Porn stars Aren’t Damaged Goods After All

I recently published a podcast featuring interviews with seven British porn stars. The idea for this had been generated several months earlier, when I was confronted by a variety of so-called progressives demanding I accept that pornography was “exploitative”. Knowing some people in the sex industries, I was sceptical. In my experience, those who attack the sex trade, in any form, tend to be more concerned about the “sex” part than the “trade” part.

Having been told that the trade exploits and abuses women (not men apparently – just women), I tried to respond, but was informed that, as a man, my views on sexuality are not to be trusted. So instead, I went to meet and interview female porn stars; I naively thought that perhaps, the voices of women who know the industry first-hand would change the minds of those who hate what they do.

If you have a spare hour to listen to it, please go ahead. It’s available on this blog, or as a podcast for download.

Today, one of the women I interviewed sent me a link to the Independent newspaper; finally someone has scientifically studied the feelings of the women themselves, and the results confirm what I was told during the interviews – porn stars are happy with their work, and don’t do it (as moralists assume) to make up for childhood abuse or other bad experience. In a nutshell, they get paid (plenty) to do what they enjoy doing.

The link came along with the following words:

Hurray! A positive article for a change!! X

This won’t sway anti-sex feminist groups like Object or UK Feminista; but it may at least help those poor liberal-minded guys n’ girls who enjoy porn, but feel guilty about it.

Liberal Racism and Africa

Back in London’s bad old racist days of the 70s, many council estates were National Front strongholds, and dangerous places for blacks and Asians to go. London’s middle classes, of course, abhorred the crude violence of the working class NF supporters. We fast-forward into the 90s, and the picture had changed drastically. London’s working class areas were now becoming racially mixed, and were producing ever greater numbers of mixed-race kids. Working class Londoners were creating new, mixed cultures, cutting-edge music and were transcending race.

Meanwhile those middle-class neighbourhoods that had scorned the National Front were as white as ever. White liberal London was almost untouched by the explosion of racial mixing, or the new cultures and musical forms it was generating. It seemed that the liberal aversion to racism didn’t extend as far as actually mixing with racial minorities. London developed two distinct cultures: a multiracial one formed of immigrants and their offspring mixing with white working class Londoners; and one of the middle/upper classes that avoided mixing at all costs – either with immigrants or the poor. Ironically, the children of the fascist gang members of the 1970s were far more likely to grow up having non-white friends and sexual partners than the kids of NF-hating liberals.

Liberal racism is far more effectively veiled than the more crude types, but being better disguised, it’s also far harder to identify and tackle. In Uganda, parliament seems set to pass a draconian anti-gay law this week; this was originally drafted to include the death penalty for “aggravated” offences, but as it currently stands, looks set to be passed but without the death penalty. It’s almost impossible to discuss this subject with liberal-minded white people without someone pointing out the role of Westerners in this law. You’ll be told that existing homophobic laws are a hangover from British rule, and that American evangelists are backing supporters of the law. Both of these things are true, but the implicit assumption in this “liberal” thinking is a colonial one: that Africans couldn’t possibly have invented homophobia without our help. That these simple people have been corrupted by our influence. It assumes that African minds are so supple, so easily corrupted, that Westerners can make them believe anything.

This argument is dishonest, flawed and fundamentally racist. Yes, anti-gay laws were exported by European powers to their African colonies; but so were entire legal systems. It can be noted that while Europeans have scrapped homophobic legislation since African independence, most African states haven’t. Perhaps Africans can think for themselves after all… perhaps homophobia is a factor of African society, rather than something “we made them do”. Perhaps African culture even goes back further than European colonialism? Well yes – Africa has the oldest and most socially developed human cultures on Earth. African language, music and social customs are often far more advanced than the equivalents anywhere else. Yet still, the liberal racist can’t grasp that African actions – such as viciously anti-gay laws – are the creations of Africans themselves, not us.

One of the most blatantly racist articles I can remember reading in the mainstream media was (surprise?) in the Guardian. Film-maker Tim Samuels wrote in 2009 about Western-made porn reaching Africa. He starts the article with:

I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel…

and goes on later to say:

The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity … but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists…

So you see, Tim Samuels and his uni pals can look at porn and not become rapists. But Ghanaian men are obviously made of something different. What could the difference be? Samuels doesn’t explain, but the implication is clear. The old stereotype of the over-sexed, out-of-control African male is alive and well in 21st century Guardianista-land.

If Samuels had provided evidence, the article may have been of some value. But the only evidence he provides comes in the form of a few anecdotes from locals. There are no stats provided to show an increase in rape since the arrival of porn videos – just a smug “it stands to reason” attitude. The Guardian editor accepted and published this racist article – an article that blatantly brands black men as potential rapists – because it is sold on the liberal pretext of protecting women. Bizarrely, this is very similar to the thinking that saw black men lynched for rape in the Deep South. They can’t help themselves, you know? We have to do something about it. Incidentally, the same thinking was part of the justification for banning marijuana in the US - it was said to turn blacks and Mexicans into rapists, which of course was sufficiently frightening to get whites behind prohibition.

In fact, in the West, there is evidence of a correlation between increased sexual openness (including access to porn) and a decline in sexual violence. This is backed by scientific evidence, such as the paper Porn Up, Rape Down, as well as much other research. Samuels doesn’t explain how the Democratic Republican of Congo simultaneously has the world’s worst rape statistics, coupled with among the world’s lowest levels of Internet access. But evidence matters little to those who have a doctrine to sell, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from.

The most overt and vicious racism still comes predictably from the right, and the left has done a huge amount to tackle racism in society. But white middle-class liberal society hides a racist core, and in its infinite belief in its own superiority, it doesn’t even seem to notice.

Excellent Video on “Objectification”

I’ve previously created both blog posts and podcasts covering the O-word. In a nutshell, I’ve concluded that this term is almost always meaningless; I’m supported in this view by the fact that I’ve never encountered anyone who talks about objectification that can articulately explain what the term actually means. It appears to be little other than a new, “liberal”-sounding excuse to attack sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality (after all, fans of “Objectification” seem to have a shared goal in getting women to cover themselves up; they don’t seem to care much about naked men).

Today, someone forwarded me this excellent video on the subject – it’s worth a view.

Things Corporations Hate

Your children are at risk on the Internet! Terrorists want to kill you! Erotic imagery turns men into sex pests! It must be true – I read it on Facebook.

For anyone trying to understand political campaigns and events, it’s useful to understand the vested interests that lie behind them. Many liberal-minded people are tricked into supporting attacks on free expression by scare campaigns like the ones above. Here’s a selection of things that upsets corporations. By understanding the things that corporations would like to get rid of, we can begin to understand the fake, media-initiated panics that sweep society (and conversely, understand why some important issues are ignored).

Public Broadcasters

The BBC is constantly under attack. Sure, they’ve messed up lately with reporting of child abuse allegations… but that doesn’t explain the never-ending torrent of hate from right-wing media outlets. The BBC upsets major media empires for two simple reasons: it is relatively balanced, and thus breaks the corporate monopoly in defining The Truth; and it takes market share (and thus, profit) from private companies. The Beeb is often accused of left-wing bias, which is nonsensical. If bias is detectable, it is toward the British establishment and its interests. Thus, you can expect decent coverage of (for example) African news; but don’t expect to find out what’s going on in Afghanistan; the BBC knows its job is to support “our boys”, not impart the truth of “our” wars. The same applies to public broadcasters elsewhere – America’s PBS for example. But PBS and many others have already been neutered by the corporatocracy. And if you want to see the result, just spend some time watching American TV.

Trains

“But weren’t the railways built by corporations?” I hear you cry. Sure, but that was before they discovered a far more wasteful form of transport. Why travel at up to 200mph in clean, modern railway carriages when you could be in a traffic jam doing 10mph and consuming non-renewable energy by the gallon? A transport system based on people having drive themselves slowly and expensively makes no sense. But who needs sense when there are profits to be made for road-builders, car makers and oil companies? If you wondered why a train crash that kills one person makes the front page while five people die on British roads every day, usually without media comment, wonder no more. Cars make billions of pounds in profit for corporations and trains don’t. Game over.

Public Space

My home city, London, is blessed with a great selection of parks, commons and heaths, protected from property developers and other profiteers – but London predates modern capitalism. To corporations, free public space is a missed opportunity to make a profit. New towns are based around the “consumer”. Consumers are like people, except if they want to sit down, they must first buy a coffee. If they want a playground for their kids, they must feed them McDonalds. In fact, why build towns at all? Build a mall surrounded by houses. The people will come, and they will buy, and they will forget that once, a day out with the family could be had for free. Abolishing public space also, subtly, attacks free speech (which is a general annoyance for corporations that would rather get on with business without public scrutiny). In free societies, the public have a right to protest on public land. But replace the high street with a private mall, and the right to protest is removed. This is vividly illustrated by events such as the 2003 arrest of a man in a US shopping mall for refusing to remove an anti-war T-shirt.

Renewable Energy

It should go without saying that anything renewable is bad for profit. It is perfectly possible, technically, for humanity to stop using fossil fuels within a few decades. A multi-trillion-dollar investment in clean energy would save hundreds of trillions of dollars in the medium term. But one man’s gain is another’s loss… if we stopped buying all that oil, gas and coal, how could oil execs buy their next mansion?

Welfare

In Victorian times, child prostitution was common in London; more recently, child malnutrition was still widespread. The British left fought for a welfare state to protect the poor, and especially poor children, from poverty and abuse – and in the 1940s, they won. But the introduction of welfare closed many doors to profit. Welfare removed opportunities for offering credit, and credit enslaves the masses to the corporations; and corporations love nothing more than slavery. So when you read yet another “news” story or blog post about “welfare scroungers”, you’re reading a cry for help from corporate interests; for every pound cut from welfare, a loan shark can lend a pound at an extortionate interest rate. As for child prostitution – this is now illegal; but someone, somewhere, is calculating the opportunity cost; those pesky publicly-funded courts and social services are standing in the way of a good profit. When you hear an impassioned plea for “small government”, you’re listening to an advocate for child prostitution. You should tell them so.

The Internet

Once upon a time – well, about 20 years ago – the right to publish information globally was the preserve of multi-millionaires. Then along came the worldwide web, and the power to publish was placed into the hands of geekery. And then came Web 2.0 with its simple interfaces, and anyone with an Internet connection could publish. This causes distress for the 1%, understandably. If being worth a billion doesn’t buy you preferential access to the meme pool, what’s the point of money? Over the past three decades, corporations had gained a stranglehold over the dissemination of news (or whatever they chose to distribute in the place of news) – with the exception of public broadcasters (see above). The book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies carefully documents the decline of journalism and the rise of PR-as-news serving corporate interests.

With the rise of the blog, Twitter and other tools, corporate/government control of information was blown wide open. This, of course, attacked corporate profits, which they never appreciate; but more than that, it threatened the right of the control freaks of the corporatised state to control the message; and of course, the control freaks would inevitably strike back. Now, war on the free Internet has begun, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. A series of moral panics is being rolled out via the media to soften up the public for unprecedented levels of surveillance and censorship. As ever, vague threats to children are at the forefront of scaring the population into submission: child “grooming” or the availability of pornography and “sexualised” music videos – none of which has any solid evidential backing. Terrorism, of course, is an old favourite, and is being used to justify US attempts to create an Internet “kill switch”. Even the UK riots of summer 2011 – small and contained as they turned out to be once the hysteria had died away – were blamed on Twitter and Blackberry’s BBM network.

In the UK, ludicrously draconian laws against “causing offence” have already seen people dragged into court for statements made on Twitter and Facebook. How to balance free speech vs. security? This is almost always a false dichotomy. No threat from terrorists, paedophiles or “subversives” is remotely as dangerous as the threat of police and security services with draconian powers, able to monitor and control free expression with no recourse to due process for the public

Free speech is the only defence against dictatorship, so it’s natural that it comes under constant attack from those who would stand to benefit from the removal of freedoms. Everyone – including you – is either part of the solution, else they’re part of the problem. Next time you see a friend post a petition on Facebook demanding more “child protection”, tougher sentencing for non-violent crimes, or for certain types of “offensive” speech to be banned, point out to them where this is going: censorship is never in the interests of the majority, even if it’s sold as “child safety”.

Election 2012: America’s Tipping Point?

Fox News team looking sad

Why the long faces?

America has two broad histories: what happened, and what Americans think happened. America’s brutal history is hard to square with its talk of liberty and equality, but the schizophrenic nation somehow manages to blend reality with fiction almost seamlessly. The fairy tales start from the nation’s very beginning. The Enlightenment in Europe was proposing radical new ideas: that science and reason should triumph over religion and superstition; that tolerance and fairness should triumph over persecution. Americans are sold a story in which the early settlers were chased out of a barbaric Europe that refused to tolerate their religious beliefs; in reality, the Enlightenment was challenging the most intolerant religious factions. Those Christian zealots who fled to America weren’t running from intolerance, but fleeing because their right to be intolerant was under threat.

These origins created a contradictory, fractured nation: a constitution based on the Enlightenment, but a population that was strongly opposed to Enlightenment values. As a result, America has always been an outlier when measured against other continents. More religious, more violent, less tolerant than other countries of similar levels of wealth; clinging on to slavery long after the Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed by the British; creating racial segregation laws unlike anything seen in post-medieval Europe (with the exception of Nazi-era antisemitic laws).

For most of its history, the US white majority has been strongly racist and deeply religious. The civil-rights era laid the groundwork for true equality in some future time, but it frightened and enraged the white majority. The Republican Party, once the party of abolition, embraced its infamous Southern Strategy to mop up the white racist vote that had once belonged to the Democrats.

For decades, this strategy worked. From 1972 until 2008, there were six Republican presidential terms and only three Democratic ones. But predictable changes were happening. America’s social values were inevitably becoming more progressive, for several reasons: in post-civil rights America, young people of different races were – slowly at first – beginning to mix with each other; immigrants from around the world were bringing new ideas; the population was urbanising; and, thanks to the Internet, Americans were becoming exposed to a global market of ideas from which most had been previously excluded. Republicans were dominant, but their dominance was reliant on a shrinking base.

The tipping point arrived quietly at some point in the past decade. With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it seemed America had passed a point of no return. The symbol of a black President gave an unmistakable message of change. The Republicans needed to accept and embrace the changes in society, and many attempted to. But they were tangled in their own past. A huge segment of Republican support was right-wing, racist and religious. With some help from Fox News and cash from corporate backers, the so-called Tea Party movement emerged; an enraged backlash against inevitable change. They successfully seized the Republican agenda, removing moderates from office and shifting the party to the extreme right. Their calls to “take back our country” failed to mask the unmistakable screams of a lynch mob.

The Republicans became perfect moron-watching material. Every week would produce a new story so outrageous, I would have to check multiple sources before tweeting or blogging about it; attacks on women’s reproductive rights, rejections of mainstream science, attempts to include religious orthodoxy in mainstream education, witch-hunts against Muslims.

The life of a Republican presidential candidate was made impossible – how to present yourself as far-right to the angry, white, religious Republican base while simultaneously as centrist to the wider electorate?

I believe Obama’s 2012 victory is more significant even than his 2008 win. This time, he was an incumbent with a varying record in office. This time, the novelty factor of a black candidate was no longer in play. The US economy is not in great shape. He has faced relentless campaigns trying to prove that he was born outside the US or labelling him a Muslim. Yet he won. The screams of rage from the right this time are louder than before. Because this time, his victory can’t be blamed on some kind of black sympathy vote, or on John McCain’s suitability as a candidate. The 2012 victory demonstrates the existence – for the first time ever – of a narrow progressive (or at least centrist) majority in America.

Obama’s win wasn’t the only sign of this. Two states voted to legalise recreational use of marijuana, and four voted in favour of gay marriage. The screams of rage are in mourning, not just for an election defeat, but for an America where white, Christian, racist males dominated. This was best summed up by the right-wing Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on election night when he glumly stated: “the white establishment is now in the minority“.

The Republicans need to embrace the new reality, but that’s easier said than done. A constituency of white, Christian racists still exists, and it numbers in the tens of millions. In a multi-party democracy, the Tea Party could form its own political party, but in America’s enforced duopoly, they have nowhere else to go, and so the chance that the Republicans can move towards the centre is remote.

Unfortunately, the Republican swing to the right has taken the most important issues off the US agenda. Climate change, inequality and the corporate threat to democracy were barely mentioned in the election campaign. Big oil and corporate power were the winners.

One thing is certain – the US religious right is still huge, is angrier than ever, and still controls the House of Representatives. Now cornered, expect its last stand to be spectacular.