Porn Panic!: Sex and Censorship in the UK

Porn Panic!: Sex and Censorship in the UK

by Jerry Barnett

Paperback

$24.95
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Usually ships within 1 week

Overview

Porn Panic!: Sex and Censorship in the UK by Jerry Barnett

First they came for the pornography, and then strip clubs, lads' mags and music videos. Then they came for hate speech, and then speech that was merely offensive. They eroded free speech online and on university campuses. They sought to divide people by gender and by race.Porn Panic! charts the rise of a new social conservatism for the new millennium, coinciding with the collapse of liberalism as a political force. A new fascism is here, and it’s nothing like anyone expected...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785353741
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 08/26/2016
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.49(d)

About the Author

Jerry Barnett is a technologist, political activist, photographer and writer. His long experience in anti-fascist politics led him to become a dedicated campaigner for free speech and sexual freedom, and he founded the Sex & Censorship campaign in 2013. He is a regular speaker and writer on sex, free expression, race and other issues, and has made regular media appearances over the past several years.

Read an Excerpt

Porn Panic!

Sex and Censorship in the UK


By Jerry Barnett

John Hunt Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Jerry Barnett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78535-374-1



CHAPTER 1

Introduction


censor [sen-ser] (noun): any person who supervises the manners or morality of others


Given the family and environment I was born into, it was virtually inevitable I would become immersed in political activism. My grandfather Albert Mann (later Albert Mann MBE), as a young Jewish man growing up in London's East End ghettos, had been politicised by the rise of fascism, as well as by the poverty that surrounded him during his childhood. When the fascist leader Oswald Mosley tried to lead his blackshirts through the Jewish East End on 4th October 1936, Albert was one of many thousands who came out onto the streets to block Mosley's progress. Jews, other locals and communists united to physically beat the blackshirts out of the East End. Women threw heavy pots out of windows onto fascist heads. The police deployed their truncheons against the protesters, but were beaten back, along with the fascists. This victory of the left, known as the Battle of Cable Street, was a turning point in the fight against British fascism.

The mainstream parties of left and right failed to either fully understand or strongly oppose fascism, and so in the 1930s many progressives (including Albert) joined the only strongly antifascist force, the Communist Party, which became a mass political party for the next two decades. During WWII, Albert fought in the RAF against fascism, and was among the returning soldiers who voted for the most left-wing government in British history. The Labour victory of 1945 secured the foundation of the National Health Service, the welfare state and universal education, institutions which Albert fought to defend for the remainder of his life (although, like many former communists, he was eventually repelled by Stalinism and found his lifelong home in the Labour Party).

Albert's stridently progressive views politicised his daughter, my mother. She was of the 1960s generation of young people attracted by second-wave feminism (known at the time as the Women's Lib movement), which campaigned for equal rights for women, and in particular for sexual liberation. Some of the first sexual writing I encountered, in my prepubescent years, was in the pages of my mum's feminist magazines, such as Spare Rib. In such publications, women were told that they had a right to sexual pleasure, and were advised on how they might achieve it; men were teased for not being able to locate clitorises.

Post-Women's Lib, many women were no longer ashamed to reveal their bodies, and sexual imagery became more daring and less censored. In more liberated countries than Britain – led by Denmark in 1969 – pornography was decriminalised. Social and religious conservatives watched in horror as carefully constructed walls of censorship and anti-sex morality were swept away.

In her father's footsteps, my mum was also involved with the anti-fascist movement. In the 1970s, support for the National Front was surging, driven by concern about mass immigration. My mum took me to marches with her; the first I remember was a counter-protest against a march by an obscure far-right group, the British Movement, which had gained some popularity in West London. Perhaps a few hundred fascists had turned up, but there were tens of thousands of us, of all races, standing against them, and we prevented them from marching. On a smaller, gentler scale, I was repeating my grandfather's experience in Cable Street, four decades earlier.

In the late-1970s, the Rock Against Racism movement was combining the music of my generation – reggae, punk, ska – with anti-fascist politics, and mobilising a new generation into politics. We went to music festivals and on political marches. Rastafarians danced to the same music as skinheads, and racial divisions began to break down. The transformation of Britain's race relations was remarkably fast: the 1990s was a palpably different era from the 70s.

My political upbringing and my own activism meant that I spent my teens surrounded by activists from around the world: leading ANC exiles, fighting Apartheid from their temporary base in London; the children of left-wing activists who had fled state terror in Chile; political refugees from Zimbabwe, Mexico and dozens of other places. It was a dangerous, unsettled period, but an exciting time to be young, and in London. The alternative comedy scene was born, in small comedy clubs and rooms above pubs, giving us a welcome antidote to the stuffy, state-approved comedy on TV. The new comedy was left-wing, sweary, anti-establishment and sexually explicit. I joined one of the many Trotskyist organisations, the Militant Tendency. Riots erupted in inner cities; first in 1979, then more widespread in 1981. The early-80s felt like a revolutionary era, and we believed we were the vanguard of a socialist revolution that was about to sweep the globe.

But we were not, and it did not. Margaret Thatcher's historic defeat of the miners' strike in 1985 marked the end of the power of the proletariat, which was supposed to overthrow global capitalism. The industrial working class was vanishing. Many of the left-wing activists of my generation drifted away from politics. By then I had a young son, a family to support, and the beginnings of a career as a software developer. I felt, a little guiltily, that I was abandoning the revolution. As it turned out, I was joining it.

In 1988, working as a software engineer and technical consultant, I was allocated my first Internet email address. Here was a novelty: I could send text anywhere in the world, to anyone else on the Internet, and it would reach them quickly, often within minutes or even seconds! Most of the people I knew on the Net worked in the same building as me, but still, this was a revolutionary concept. I knew a couple of people in the United States with email addresses. Previously, we might have spoken or written to each other once a year, if that; now we could exchange messages on a daily basis. What is now normal was then a leap forward in global communication with mind-blowing implications.

The Internet continued to spread. Technology graduates left university wanting to stay in touch with their old email buddies. In the early-90s, some of these geeks set up the first companies to offer cheap dial-up access for home users. I joined one of these providers – Demon Internet – which offered a service for £10 per month. The Internet was still exclusively a place for techies; but then Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, launched a suite of software he had developed for easily publishing and sharing documents, which he called the World Wide Web. Now, people with minimal technical skills could publish information, and anyone could access it. In the slang of the day, we were all joining the Information Superhighway, or alternatively had become members of the Global Village.

The network had the potential to change everything, but perhaps its first significant effect was to reveal the true inner workings of the human mind. Now that anybody, with minimal money or skill, could publish whatever they liked, the Internet became a readable map of human thoughts. And, it turned out that, far more than anything else, we were interested in sex.

This fact should not have surprised anyone, but few people would have predicted the sheer scale of this new sexual revolution. In the first few years of the web, most of the Internet's capacity was dedicated to sexual hookups, erotic stories, sexual chat and information, and most of all, to pornography.

In 1994, I set up a web software business. Finally, computing was cool rather than nerdy, and I wanted to be involved with the new technologies. I quickly acquired customers, and recruited staff. One of my early clients was a pornographer who wanted to try selling explicit porn photos online; I built the site for him, it went live, and within a couple of years was one of the most trafficked sites on the web, for a time even outranking the BBC. Having entered the market so early, my client made a lot of money in a short space of time. Inevitably, others noticed, and a gold rush started. Hundreds of thousands, then millions of porn sites appeared online in the late-90s and early-noughties. As the dot-com crash of 2000 came and went, many of the weird and wonderful startups of the early web vanished; this served to highlight the fact that, at that time, there was only one big, profitable online industry. As many fledgling web businesses lost their investors and closed down, porn continued to grow from strength to strength.

All of this took place during a liberal upswing in British culture. The 90s was a decade when Britain turned its back on the gloomy, authoritarian Thatcher era; dance music and ecstasy-fuelled ravers took over from power ballads and cocaine-fuelled yuppies. The Cold War, with its nuclear nightmares, faded away. Sex became freer, sexuality more liberated, racial mixing more common. A Labour government was elected after 18 years of Tory rule, and quickly updated laws to match the new zeitgeist. Anti-gay legislation was repealed, civil partnerships were introduced, and the age of consent for homosexuals was reduced from 21 to 18, and then 16. Cash-starved public services were properly funded again. Newly built schools and hospitals appeared. The homeless evaporated from the streets of London. The economy was growing after years of recession and stagnation, and people had more money in their pockets.

In the background, conservative forces were biding their time. Since the 1970s, the British state had been carefully assembling a raft of censorship laws, regulations and bodies to ensure that the British public could only see and hear officially approved material. No other democratic country had such tight controls over the media. Most of all, the state abhorred sexual expression: No Sex Please, We're British definitely applied to our media regulators, if not to the average Brit anymore. In particular, they had ensured that hard-core pornography was virtually inaccessible. It had been completely banned from television (indeed, it still is), and also from video and DVD. Via unlicensed sex shops, car-boot sales and blokes in pubs, one could buy pirate porn videos, but they were illegal to supply, and expensive (a friend involved in the business at the time reminisces about selling pirated VHS tapes for £70).

The walls of British censorship began to be breached with the launch of satellite TV: hard-core porn was broadcast from Denmark, and British subscribers signed up in droves. The government quickly moved to ban the sale of the required receivers. Low-cost airlines began trading, and suddenly Brits could pop over to Amsterdam, Hamburg or Barcelona for the weekend. Many returned carrying porn videos far more explicit than those legally available in the UK.

And the web began to seriously erode the powers of the British censorship state. Censorship laws, such as the ancient Obscene Publications Act, were aimed at suppliers, not consumers. But now the suppliers were overseas, beyond the short reach of British jurisdiction. The highly censorious TV regulators (which were eventually merged into one superregulator, Ofcom) had no jurisdiction over the Internet; neither did the BBFC, which only had a remit to censor physical media such as video and DVD. With the new century came faster Internet connections, capable of delivering streaming video; the early adoption of broadband was, in large part, driven by porn consumers: there was almost no other content available to watch online at that stage. In a remarkably short period of time, the British censorship state largely lost its ability to control which media could be consumed by British citizens. The United States and most of the European Union had far laxer laws regarding pornography than the UK, and for the first time in our history, the British people could not be deprived of explicit sexual expression. No wonder we binged.

In 2004, after building porn sites for other businesses for almost a decade, I launched my own video service, Strictly Broadband, which sold rentals of porn DVDs in online streaming form (it was somewhat similar in approach to later services like Netflix). As I became more involved with the adult entertainment industry, I became increasingly aware of two trends: first, there was a new morality movement on the rise; the liberalism of the 90s generation was fading. And second, the British state was well aware of the rising threat to its power, and was preparing to claw it back, using pornography as one of the key excuses for taking draconian action (terrorism being another favoured excuse, in the wake of 9/11). Both of these trends – the new moralists, and state censorship – began to worry me, and to draw me back again towards political involvement. In 2008, the financial crash led to an upsurge in activism, as a new left-wing generation – the first since the 1980s – became involved in battling a Conservative-led government.

The old anti-sex movement, led by the vociferous, veteran decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse, had become a laughing stock, a memory of more religious and uptight generations. When Whitehouse died, in 2001, it had seemed to herald the end of an era. What I missed at the time, and discovered later, was that Whitehouse's death had left a space for the arrival of a new morality movement. The old moralists had wielded the Bible in one hand, and the Daily Mail in the other. This new movement was younger. Instead of coming from Middle England, it arrived from academia. Rather than use the language of religious morality, it appeared under the umbrella of feminism and liberalism. And in place of the Mail, it was backed by the Guardian. Just like Whitehouse, these new activists hated pornography most of all, and blamed it for many of the world's (often imaginary) ills.

For me, emerging blinking back into the world of political activism after a couple of decades, this was disorientating. I was a Labour-voting (well, until Iraq anyway), Guardian-reading leftie; what had happened to my tribe? I had believed that the new, secular Britain had left behind the old conservative attitudes about sex and sexuality; but instead, the anti-sex tendency had merely lain dormant, redefined itself for a new era, and waited for its time to come. I had thought the decline of organised religion would bring about the end of moralists who sought to control other people's private behaviours. I was wrong: the fear of sex, and the power to control populations using sexual repression, are far older and more primal instincts than mere religion or politics.

I sought to become involved in campaigning against censorship, and discovered that there is little that could be described as an anti-censorship movement in the UK. I found myself almost alone in a parliamentary inquiry, trying to convince MPs that censorship – whether of pornography or anything else – is antithetical to democracy and to liberal values. It was dispiriting indeed to discover how deeply a fear of free expression had become embedded in British culture and politics, not just on the right, but at least as much on the left.

Left and right are not tied to permanent sets of principles, but are mere labels; ever-changing statements of tribal identity. This is hardly a new observation: George Orwell, always ahead of his time, understood the fluidity of political identity better than anyone when he wrote in closing Animal Farm: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which". Orwell also noted the conservatism inherent within the left in 1984: the ruling clique was known as Ingsoc – an abbreviation for the English Socialist Party. Young people were encouraged to join the Junior Anti-Sex League, "which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes ... The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it".

This book, Porn Panic!, documents the neo-puritans, their origins, and the numerous moral panics they have sown in recent years. These panics have been supported by a wide variety of players, each with their own reasons for wanting to put free expression, and most of all sexual expression, back in its box. Ultimately their collective aim is to create the conditions for something that has not yet occurred in any democratic country: wide-scale, state-enforced censorship of the Internet. They do this by making the case that, when it comes to expression, there are some lines that simply must not be crossed, and that therefore the state must intervene in public discourse.

I will show that evidence that pornography causes harm simply does not exist; but I will also make the case that, even if porn had proved to be in some way harmful, censorship is far more harmful. Empowering the state to control our speech has been done many times, for many reasons, and rarely (if ever) with good outcomes. It is tempting to think we can merely censor the 'bad stuff' while allowing the 'good stuff' to get through: but this is not possible. To accept state censorship is to empower the state to decide which expression it will act against next. We should allow the state new powers with the greatest caution, or regret at leisure. In the words of the great Enlightenment thinker Benjamin Franklin: "Those who will give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety".


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Porn Panic! by Jerry Barnett. Copyright © 2015 Jerry Barnett. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

2 40,000 Years of Porn 10

3 The Trouble with Winning 22

4 How Anti-Sex Feminism was Born 45

5 The New British Anti-Sex Movement 73

6 The Big Panic 107

7 The Suppression of the Female Body 128

8 Porn: What's the Harm? 163

9 Free Expression on the Edge 191

References 215

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews