I was going to write a post about David Cameron’s and Claire Perry’s War on Porn… but why bother when someone already made this great video? ENJOY! Oh, and please sign the petition against Internet censorship.
According to Wikipedia, a moral panic is defined as: “…an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”
Most societies experience panics on a regular basis, but Britain, thanks to the trashy level of our press, perhaps experiences more than most countries. Moral panics have a simple purpose: to convince a citizenry that something must be done. And that something is almost invariably bad, when viewed in hindsight.
A good moral panic needs a simple message so that commentators can easily push it into the public mind: a good panic needs good branding. Thirty years ago, a moral panic was in full swing under the label “Video Nasties”. For those who don’t remember, a Video Nasty was a term coined by the media for what we now call a horror video. Led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the media and politicians set out to convince the public that, unless something is done, British society would be engulfed by a tsunami of torture, rape and murder. Something was done: the Video Recordings Act (1984) imposed on Britain the most draconian system of video censorship in the democratic world. The Video Nasties panic may have been subsequently exposed as a fuss over nothing, but the censorship system, run by the BBFC, still operates today.
The “Sexualisation” panic has been in full swing for five years or so, and is reaching a point of saturation; it is regularly repeated throughout the media, and has been adopted by politicians not just from the religious right, but also from the left. As I blogged a couple of years ago, Sexualisation is an almost meaningless and certainly unmeasurable concept. It was largely brought into the public consciousness in 2010 by an evidence-free government report which was (bizarrely) carried out by a Christian organisation. It has become an umbrella idea that encapsulates various morality causes including (but not limited to) censoring music videos, censoring pornography, removing bare breasts from the Sun newspaper, banning “lad’s mags”, shaming parents into dressing their children more “modestly”; in fact, it is used to attack any kind of sexual expression, or even innocent nudity. Those leading the panic – including the pro-censorship “feminist” group, Object, politicians, and Christian morality campaigners – have learned from Mary Whitehouse’s “Video Nasty” success, and are turning up the level of hysteria until the government is pressured into taking action.
The scary thing about Sexualisation (as opposed to Video Nasties) is that it is undefined and undefinable. Thus, when we reach the something must be done moment, that something will be sweeping and draconian. Given that Sexualisation is a “disease” that allegedly affects men, women, breasts, children, shops, TV, video, the Internet and even (shock horror!) high streets, the only valid response to it must be a cross-society attack on all sexual expression. Perhaps we need a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? That might work.
I’ve expressed my sadness before that the normally liberal-ish Guardian becomes conservative and censorious when sex is on the agenda. This week, The Guardian entered full moral panic mode by inviting “the public” to submit “sexualised imagery from the high street”. The question is, how does the Guardian decide what “sexualised imagery” is? I’ve walked down my high street today, and have seen the following:
- Women in mini-skirts. Yes! Women are revealing not just their ankles, but their knees and their thighs!
- Women revealing cleavage!! Low-cut tops are surely the devil’s work, designed to “objectify” breasts and thus cause men (who as we know, have literally no impulse control) to rape people.
- A teenage girl in shorts and fishnets: because the perverts who see Sexualisation everywhere are particularly (and disturbingly) obsessed with the way children and teens dress.
- Builders with no tops on: False alarm – topless men are actually OK, because the neo-Whitehouse crowd (in common with all morality campaigners) only want to cover female flesh. Men, of course, can dress however they like.
But I could find no recent explosion of “sexualised imagery”. Of course, there are porn mags, but there have always been porn mags; in fact, porn magazine sales have collapsed under the pressure of competition from DVD and the Internet. The term Sexualisation implies that things are changing for the worse. But unless I’m missing something big, they aren’t. Indeed, the debate has moved away from “harm” to the far broader measure of “causing offence” – and the reason for this is simple: the pro-censorship movement can provide no evidence of harm.
So why not submit your own images? Since the Guardian has joined the “anything that offends anybody must be bad” brigade, photograph things that might offend somebody and send them in. Seen gay men holding hands? Muslim women showing hair from under their hijab? Mixed-races couples kissing? All those things represent Sexualisation, and are offensive, right? To somebody?
As we are led headlong into a new wave of censorship, it’s saddening to see Mary Whitehouse’s Mediawatch-UK organisation joined in its endless morality campaigning by “feminists”; and the Daily Mail joined in its “cover up women” fetish by the Guardian. These are conservative times indeed.
Islamist loud-mouth moron Anjem Choudary just loves publicity. He lives for the chance to say things in public that will in turn outrage morons of the “not at all racist, honest” Daily Mail and UKIP variety. Sadly for Anj, he has almost no supporters, and is basically a sad, pathetic nobody. How can he get publicity?
To the rescue comes (what seems like) the entire British media. His stupid face has appeared on TV and in newspapers. This doesn’t just apply to the usual shit-stirring suspects, but even includes the BBC and Channel 4.
All this appears to be based on the fact that Anjey-boy once (a while back, mind) met the morons involved in the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. This fact has been used by Choudary to make himself feel all important, and by the media to build up a hate figure that will get their moron viewers/readers all stiff/moist with excitement/fear.
Given that there isn’t actually a story here, one suspects that the anti-Muslim brigade is simply using Anjey-boom to maintain the illusion of an “Islamist threat”, and whip up the racist swivel-eyed loon brigade into their Daily Hate with images of A BROWN MAN WITH A BEARD WHO SAYS HORRIBLE THINGS!
Any sign of an actual Islamist threat is so lacking that the poor morons at the Sun are reduced to running a story – an Exclusive no less – about Anjey-bollocks going to the shops and buying yoghurt! While dressed in a Muslim-type fashion! I blame Leveson – surely the Sun could find more interesting stories if they were allowed to hack celebs’ phones? The Choudary exclusive follows on from a pathetic sting where singer Tulisa was entrapped into helping a journo score some coke. It seems that the Sun can find no actual news to report any more. If it ever did in the first place.
With the moron media having set the agenda, morons have exploded onto social media demanding “action” against Choudary. They want him locked up! Or deported! The problems with these suggestions being a) Choudary hasn’t broken the law (I’ve never before noticed any reticence on the part of the authorities to arrest brown people on the slightest of whims), and b) He’s British.
Basically Choudary’s skill is to annoy and upset people by making annoying and upsetting statements. But if that was a crime, most of the EDL, much of UKIP and the bulk of tabloid journalists would be under curfew by now.
Let’s try to remember that we’re not supposed to be letting “extremists” undermine “our values”; and the most important of these values is supposedly free speech. I say “supposedly”, because the British establishment – under both Labour and Tory governments – seems to spend much of its time attacking free speech (as we learned again this week when a young Muslim Londoner appeared in court for tweeting a bad-taste joke).
Turning this pathetic, irrelevant individual into a national hate figure seems like just another way to get public consent for reducing our free speech rights even further. Far better to just ignore him, and be as consistent in genuinely defending our civil liberties as our leaders are in pretending to.
This week, the fight to censor British media and art – even more than is done already – took a bizarre new turn, as pro-censorship “feminist” groups Object and UK Feminista launched an attack against Lads’ Mags. This attack can trace its roots to American morality campaigners in the 1980s, and it’s worth exploring a little history.
From the 1960s all the way through to the 90s, the British media scene was haunted by a pro-censorship figure; a devout Christian who believed her faith entailed the right to stop any British person from seeing anything that she personally found offensive. Mary Whitehouse was widely mocked throughout her campaigning life, which coincided with the greatest upswing of liberal attitudes in modern British history. She railed against the “permissive society”, in which her Christian morals came under assault from every side: the second-wave feminists were declaring the rights of women to enjoy sex without censure; abortion and homosexuality were legalised; TV and the theatre risked showing nudity, and society failed to collapse. There was plenty of work for a morality campaigner to do, but Whitehouse undertook it with a ferocious energy that gained her admirers, even among her enemies.
Although she was a figure of fun for most people, Whitehouse left her mark on British society: we became, and remain, the most censored country in Europe, other than Catholic Ireland and Poland. Her lobbying organisation, Mediawatch-UK, outlived her, and actively campaigns against “permissiveness” to this day.
But in the 1980s, the pro-censorship cause gained surprising new supporters. The feminist movement, once as far removed from Whitehouse as could be possible, split, and a new conservative wing of feminism emerged. The new, pro-censorship feminism was as moralistic as the 1960s feminists had been libertarian, as determined to cover up all female flesh as the previous generation had been to flaunt it – whether as a political statement, or just because…
Now, post-Whitehouse, media morality campaigns are spearheaded, not by conservative Christians, but by conservative feminists (though it must be suspected that many Christian morality campaigners have sought camouflage in the puritanical feminist movement).
This week’s salvo from the morality crusaders works as follows: they declare that any public display of sexuality – nudity, semi-nudity, or anything they deem to be sexual – “demeans” women. All female flesh must be covered up, in order to “protect” women.
The tactic they employ is to declare that any shop that sells potentially “offensive” material – lads’ mags in this case – constitutes sexual harassment, and thus an attack on civil rights, against any female employee in the shop. Women are, according to this doctrine, weaker and more delicate than men, and thus must be protected. This message is, of course, an anti-feminist one. But amidst the hysteria, many middle-class “feminists” seem not to have noticed, and are embracing this deeply patriarchal concept.
The tactic means that any woman who feels “harassed” or “offended” by having to even share a building with “sexualised” material can sue her employer. This isn’t an original idea; it was invented by a US lawyer, Catharine Mackinnon, who was one of America’s leading conservative feminist morality campaigners in the 1980s. This “civil rights” approach to attacking sexual expression turns censorship from something the state does, into something anybody can do. Any woman who feels she is offended, or “demeaned”, by a smiling photo of a semi-naked woman can claim that her rights have been violated, and sue for damages.
The Mackinnon attempt failed; to allow such challenges would fundamentally undermine free speech, and this is clearly protected under the first amendment of the US Constitution. What Object and UK Feminista are not making clear is what should be obvious to anyone: if a person can sue for finding something “demeaning”, then anything can, and will, be censored. Offence is taken, not given, and almost everything offends somebody. Religious groups will find lads’ mags offensive. And Page 3 of the Sun. And gay publications. Some atheists will find religious material offensive, and surely a Christian bookshop worker could sue for having to sell The God Delusion? Fundamentalist Christians could find Muslim or Jewish publications offensive, and vice-versa. White and black supremacists may object to imagery showing mixed-race couples.
Art galleries will be sued for showing any kind of sexual or other controversial object – for example, erotic Roman sculptures currently on display at the British Museum. All expression will come under attack. The possibilities are endless.
Am I just guessing? No; the Mackinnon law, which failed to gain traction in the US, was adopted in Canada in 1992. The result: “controversial” material – and in particular feminist and gay publications – was seized. Gay bookshops were raided. The Canadian state revelled in its new powers of censorship. All the censors had to do, if they wanted to ban something, was to find one person who found that thing offensive.
Are Object and UK Feminista just well-meaning but naive? Unlikely. These groups know better than anyone the history of what they are trying to do, and the chilling effects this tactic would have on free expression. What is really disheartening is the rush of “feminist” supporters to back these morality groups in the mistaken belief that feminism is about begging “The Patriarchy” to protect weak, sensitive, helpless women from anything they might find demeaning (which has, it seems, come to mean “icky”). What is tragic is the widespread belief that the very sexual freedoms won by the 1960s feminists are themselves a threat to women’s rights.
I have a fundamental problem with people who are prepared to be easily offended. About anything. In fact, I find them offensive. Object and UK Feminista will find themselves as easily censored as anybody else if their “civil rights” approach to censorship succeeds; I suspect they don’t care. They are the modern-day successors to Mary Whitehouse, and if they succeed in banning all “offensive” material, they will have finished the job she began in 1963, when she set out to attack – more than anything else – the sexual liberation of women.
[PS – As I’m so often informed that I, being a mere man, have no right to comment on feminist issues, here are a couple of other good articles on the Lads Mag campaign, written by women.]
Georgia Lewis: Losing lads’ mags and the slippery slope of censorship
Gemma Ahearne: Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose The Lads’ Mags
For as long as I remember, the word Terrorism has been thrown around lazily and inconsistently, but never so much as today. The problem began when the United States was looking for a catchy name for its next war, and decided to make it the Global War on Terror. As was pointed out at the time, terrorism is merely a tactic, not a recognisable group or ideology. But the name was short and snappy, and it stuck.
In the 80s and 90s, terrorism was pretty obvious to us in London. The IRA, and sometimes other Irish groups, were planting bombs regularly. While they occasionally hit what you might have called economic or military targets, primarily the targets were civilians. Pubs, shopping centres, train stations. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise. In turn, a frightened population empowers its government and police, and accepts an erosion of democracy and free speech.
Terrorists rarely attack military targets, for a couple of reasons: first, while this may outrage civilians, it doesn’t terrorise them; it doesn’t make people think that they might become the next victim. Second, because military targets are difficult to hit without getting caught. Killing ten people in a pub is easier than killing one soldier on duty. An attack on a serving soldier isn’t terrorism: it’s warfare, of some form. Thus, the IRA was both a military and terrorist organisation – ditto Hamas. The insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, while they attacked US and British military targets, were not terrorists. They were soldiers in a war.
Thus, America’s claim to be fighting terrorism overseas was (and is) nonsensical. Not all terrorists are individuals or small groups. State terrorism exists. America’s deliberate attacks on the press and civilians in Iraq and elsewhere were acts of terrorism. Israel is a consistent user of state terrorism, attacking civilians indiscriminately on an almost daily basis. America’s drone strikes are terrorist in nature. They deliberately target, not just “militants”, but any civilian who associates with them. This is designed to “send out a message” to locals every bit as much as the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks were.
Last week, two people killed an off-duty soldier in Woolwich, prompting a debate over (among other things) whether it was a terrorist attack or not. It seems like a grey area: the target was not a randomly selected civilian. However, the attackers’ use of media – by giving a statement to a nearby observer with a camera phone – was terrorist in nature. Knife murders aren’t especially uncommon in the UK, but the sight of the murderer talking casually to camera was what differentiated this one from others. This wasn’t the most brutal murder to have taken place in the UK recently – many murders must be similarly brutal. It was the video that made the public respond, and the casual way in which the killers just waited for the police to arrive, not the killing itself.
The response to the attack (or more accurately, to the video) has been shocking. There was a widespread response of “round them up” and “send them home”. There have been dozens of attacks by bigots against Muslims. The video seemed designed to arouse racist anger: a black man, talking to camera, with the blood of a white soldier on his hands. It has long become unacceptable to call for black people to be repatriated, but now “Muslims” are the proxy target for racists. Hatred of minorities is back in fashion.
As I’ve pointed out before, the fact that “terrorists” can only make small-scale attacks using household implements as weapons should be be of some comfort. It shows how weak and small these groups are. Instead, hysteria has gripped a large, moronic section of British society. The British government is using this moment of stupidity to introduce further censorship controls on the Internet, and sadly the public doesn’t seem to be objecting.
“They hate our freedoms”, Bush used to say. But no – our own governments hate our freedoms. The attacks are being used as an enabling mechanism to introduce draconian new laws. Government exploitation of a young soldier’s death (shamefully, with support from the Labour Party) to attack free speech is despicable; but British morons have failed to notice, so outraged they are that a Muslim, a black man, an IMMIGRANT, murdered “one of ours”.
Witness how a vicious knife murder of a 75 year old Pakistani in Birmingham is treated as an isolated event. In fact, this bears the hallmark of terrorism; any Asian is a valid target, because the attack will create terror in Asian communities. Witness how a young white man planning to bomb a school in Oregon is arrested, and nobody uses the T-word; now imagine the moronic, self-pitying response if he had been Muslim.
The doublethink gets even crazier. Killing millions overseas may be acceptable to most Americans, but in Massachusetts, writing a rap lyric is terrorism. Our leaders, as they work tirelessly to remove our rights of free expression, have turned poetry into terrorism, and terrorism into “collateral damage”.
If you haven’t read 1984, I’d recommend it. George Orwell understood how the masses, too easily, can be made to accept any position, however senseless it may be. If you believe that the Woolwich attack was horrific, you are a normal human being. If you believe that it justifies a clampdown on minorities, or even more restrictions on our rights to privacy and free speech, you may be a moron.
Since the 1960s, Tuppy Owens has been a sexual libertarian: she has campaigned tirelessly for sexual freedom and set up groups that fight for sexual rights for disabled people. As a woman fighting for the sexual rights of women (as well as men) to enjoy sexual pleasure without guilt, she might once have been embraced by the feminist movement; yet since the late 1970s, she has been repeatedly attacked by anti-sex feminists. Here, she describes some of her experiences.
My name is Tuppy Owens and I am a woman. I started the Outsiders Club in 1979 for disabled men and women to gain confidence and find partners. Feminists immediately started attacking me, accusing me of encouraging disabled men to be “as disgusting as other men”. I can remember them sitting in the front row at conferences I spoke at, hurling abuse. I chose to ignore them.
For 25 years of my life, I published the Sex Maniac’s Diary, a jovial pocket book featuring sex positions of the day, kinks of the week, and international listings for sexy hotels, swing clubs, fetish clubs and places to enjoy commercial sex. Many people bought it as a joke Christmas present but in reality the information was very seriously researched and presented.
There were obviously more commercial establishments for men than for women (as there still are), but feminists therefore decided the little diary was “sexist”, and slowly printers refused to print it and criticism abounded – its charm and innocence were lost. I was very upset, but there was nothing I could do, anti-sex feminism was “in”.
Rather reluctantly, I was persuaded by its organisers to join Feminists Against Censorship. I didn’t really go along with their way of working and had nothing in common with the members. One of them asked me, while scrounging a lift in my car, “do you still fuck men?” “Yes”, I replied, why not?”. “Well, men just do what they want.” I thought about this and told her, “Yes, men do what they want and women do what we want. That’s what makes sex so great.” “Oh” she said, and sat silently.
Feminists Against Censorship decided to produce a book. I suggested they call it “Tales from the Clitoris” but it ended up with the rather vulgar title, “Tales from the Clit”. I was to be given a chapter, to write about Outsiders and my work with disabled people.
I wrote it from the heart. Midway through, I expressed my concern with what was happening a great deal at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) when women felt their genitals were rather like a trophy which would be shared only in very special circumstances. I watched women swagger around as if they held this precious object between their legs, not to be shared. “Where had the generosity gone? How sad it was for disabled men who would never live up to the required standards, and never get to taste their delicious pussies and share their pleasures.”
Or something like that. Well, this paragraph was censored out, and I declared “I’ve been censored by Feminists Against Censorship!”.
Sadly, things have got much worse now. Feminists have joined forces with religious groups to get rid of all the wonderful striptease joints in London and elsewhere. Why can’t they listen to the women who are strippers before campaigning to close their places of work? Why are they allowed to get away with this? Probably because the feminists have kicked the balls out of the politicians, council members and journalists who might, in the past, have stopped them behaving so outrageously.
Feminism makes me not wish to identify as a woman, or a human being for that matter. I think I’ll opt for just being a mammal.
Perhaps the United States once really was “the land of the free” – but I see no historical evidence that it deserves this label (unless it refers simply to the freedom of white people to grab land, in the early, pioneer days). An illustration of the power of US corporate propaganda is the way in which Ronald Reagan, a global terrorist and domestic criminal, who redistributed large chunks of the US economy to the super-rich, is today seen by many Americans as a hero; or at least, a nice old man. He even has a provincial airport named after him. This Stalinist-style rewrite of history is an American speciality. The truth is dead – long live the propaganda.
Reagan’s loyal sidekick, Margaret Thatcher, died last week, and the right immediately tried to begin another rewrite of history; the media has pushed a largely establishment view, and the old lady has been given a state-funded funeral, with military escort, to take place this Wednesday. The British establishment is trying to airbrush one unfortunate fact out of history: Thatcher is widely loathed by much of the British public – probably by more people than ever supported her. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, right-wing media and wider establishment, the British people have less of a tendency towards amnesia than our American cousins, and, it appears, less of a tendency to lie down and let the state roll over us.
Thatcher, I commented on Twitter, was the most hated Briton of the 20th Century. I only received one dissenting reply, which suggested Ian Huntley (the murderer of two young girls) as an alternative. Perhaps he was right – but reaching for a child killer underlines my point rather than destroying it.
The point of most of the protests, blogging and anger is deadly serious: to prevent Thatcher from getting the Reagan treatment. It’s important that the long series of tragedies that marked the Thatcher era is kept in the public memory. Even the combined might of the right-wing media has failed to hide that Thatcher is hated by millions of people.
Some clever person thought up a way to reveal the extent of Thatcher-hate: by suggesting that people buy the Wizard of Oz song, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The single rocketed up the iTunes chart to number one (before mysteriously settling back to second place in the hour before the count closed on Saturday night); the right, still failing to comprehend the truly mass nature of the anti-Thatcher feeling, tried to replace it with a pro-Thatcher song, “I Love Margaret Thatcher” (which was actually satirical – there are no known pro-Thatcher songs). This effort was promoted by the right-wing media – and still flopped dismally, reaching a pathetic 35th position. Despite what the media was telling us, there was no groundswell of pro-Thatcher feeling to rival the anti-Thatcher feeling.
The BBC and Capital Radio both decided to censor the charts. You see, it’s fine for the mass media to tell people what tunes to buy, but when the public choose the top single for themselves, to make a statement? That’s dangerous sedition. We now have an established precedent: when a fact (in this case, the extent of hatred for Margaret Thatcher) is inconvenient to the British establishment, the media can and will impose censorship.
Anti-Thatcher banners were displayed at football matches. Plans for a minute’s silence at stadiums were shelved, because football fans would have refused to stay silent. Every attempt to paint a picture of a nation in mourning failed.
The right resorted to snivelling: “An old lady has died… Think of her family.” But then why is such a hated woman awarded a state-funded funeral that is bound to generate anger and protest? Why is there a military presence, and why are the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced? Because then future generations can be taught that she was a national heroine; that her vindictive and deliberate destruction of Britain’s social fabric was actually done in the national interest. The fact of the funeral itself can be used to write history – how different is this from the state-sanctioned worship of North Korean leaders? These tyrants can prove how “loved” they are by showing videos of cheering, flag-waving crowds. Tomorrow’s event is made-for-TV. The pictures will show the burial of a loved woman, not a hated one. Millions can express their hatred for Thatcher on the streets, online, at football matches, by buying singles; but the final story that the establishment wants to tell is a different one altogether.
This is why the protests this week have been important. This is a battle for memes: a struggle to control which version of history goes into the history books. Because for all the praise over Thatcher’s legacy, the British people have not forgotten:
- Thatcher’s “economic miracle” never happened: British GDP has grown in line with Germany and France – and this happened at the time of a North Sea oil boom in the UK.
- Thatcher therefore didn’t create wealth with her policies – she merely redistributed it, from poor to rich, as shown by the Gini coefficient.
- And the long-term economic legacy? According to Thatcher fans, we now have a country of opportunity for hard workers. Yet Thatcher actually made it harder to succeed – social mobility fell, and is among the worst in Europe, with only Portugal lagging behind us. This fact, more than any other, destroys the central myth of Thatcherism.
- Thatcher’s one true economic achievement was to turn London into a global financial centre; but this happened at the cost of losing Britain’s position as a manufacturer, leaving Germany to soar ahead; and the 2008 crash showed that the City boom was far less valuable to the nation than had been previously assumed. It had been built on sand.
- Some “libertarians” have declared Thatcher a fighter for individual liberty – these people clearly don’t remember the most authoritarian regime of the post-war era, probably even beating New Labour’s control-freakery after 9/11. The police were given a blank cheque by the Thatcherites: as a result, police corruption and violence soared. Deaths in custody were ignored. When young people turned away from politics and embraced rave culture, the police were even there to stop them dancing in fields. Thatcherism did not approve of dancing. “Free” people must consume, not dance.
- Despite the rise in brutal policing (or more likely, because of it) violent crime rose throughout the 1980s, peaking in the mid-90s before starting to fall again (see “Trends in Crime” graph in this BBC article).
- Thatcherites spread the myth that privilege is now about hard work, not birthright; yet when Thatcher’s moron son Mark attempted to engineer a coup in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, strings were pulled on his behalf, and he was fined and released.
So Thatcher’s death is being used by conservatives to reinvent her life. Don’t these people have any respect for a frail old lady who has died, or for her family? Despite a torrent of media lies and censorship; despite the police acting to prevent peaceful protest; despite the tabloid wailing about “leftie extremists”, the British people have acted to stop history from being rewritten. The British love of free speech wasn’t given to us from above; it’s deep in our culture, and it’s the people who claim to defend it who most want to take it away.
With the upcoming Thatcher burial (or firing her out of a cannon, or whatever they’ll do with her), some people have been taken by surprise by suggestions that activists may be pre-emptively arrested to prevent them from disrupting the funeral.
If you’re one of those surprised people, you haven’t been paying attention. The police have increasingly arrested people – including those with no history of violence – in the run-up to major events.
This is just one more example of thought crime, which has been increasingly prevalent since 9/11. But, you may say, in a democracy, how can political speech be criminalised? It can’t – democracy is meaningless without the right to protest.
Arrests were made in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011, and 97 people were arrested in the run-up to Notting Hill Carnival that year.
Here’s a video of the political arrest of Charlie Veitch, in 2011, in the run up to the Royal Wedding. He was held for 24 hours to prevent him from making any kind of protest, however peaceful or humour-based. This is what a police state looks like in Britain: polite police officers enforcing undemocratic edicts from above to prevent speech that upsets “the establishment” – whatever and whoever that may be.
It’s been one of those weeks when I fall out with some of my, usually friendly, followers. When you’re a leftish political blogger, there are safe things to write about, and things you shouldn’t mention. Social equality, fairness, child poverty, saving the NHS, racism against non-whites, attacks on women’s rights, climate change, corporate power; these are all things that I know I can tackle without dissent from others on the left. There will be, of course, attacks from the right, but those are bread-and-butter. We can all unite and enjoy rebutting those. Career tip: if you want to become a Labour parliamentary candidate, and you write the occasional column, but don’t want to ruffle feathers? Stick to these subjects (no names mentioned).
Then, there are the subjects that confuse many on the left – so they generally don’t mention them, for example: racism by non-whites, domestic violence against men, use of the word “cunt”. And of perhaps most of all, sex. Sex, being the subject that raises the most primal feelings in us – whether negative or positive – divides all parts of the political spectrum. The left has a series of simple check-boxes to guide it through this minefield: Gay rights? Approved. Abortion rights? OK. Rights for sexual fetishists? Erm… Union rights for sex workers? Sounds of left-wing heads exploding.
Now let’s turn things around for a moment. If you were a social conservative ideologue, in Britain, in 2013, how would you go about popularising your ideas? This would be easy enough in America: you say that public nudity is immoral. Because the Bible says so. You say that Muslims are bad because… well, they’re not Christians are they? But things aren’t so easy for the British reactionary. The British have largely abandoned religion – at least, the type you actively believe in. So what would you do? You’d do what clever reactionaries do: adopt progressive camouflage.
Both sexual morality groups and racist bigots have successfully adopted this approach, and in doing so, have blended into the liberal mainstream. The last well-known sexual morality group was Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now known as Mediawatch UK). This made some headway in the 80s, before being laughed off-stage in the more relaxed 90s. Taking note of this, the new moralists took a leaf from an American lawyer called Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon came from impeccable right-wing stock – her father was a right-wing Republican Senator. In the 1980s, MacKinnon (with her sidekick Andrea Dworkin) took a sexual conservative message, wrapped it in superficially feminist language, and succeeded in fundamentally splitting the feminist movement in two – a divide that has existed ever since. The MacDworkinites did more damage to feminism than any misogynistic man ever could.
The MacDworkinites are going from strength to strength. MacKinnon’s natural successors are Gail Dines – a deeply reactionary anti-sex activist who campaigns for media censorship and a ban on sex work using feminist and Marxist language, and a number of conservative groups, self-labelling as “feminist”. The best known MacDworkinite groups in the UK are Object and UK Feminista – who will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. The latest to appear on the scene is the current campaign against the topless photo on Page 3 of the Sun.
It’s amazing what a small shift in vocabulary can do. Because the MacDworkinites refer to themselves as “feminist”, then anyone who opposes them must be against feminism, right? It’s sad that sections of the left are so easily fooled, but indeed, the strategy has worked impeccably. Are these groups actually a conservative offshoot of feminism, or conservatives who have infiltrated feminism from the outside? It doesn’t matter – that’s a simple matter of classification. You can call them anti-sex feminists or anti-sex “feminists” – either way, they are reactionary. The early second-wave feminists implored women to abandon their bras. These new groups beg women to put their bras back on.
The same methodology has worked wonders in demonising Muslims in secular Europe. Far-right pundits like Pat Condell attack Muslims – not from a religious perspective, but from an atheist one. Muslims are, (they say) “less civilised” than we, secular European are. They chop off heads and run kebab shops in London (of course, the Muslims cutting off heads aren’t the same ones selling kebabs to drunk Brits – but who’s counting?)
Such gullibility on the left saddens me. Both left and right have become riddled with conservatism, and well-meaning people have swallowed this reactionary propaganda. Meanwhile, Object’s attacks on women sex workers continue – supported blindly by middle-class women who think sex work is common and icky. And atheist fascists like Condell convince atheists that attacking minorities is OK – if it’s done in the name of Enlightenment.
The alternative is what I’ve labelled Social Libertarianism: social democracy combined with an unshakeable commitment to free expression, free speech, freedom of religion and sexual freedom, and an equally tenacious opposition to all forms of censorship. It’s not new – it’s what the left used to stand for.
This blog recently carried an article by Edie Lamort on the current moral panic about pornography; here’s another article on the subject. This is no accident – most people will have noticed a sharp rise in scare stories recently about porn, nude imagery, strip clubs and “sexualised” imagery in the media. The stories are the result, not of actual problems or any evidence of harm, but of widespread, well-organised campaigns by authoritarians to increase censorship of the media, and in particular of the Internet.
I won’t revisit the evidence here – but in summary, there is no solid evidence that erotic imagery leads to harm against women or children: in fact, the reverse is true. This, of course, doesn’t deter the anti-sex, pro-censorship campaigners in the slightest. They have no interest in whether porn is in fact harmful to women – their end goal is for censorship and control of sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality.
You may remember the birth of the Slutwalk movement about two years ago. This was triggered by a Toronto police officer who suggested that, in order to avoid rape, women should avoid dressing like “sluts”. The outrage that this victim-blaming caused led to the birth of Slutwalk in Toronto and then globally. A huge, young feminist movement took to the streets proclaiming the right of women to be sluts, without either being judged or raped.
I was a great supporter of Slutwalk; not everyone was though. The anti-sex feminist campaigner Gail Dines, for example, thought that women were misguided in trying to reclaim the word slut, and said this would “make life harder” for adolescent girls. This was typical of the clashes between the anti-sex and the sex-positive wings of feminism.
Today, another policeman tried to avert the blame for rape away from the rapist and onto women. This time though, unlike in the Toronto case, he was strangely applauded by some women. In a Daily Record article entitled More women will be raped if online porn isn’t tackled, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made an explicit link between porn-viewing and rape.
This, of course, is victim-blaming; but it’s a little more subtle than the Toronto variety that launched Slutwalk. Instead of saying that a rape is the fault of the woman who is raped, it claims that a rape is the fault of women who appear in porn, and thus incite men to rape. In both cases, women who dare to bare flesh in public are being blamed for the act of a rapist.
This logic is the same as that used by orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects, especially the Wahhabi Muslims, who cover women’s faces with niqabs “for their own protection”. The logic, whether blaming a woman for her own rape or blaming porn stars, Page 3 girls and strippers for another woman’s rape, is identical. The very sight of female flesh, we are told by the policemen, conservative feminists and religious fundamentalists, incites men to be rapists.
I’ll repeat: there is no evidence that this is true; indeed, evidence from studying rapists shows the opposite: that rapists tend to have repressed sexualities. Rather than enjoying porn, they are likely to find it disturbing. An article in Psychology Today entitled Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself The Remedy makes this point well: sexual repression, far from being blamed for sexual problems, is touted as the solution: Lengthen that skirt! Ban Page 3! Porn leads to abuse! Strips clubs lead to rapes! In every case, women are blamed for rape, and men are considered stupid creatures who, having seen a nipple or a vagina, cannot stop themselves from attacking someone.
So let’s remind ourselves: when a woman is raped, it is not her fault. Nor is the fault of the girl who appeared on Page 3 that morning. Nor is it the fault of the woman who chose to make a living by having sex on camera. It’s the fault of the rapist. The fact that a police chief has chosen to lead a morality campaign against porn is very disturbing. Police in free societies should have nothing to do with the consenting sex lives of adults. Stalin, Hitler and other dictators carried out conservative morality campaigns against their populations. Women did not benefit from these.
If we want to remember what pre-porn Britain was like, just look at the emerging facts from the Jimmy Savile case. Is that an innocent, “unsexualised” world that we should return to?