Sunday, July 15, 2007


Verte recently posted an excellent article to Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces, here, discussing proposed legislation to ban violent porn in the UK:
On 26th June, the UK Government finally published the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007 (CJB). Sections 64-66 lay out plans to criminalise possession of "extreme pornography" - in terms even more sweeping than those of the original Home Office consultation document. Rather than actions, the proposed law is aimed specifically against pictures. Regardless of what is actually shown, what "appears to be" shown will determine the legality of an image. As well as necrophilia and bestiality, this includes acts which "threaten or appear to threaten a person's life" or "result in or appear to result (or be likely to result) in a serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals".

Coupled with the stricture that images must be "pornographic" in order to qualify as illegal, this means that you can watch all the gruesome cop show murders you like, but if you like pornography of consensual fisting - which could cause serious injury if not done with due care - you risk a three-year jail sentence.

BBFC classification of your favourite porn may or may not help you. You are safe watching sexual violence on an 18-certificate DVD, for example the ball-busting scene in James Bond: Casino Royale. However, if "the image was extracted" - i.e. you have made a screen grab or a clip - then you could be guilty of possessing extreme pornography.

This is demonstrably ludicrous, and the Government actually admits in the notes on the CJB that it "constitutes an interference" with the European Convention of Human Rights. However, it is necessary, we are told, "for the protection of morals".

Part of this "protection of morals" is a blatant attempt to clamp down on the BDSM community. In spite of bland assurances during the consultation process that the proposals were not intended to target anyone in particular, the actual bill drops this pretence, and explicitly refers to the Spanner trial (R v. Brown and Others) as an example of activities that are illegal in themselves and will now become illegal to film or photograph.
As I commented over at the other blog, this is why I personally don't believe it's cogent to be pro-BDSM but anti-porn. I don't see a practical way to end porn that won't involve crackdowns on people with BDSM interests, and I don't see how BDSM people can remain neutral with respect to things like this.

I know there are anti-porn BDSMers out there (does anyone know if Faith ever posted on why she is both? I know that about the time she and I had our scuffle she was thinking of doing it.) I can easily imagine a position like theirs: porn is exploitation. Do BDSM, but don't film it for any kind of profit.

Or possibly "never film it," though giving smart people the benefit of the doubt I'd assume that they'd allow for images made for private use by lovers, for example. There is that ever-thorny "porn vs. erotica" issue, and what "porn" is may hinge on who is paying.

I actually used to have serious reservations about mainstream porn. But when I look at crackdowns or hear about crackdowns, the burden tends not to fall on the back of the industry but on us. Websites with ageplay-related stories get bullied into being taken down -- not some mogul making millions selling DVD's of BARELY LEGAL LOLITAS GETTING SPANKED but regular people's erotic stories.

And the mere mention of BDSM makes it worse, according to my government, or at least what my government said a while ago.

The witch hunts target us. In the US, the UK, wherever. It doesn't matter if you're a quiet little feminist sub -- or a quiet little Christian D/ser -- within the walls of your own home or not. These people hate you. Or at the very least consider you utterly disposable in their quest for a few more votes or a few better numbers on an opinion poll in the heart of right-wing wherever.

Sure, they'll be distinctly less likely to come for you if you never film yourself fucking. But these crackdowns are never about feminism. They are about calling you and what you do obscene and a threat to others.

In college, I had a website for my art and stories. None were hardcore pornographic, but most dealt with SM as a theme and had what a vice hound might call a tasteful veneer of SM eroticism. I wanted the webspace the college would give me, but I wasn't sure if even my rather softcore sadomasochistic art was obscenity and if putting it on the university's server was a bad plan.

So I looked up the college's policy, which basically said state obscenity law applies. And so:
The word "obscene" where it appears in this article shall mean that which, considered as a whole, has as its dominant theme or purpose an appeal to the prurient interest in sex, that is, a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, excretory functions or products thereof or sadomasochistic abuse, and which goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters and which, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Was my stuff safe as art (which I considered it to be), or was it unsafe as SM? And was there any difference between consensual and sweet SM and SM as "abuse"? I pondered this quite a while.

And yeah, went with art, and put my stuff up... but what does this really say? It says, as near as I can figure, that SM is abuse. Maybe some juries can, and maybe some do, find that some references/depictions of SM don't count as "abuse" and there's a loophole. Probably.

But in the end what this says is that "sadomasochism" and "abuse" go together.

Now, sure, many anti-porners are not for obscenity law. It's not community standards the feminist APs care about, for example.

Still, a big part of the hostility toward SM people -- including you if you are an anti-porn SMer -- is expressed in these very laws, moves, propositions. SM is linked with porn, linked with obscenity, to the public mind.

If you have some way to get them unlinked and are actually doing the necessary activism on that score, fine. I'll disagree with you but I'll at least consider your position comprehensible.

But I don't really hear about APs who like consensual beatings or role-playing or whatever who are doing that. So I really don't see how the two can converge, realistically.

In a world of theory, perhaps. But I don't live in that. I don't make art in that. I don't write smut in that. Porn actors and actresses don't make films in that.


  1. Nice post.

    Reminds me a bit of the movie:
    Preaching to the Perverted (1997)
    Since it deals with a UK crackdown on SM.

  2. Is there much popular support for the law in the UK? Does popular support even make much of a difference as to whether a law gets passed by Parliment? I know very little about the system over there – I do know under Blair, they've been able to roll back all manner of free speech rights and civil liberties.

    I feel badly for you folks over there – is there much of a viable alternative to either the Conservatives or New Labor, or are you pretty much stuck with one or the other? (Not that we have much in the way of alternatives in the US.)

  3. yeah, all things considered i feel at least as badly for us. at least y'all get health care...

  4. Yup, the NHS is amazing. I wouldn't deny that, although no-one, ever, has seemed to have poured money into the right places within it, and we all moan...

    Don't feel too badly. We don't have a big religious right faction like you guys do and our politics are further to the left than yours, I think, though I think things are about to swing a little to the right. In terms of viable other options, well, people can express opinions on particular areas of policy through the way they vote. For instance, although I'll vote for the Liberal Democrats, usually, in terms of getting representatives into the house of commons, for local councils I'll quite often vote Green. Worryingly, in Leeds, where I lived before, and where there were huge numbers of asylum seekers and big ethnic diversities, in the last election it was worrying to see how popular the British National Party has become with voters..

    Anyway... there doesn't need to be popular support for legislation to be passed. Look at Iraq! Over a million of us marched through London in protest and Blair didn't listen. It was pretty much his downfall. In terms of media coverage for this particular law, I'd say it's a fairly even split.