As if the obscenity prosecutions in the US aren’t bad enough, the UK is dusting off the Obscene Publications Act.
This is the first such prosecution for written material in nearly two decades – and a guilty verdict could have a serious and significant impact on the future regulation of the internet in the UK.
The case originated in summer 2007, when Mr [Darryn] Walker allegedly posted a work of fantasy – titled Girls (Scream) Aloud – about pop group Girls Aloud.
The story describes in detail the kidnap, rape, mutilation and murder of band members Cheryl Cole, Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh, and ends with the sale of various body parts on eBay.
The piece was brought to the attention of the Internet Watch Foundation, whose remit includes the monitoring of internet material deemed to be criminally obscene: they in turn handed details over to the Police.
The BBC says Walker is on bail and will go on trial March 16th.
“It is easy to trivialise this as being about a bunch of people worried about their porn stash when the extreme porn law goes live in January,” said Clair. “But the issues run far wider.
“Back in 2006 government were still openly claiming that they had no evidence that porn did any harm. Despite that, they changed the Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons Act at the last minute to make it possible to bar individuals from ‘regulated jobs’ just for possessing porn of any degree of violence. In that one act, they effectively ruled our community out of almost half the jobs on offer.
“The result of these two measures taken together is that individuals are feeling scared, angry and under pressure. We do not believe government reassurances about our sexuality. We think they are as bigoted about kinkiness as previous governments were about homosexuality.”
A BBC report of the same event:
The Criminal Justice Act, which was passed earlier this year, shifts criminal responsibility from the producers “of violent and extreme pornography” to consumers.
This, the government says, is necessary to deal with material obtained via the internet from websites based abroad.
The maximum sentence for possession will be three years in prison.
Campaigners say the new law risks criminalising thousands of people who use violent pornographic images as part of consensual sexual relationships.
Bruce Argue, of the group Esinem, said: “We want to draw attention to what is an unfair and ill-thought-out law.”
The Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We believe that the new legislation will only catch material which is already illegal to publish in the UK under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and therefore material which is already legally available should not be affected.”
The act comes into force on 1 January.
The idea that mere possession of “extreme pornography”, however that is defined, could be grounds to deny people employment, and effectively create a second class of citizens, is creepy as hell.
According to Moral Foundations theory, there are five different basic foundations for morality: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. Different cultures, and therefore different people, assign different weights to each foundation. One survey shows that liberal Americans consider morality mainly in terms of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, while conservative Americans put more equal weight on all five.
The prosecutions and legislation we see in the US and the UK are based almost entirely on the purity/sanctity foundation. You can argue about the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, but purity/sanctity depends on deep-seated, cultural designations of what is clean and unclean, distinctions that are often rather arbitrary. (I.e. why in North America are cows and chickens acceptable to eat, but not dogs and cats?) The sexual realm is particularly regulated by this foundation. Violations of sexual purity are not just viscerally disgusting to some people, but are a contaminating influence. People who are associated with violations of sexual purity can be punished to a degree that seems excessive and irrational considered in the light of harm/care or fairness/reciprocity foundations.
I have a theory that over the next few years, BDSM (and polyamory) will become increasingly pivotal in the culture wars. Cultural conservatives tend to conflate homosexuality with kink, as if they were the same thing practiced by the same people, thus leaving out the concepts of vanilla, monogamous gays and kinky, polyamorous heterosexuals. To be optimistic, if at some point in the future same sex marriage comes to pass in the US, non-vanilla sex will be the new target.
I have a weird (masochistic?) yearning for more prejudice, more injustice to be heaped upon kinky people in hope of forging kinky people into a collective, politicized movement, to do for pervs what Stonewall did for gays. I’m a regular reader of Peter Labarbera’s Americans for Truth website, and his every attack on kinky people gives me a self-righteous thrill.