Dec 162018
 

I got started on the Internet in the early 1990s, when every session was preceded by the squeal of an acoustic modem over a phone line, and USENET was the cutting edge of interaction. I loved it. USENET was a decentralized, public system that didn’t really have an owner or a central control. The USENET group alt.sex.bondage was a major influence on my budding interest in BDSM. The Internet seemed like a wide-open utopia/frontier of freedom and choice, where I could find like-minded people.

I knew that there were racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, etc out there, spewing out their hatred, but also assumed these were sad little men in small dark rooms who didn’t pose a serious threat to anybody. (Being a white, cis, hetero male was definitely part of this assumption.) Child pornography was, I read, a bogeyman for people who wanted to censor for the sake of censoring. Free speech was an almost unequivocal good.

Fast forward more than twenty years, past high-speed internet, Youtube, Facebook, Google, Gamergate, Sad/Rabid Puppies, 4chan, ironic racism, pick up artists, MGTOWs, incels, revenge porn, etc. Those sad little men networked and became a force that has dragged North American society hard to the right. This also coincided with a terrifying rise in right wing demonstrations and violence.

As of the end of 2018, there has been at least some pushback against the alt-right. People who have committed hate crimes have been prosecuted under the law. Media figures like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopolis and Gavin McInnes have been kicked off major platforms like Youtube and Twitter and barred from venues, a tactic known as “de-platforming”.

I was never 100% comfortable with the concept of de-platforming, which to me had an unpleasantly Newspeak overtone. “It’s not censorship, it’s de-platforming.” But I’ll be honest and say that, despite my commitment to free speech, I wasn’t going to go to the barricades for the likes of McInnes, Jones and Yiannopolis.

One of the big takeaways from Slavoj Zizek’s two films explaining his theory of ideology (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) is that ideologies don’t require all of their followers to have sincere belief. A successful ideology can accommodate people who know how to toe the party line, say the phrases, wear the uniform, and smugly congratulate themselves on being ahead of the game, all the while contributing to the machine. Whether they were true believers or hucksters/trolls, the end result was the same: an endless flood of hatred, paranoia and self-righteousness, into the eyes and ears of people who had a limitless appetite for it. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if the recipients are hardcore white supremacists or misogynists or anti-Semites, or they just get off on the transgression, they’re still propagating it. The best way to curtail such people is to attack them where it hurts: their bottom lines.

That’s why I didn’t object to the de-platforming very much: because North America and Europe are seething with racial, gendered and religious violence, and I didn’t know what else to do about it. Something had to be done to reign it in. Even if you don’t believe in the “monkey-see-monkey-do” model of the media’s influence on the individual’s actions, such tactics at least sent a message regarding what was acceptable discourse. If that had even a slight chance of preventing another Pulse nightclub shooting or Toronto van attack, go for it.

The idea that media creates and propagates a culture, and certain percentage of recipients of that media will do physical violence, is straight out of the second-wave radical feminist arguments against pornography and sadomasochism. Which puts me in a bit of a bind.

The changes in content rules on Tumblr (coming into effect December 17, 2018) and Facebook (soon) are driven by the “anti-trafficking” ideology that gave use SESTA/FOSTA. Going into the history and flaws of that legislation would require an in-depth article itself, but they’ve already caused problems for sex workers, and people who discuss sexual issues.

Personally, these changes will cause problems for me. As of December 15th, 2018, I have 2,790 followers on Tumblr, 223 followers on the Facebook group and 233 followers on Pinterest, and no way to transfer them to other platforms. They are major assets for promoting A Lover’s Pinch and other future projects. I especially liked how I could set up automatic daily updates on Tumblr and then have them repeated on Twitter via IFTT. While I was never a huge user of Tumblr, especially not for personal material, I liked scrolling through feeds and reading the freewheeling, queer and quirky stuff. I know it had its own problems with hateful content. I read the “raceplay” tag a few times and, as I read, I kept thinking, “You’re just kidding, right? This is all just rhetorical?”

It’s not a good look to shrug when other people are de-platformed with “Well, they had it coming,” and then cry when it happens to me.

The philosopher Karl Popper wrote about the “paradox of tolerance” in 1945, right after seeing the global violence of fascism.

In other words, we have to draw the line somewhere. But where? I know where I would draw it, but that’s a solution only for me.

I could pile up the word count hashing out this debate, but the real problem is that this is an issue outside of politics. Tumblr, Facebook, etc, are private corporations. They exist to benefit their shareholders, and any other benefits are only incidental. Thus, they can impose whatever content regulations they like. Whatever communities users may have built on those platforms, they never belonged to their users. The real problem is the influence of capital on our discourse, at multiple levels.

One of the things that suck about getting older is that you have to see the revolution you believed in falter and be assimilated or even corrupted. The online communities of hatred (of women, non-whites, queer people, trans people, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and so on) (and their parasitic profiteers) festering on the Internet in 2018 are a twisted, degraded reflection of the communities of acceptance and diversity that flourished on the Internet of 1998. (Please make allowances for rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia.) The Internet was supposed to be a path to utopia.

I don’t know what will happen to my blog on Tumblr Monday, or what will happen on other platforms in the years to come. Will there be some kind of cultural conservative backlash, a return to the middle after the excesses of the extremes? That bodes ill, not just for online communites, but for society in general.

Dec 162018
 
Apr 252013
 

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The following is a copy of an email I sent to Pinterest after they removed one of the images (replicated above) from my BDSM History board.

To whom it may concern:

On April 25, 2013, I received an email informing me that one of the images in my Pinterest account had been removed. The explanation was, “The reason is, it looks like the pin may have had nudity on it.”

The image in question was created and distributed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and features actor Jensen Ackles nude and kneeling in such a way that his arms and hands obscure his genitals, wearing chains and with a whip on the floor. The copy reads,  “Whips and chains belong in the bedroom, not in the circus.”

PETA has a long history of using sexually suggestive or explicit imagery in ads and publicity stunts to advance its animal rights cause, though many have questioned the efficacy of this tactic. I chose this image to illustrate PETA’s use of sadomasochistic imagery, part of a recurring trend of sadomasochistic imagery being used in persuasive media such as advertising and propaganda. This is part of my historical research.

A cursory search of “peta” on Pinterest will display numerous other examples of PETA’s advertising, featuring nude or nearly nude men and women (mostly the latter) in sexually suggestive images. This is in addition to countless other pins featuring nude or nearly nude adults in sexually suggestive or explicit settings.

I am at a loss as to why this particular image in question was removed. The only way it differs in degree or kind from many other images on Pinterest is that it features a nude male in a vulnerable position. Am I to understand that an unclothed man is somehow more nude, or the wrong kind of nude, compared to an unclothed woman? Even if the people are posed in such a way that their genitals are not visible?

I understand the necessity of enforcing rules regarding sexually explicit imagery on a service such as Pinterest. However, I do not understand the logic of this particular instance of enforcement, and I do not consider this removal to be just or fair or consistent with the content of Pinterest.

Please explain to me why this particular image is not permitted. I have attached a copy.

Examples of other PETA ads found on Pinterest.

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Don’t confuse your Sams or your Gargoyles

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Don’t confuse your Sams or your Gargoyles
Mar 022012
 

Betty Page holding whip in magazine advertisment

Vintage Sleaze has a fun tidbit of kink history. Sam Menning, an actor who also worked as a photographer, took fetish pics, including the great Betty Page.

Menning eventually became the “house” photographer of sorts for Gargoyle, a distributor of 4 x 5 nude photos with a fetish bent. Mind you, they were 1950’s photos of a fetish bent…which meant play-acting with rather dim and confused models being asked to look tough…dramatic to this day, but little more than lingerie ads with the models in black. Not MY cup of tea, but someone’s.

Meanwhile, Senator Estes Kefauver was gunning for porn publisher Samuel Roth, particularly for the fetish/kink pictures Kefauver thought were published by Roth.

It turns out that Kefauver and his puritan goons had confused Sam Menning, photographer for Gargoyle Sales Corp, with Samuel Roth, publisher of Gargoyle Books. This mistake wasn’t revealed until Kefauver had Roth on the stand testifying.

Mar 022012
 

The history of obscenity and censorship is the history of drawing and redrawing very fine lines in the ever-shifting sand, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Consider the recent case of Michael Peacock in the UK, charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for distributing allegedly obscene DVDs. (Peacock sold DVDS via Craig’s List and his own website and magazine ads, which seems like an oddly old-school way to do a porn business these days.) The Crown Prosecutor presented two lists, one of things that would probably be prosecuted (“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”, “fisting”, “torture with instruments”) and those that usually would not (“mild bondage”, “fetishes which do not encourage physical abuse”)

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May 282010
 

Perhaps I was too hasty in my previous post. Recon.com, a hookup site for gay men into fetish wear, somehow got sex-and-queer-unfriendly Apple to approve their iPhone app.

From Queerty:

So how did Recon get on there? By “invest[ing] a lot of effort in designing an application that ensures that [they] walk the right side of the line as far as content and imagery is concerned,” says the company.

Or maybe it’s because Recon’s iPhone app is really just a geo-locating chat app, like Grindr. There’s no obvious sex going on in user profiles, but it sure is suggestive.

This doesn’t change my opinion of Apple. It just shows that their authority is arbitrary and has no transparency in their decision making process.

May 282010
 

Prism Comics, about LBGT issues in comics, has a great post on the impact of Apple’s content policies on comics in general and specifically LBGT themed comics. Even fairly mild stuff

“My problem with Apple banning [Jesus Hates Zombies] is simply this,” says Lindsay. “They allow the Marvel book Kick-Ass. How in God’s name is my book worse than Kick-Ass when it comes to content? The simple answer, it’s not. But because Kick-Ass is a Marvel book, it gets a pass.”

The experience of smaller publishers producing books with LGBT characters and situations also seems hard to reconcile with Murphey’s assessment of Apple’s guidelines.

Tom Bouden’s adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected as an iPad app for the App Store, again due to “materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” A handful of sexually suggestive images depicting men, some extremely mild, were specifically flagged as problematic in the 80-page graphic novel.

A few lessons from this situation:

1. Media and standards and platform, and especially who controls them, matter to content. Censorship (public- or private-sector) is often not so much about controlling content but about controlling the medium itself. When new forms of media appear, which put words and images in new places, censorship kicks into high gear. Walled-garden content systems like the iPhone/iPod/iPad or the Amazon Kindle are a reaction to the wide-open Internet, reassuring big media companies that they will retain control.

2. If you’re a big, established company, like Playboy or Sports Illustrated or Mavel comics, the standards for judging your content is different if you’re somebody publishing an indie comic off your laptop. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition will net more revenue to Apple than some little swimsuit company’s illustrated catalog app. Money talks, “community standards” walks.

3. People will find a way. Even if your LBGT indie comic doesn’t get into the iVerse, it can still get into the iPhone via the Amazon Kindle app. The question, however, is how level will the playing field be. Amazon takes a 70% cut, while Apple takes a comparatively mild 30%.

4. It’s still censorship when non-government parties do it, and even worse in a way because there is no system of appeal or open standards. Apple and Amazon, being corporate entities, can do it purely by fiat.

5. That the violence of eroticized-yet-plausibly-deniable violence of Kick-Ass gets a pass and two men making out doesn’t speaks volumes about our culture’s twisted view of sex and violence.

6. Watch out for chilling effects and pre-emptive self-censorship.

I’ve often imagined an alternate history of American comics in which the Comics Code Authority of 1954 never happened, and the medium matured, gaining respect and credibility until it equaled film or television. It surely isn’t coincidence that the most heavily censored medium is also the one that struggled longest for critical respect.

May 172010
 

Gawker has an email exchange between Ryan Tate and Apple head honcho Steve Jobs that’s partially about the technical/business issue of why Flash won’t be allowed on the iPad, but also about the issue of porn on the net.

Jobs:

Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom.

And you might care more about porn when you have kids…

Aha, I thought, here’s the nub of it. Jobs employs the old “won’t somebody think of the children” canard, situating the iPad in a purely domestic environment where children are central, and nothing that could potentially or purportedly harm them must be allowed it. As Walter Kendricks pointed out in The Secret Museum, censorship requires the idea of the “vulnerable person” who must be protected from the influence of pornography.

From a strictly business point of view, this attitude may hamstring the Apple iEcosystem. If the goal is to create a walled garden, people may simply not show up and go elsewhere because they like their porn, among other things.