "society" has been on a 40-year spree of blurring lines and inserting large grey areas into black-and-white issues. For example, Annie Liebovitz' controversial Vanity Fair photograph of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus might be somewhat tasteful if it were of an adult, but being as it is of a 15-year-old girl it is totally unacceptable - witness the strong points made in the Report of the APA [American Psychiatric Association] Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls. The title of the equivalent Australian report lays bare the reason behind the blurring of said boundaries - Corporate Pedophilia.
So what about the "lads' mags"? Where does the erotic become meretricious; when does a celebration of the human form become a desecration of it? This is something burlesque artiste Dita von Teese has thought about a lot, resulting in an act that, while strong stuff, is at least as cerebral as it is sensual and has won her as many female fans as it has male. But the lads' mags are sheer exploitation - misogyny 101. As one blogger writes: "Think giving lads mags age ratings will silence the anti-lads mags lobby? Will it [expletive deleted]! Cos once they get age ratings and then lads mags put on the top shelf they will as we all know call for lads mags to be banned completly!" Too right, pal.
Earlier this year, DJ Chris Evans was recalling his pre-launch interview with the editor of one of the bigger two lads' mags, either Nuts or Zoo, I forget which. Evans stated the man had presented it as a publication that father and son could read together; the DJ paused for a couple of seconds, then said quietly, "that must be some family".