Tuesday July 23rd 2013
One of the most reassuring aspects of the British Board of Film Classification has always been its limited remit. The fact that the board’s control extends only as far as the cinema, the video shop and your local HMV (stopping well short of your bedroom) strengthens the idea of the BBFC as a classifier rather than a censor — something the board itself asserted when it changed its name from the British Board of Film Censors in 1984.
Their rulings, while occasionally draconian, are designed to help parents choose what they will and will not allow their children to watch; only in a tiny minority of cases (two last year) do they affect what mature adults can elect to see themselves. And even then, their jurisdiction ends where any private residence begins. If they decide that 2 minutes and 54 seconds of I Spit On Your Grave is unfit for public consumption in the UK, I can still legally stream the uncut version on US Netflix from the comfort of my sofa; if they reject The Bunny Game outright, I can still import the $24 Region A Blu-ray from Amazon.com. And while they’ve long refused to certify anything that could be called a rape simulation (even at the porn-only R18 level), that wouldn’t prevent me from filming one myself and watching it back later with friends.
Yesterday, David Cameron announced his plans to curb the ‘corroding’ influence of internet pornography (presumably he’s referring to the strain it places on his 56k modem) and he had this to say on ‘extreme’ porn:
“There are some examples of extreme pornography that are so bad that you can’t even buy this material in a licensed sex shop. And today I can announce we will be legislating so that videos streamed online in the UK are subject to the same rules as those sold in shops. Put simply — what you can’t get in a shop, you will no longer be able to get online.“
This essentially hands control of every video recording in the country — public, private, online, offline — over to the BBFC. That’s the same BBFC who fix rape scenes by making them consensual. The same BBFC who think the word ‘cunt’ is liable to trigger societal collapse. The same BBFC who build policy around the gut reactions of 35 random members of the public.
Specifically, Cameron cited rape simulation porn as a pressing concern:
“There are certain kinds of pornography that can only be described as ‘extreme’. I am talking particularly about pornography that is violent, and that depicts simulated rape. These images normalise sexual violence against women — and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them… We are closing the loophole — making it a criminal offence to possess internet pornography that depicts rape.”
It’s easy to write this off as an issue for basement-dwelling, would-be child molesters alone (though given that rape remains a very common sexual fantasy for women, and a reasonably popular one for men, I suspect it’s not just me and Britain’s serial killers watching this stuff) but don’t expect the moral crusade to end here.
Like it or not, there’s no good way of distinguishing legally between pornography and art. The BBFC defines porn as ‘works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation’, but there’s plenty of alt-porn for which sexual arousal is practically an afterthought, and plenty of mainstream art that wants nothing more than to turn its audience on. Mark Bridger, the killer of five-year-old April Jones and a catalyst for Cameron’s announcement, wasn’t watching violent pornography in the hours before Jones’s murder, but the BBFC-sanctioned cut of The Last House on the Left, taped off of UK television. There’s little doubt that he found it arousing; I guess HMV better start repositioning the film as a sex work.
Call me a pragmatist but it seems unlikely that David Cameron is going to singlehandedly redefine a nation’s sexual tastes. The kind of old-world, shabby-Soho-sex-shop porn that the BBFC normally certify is aimed primarily at middle-aged men in overcoats, not the general public, who are understandably reluctant to have their safe, sane and consensual sexual kinks mandated by government.
This legislation won’t stop rapists from accessing ‘extreme’ porn, it’ll just handcuff innocent people for doing so. And don’t be surprised if they find that arousing too — the filthy, non-missionary-sex-having, godless fucking perverts.