Yes, porn is free expression

Right-wingers are behaving like Ayatollahs in their quest to ban porn.

Ross Marchand

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Topics Free Speech USA

When I ventured into the Islamic Republic of Iran for the first time in 2016, the first thing I noticed was not the sycophantic portraits of the Ayatollah everywhere. Rather, it was the dogged determination by cyber-regulators to thwart my attempts to visit certain ‘un-Islamic’ websites like Facebook and Twitter. Little did I know at the time that many of my countrymen in the US would also push for restrictions on what we can access online.

Recently Matt Walsh, writer and religious-right provocateur, penned a widely debated piece for the Daily Wire, arguing that hardcore porn should go the way of the dodo because it is harming the youth. If Walsh and like-minded virtue-signallers had their way, unvirtuous content on the World Wide Web would be blocked. Walsh is joined by an army of pundits, talking heads and even US presidential hopefuls calling for the regulation and even banning of pornographic content. Most alarmingly, a large number of American lawmakers have successfully decreed porn to be a public-health threat in 16 states.

The typical argument made for porn prohibition is that lewd content isn’t ‘artistic’ enough to be considered free expression. For instance, in the right-wing Daily Caller, Zak Slayback argues that ‘porn is not speech… Unlike a Scorsese film or a newspaper, both of which are consumed for artistic enjoyment or enlightenment, pornography is consumed with an outside end in mind: orgasm and masturbation.’ From this vantage point, ‘artistic enjoyment’ and ‘enlightenment’ are little more than uniform blocks of utility enjoyed by movie aficionados and news nerds.

Of course, watching a Scorsese flick and reading the New York Post can also lend themselves to these prohibited varieties of enjoyment. In fact, one could easily watch a Scorsese movie like The Wolf of Wall Street and selectively watch some of its scenes with sexual gratification in mind. Or, one could read a sexually explicit account of a sex scandal in a newspaper with arousal as a goal. But here’s one beauty of free speech: government regulators and busybodies don’t have to undertake the daunting and invasive task of trying to figure out why people are watching and reading what they are watching and reading.

To the Ayatollah’s regulators in Iran, all sorts of degenerate content and political content across the digital domain is believed to provoke immoral behaviour and anarchy unless it is heavily regulated by the state. This view may seem far removed from the Anglo-American experiment in an open society, but we, too, have always found excuses to shut down free speech.

Around the time of the American founding, even though that period also gave us the First Amendment, many lawmakers were sounding the alarm about the dangers of freedom of speech. John Allen of the Fifth Congress strongly supported the anti-speech Sedition Act of 1798, arguing: ‘Liberty of the press and of opinion is calculated to destroy all confidence between man and man… It leads to the dissolution of every bond of union.’ In other words, political speech is bad and should be censored because it can lead to serious social problems. Today we have conservative commentators who want to ‘nuke the porn industry’ because ‘increased pornography-use is closely associated with increases in loneliness and the myriad mental-health issues and addictions that accompany that’.

These potential social harms are not limited to pornography, in any case. A disastrous exchange on Twitter that leads to a provocateur getting ‘ratioed’ could also lead to feelings of loneliness and rejection. Watching an earth-shattering documentary could make you question your place in the universe. Exposure to different expressive media can create all sorts of downside risk. But it can also give us all kinds of insights into the human experience and the world around us. Or it may just be fun or distracting.

For Walsh and Co, the trump card is apparently the harm that porn can do to children. This supposedly outweighs the benefits of an open, expressive society. This concern rings hollow, especially as parents worried about porn now have myriad ways to keep their children from being exposed to explicit material. Internet search-monitoring services such as Net Nanny, coupled with phone-monitoring apps like MamaBear, allow parents to have a great deal of control over their kids’ browsing and social-media activities. Crucially, these tools do not deny adults the ability to access whichever sites they want.

Authoritarian clampdowns on unvirtuous content like those in Iran have only succeeded in creating a backlash. Let’s choose a different path.

Ross Marchand is a Young Voices contributor.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

TrappedInTheOffSide .

21st December 2019 at 8:00 pm

Yes!! It is free expression, but it is also exploitation. To some it’s corruptive, to some it’s helpful. The biggest problem is the playground availability. It’s great that parents to have control over their kids phones but unfortunately not all parents can be bothered or know how to exercise that control. I wish I lived in the simple world that so many on here seem to inhabit.

michael savell

19th December 2019 at 10:50 pm

Zenobia,Have you ever been importuned by a homosexual or transexual?,maybe in a public loo?.When you have,come back and let us know how you felt.The country is swimming in depression
and violence is escalating,both due in part to drugs yet we are quite happy to be considered free to take what we like.Most of the major killings in the past few years are directly due to drugs.Gangs abound and now we could be on a new crime wave of gangs of young women

Neil McCaughan

19th December 2019 at 9:03 pm

I rather like the idea of the Government vetting pornography. Individual ministers could specialise in particular perversions. Maybe Mrs May could be asked back to surveil rubber and wet sex material, while Mr Gove could be our man in tribadism. And I’m sure they could find an interesting niche for Baroness Warsi. Perhaps there could be a ratings system, with performances rated one, two, or three Hugh Grants.

TrappedInTheOffSide .

21st December 2019 at 7:49 pm

Totally excellent.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th December 2019 at 7:57 pm

Pornography is a far more prevalent perversion than either homosexuality or transexuality, and far more corrosive of public morality, and yet it is now considered to be socially acceptable. People really ought to learn some self-control.

michael savell

19th December 2019 at 6:45 pm

This is just a ruse to transfer more of male money to females,it could even be better than an ad for prostitution.I understand that nearly all erotica will be made illegal in the UK .I suspect that the piano legs will have to be covered shortly.Are short skirts and make up going to be made illegal both in public and on TV.?I doubt it very much since that empowers the female sex although I did see and advertisement for make up aimed at men.Won’t you ladies like it when every male borrows your make up set.I am 82 but even I can see that the female today hates most men with a fierce intensity and the men just roll over without a fight,been going on for 40 years but now it’s become serious for most males.We can see that by the number wishing to classify as women.Meanwhile drugs and knives are ok if used by the untouchables.

TrappedInTheOffSide .

21st December 2019 at 7:52 pm

Sounds like you have never experienced the love of a good honest woman.

Lord Anubis

19th December 2019 at 5:16 pm

As an aside, I recall a documentary on the history of Erotica (Or was it photography. Like Tea and Opium the two are inextricably entwined)

The point being that pretty much the very first thing that early photography was used for was making “Porn”

Initially photographers attempted to reproduce classic artworks of the naked form using live models before moving on to, erm, other things (If you can find an old naughty daguerreotype in the attic I believe they are quite valuable )

Of course, shortly after photography was invented, along came the airbrush because early “Pornographers” ran up against a sad truth that has blighted the industry ever since.

Unfortunately, real people just do not look that good!”

Philip Humphrey

19th December 2019 at 4:48 pm

Seems to me most of the moves to ban porn come from the leftists and feminists. Some on the right might not approve of porn, but they see the danger that banning things sets a precedent for the censorious left to make further erosions into free speech.

steve moxon

19th December 2019 at 3:00 pm

As ever Mz Xenophobia misses the point entirely.
Extreme ideologues invariably do.

M Blando

19th December 2019 at 1:52 pm

Like the left who scream racist at any problem, ignoring many factors and complexities in a problem… are you not doing the same?

So porn is an intellectual exercise in free-speech is it? Let’s just ignore the abuse industry it supports. You’ve spoken only about the audience, ignoring the participants, especially those at shall we say the pointy end.

The problem of porn, if it is a problem, is far more complex than simply free speech. I was full of admiration for Spiked…

To illustrate:… beating someone up because it’s a spectacle that turns on the crowd is not about free-speech.

TrappedInTheOffSide .

27th December 2019 at 11:50 pm

Excellent. Everything on here is either black or white. Their are no shades of grey, no context or balance.

In Negative

19th December 2019 at 10:10 am

Porn is free expression. Porn too is almost certainly not, in my view, without artistic worth. Porn is consumed and created with exactly the same moral depth and sophistication as the person consuming and creating it. In fact, porn can be the passage of consciousness of the person creating it, which is itself an endeavour towards ‘art’.

In a sense, eroticism can be seen as the spiritual essence of the materialist outlook. It is the center of materialist rituality. In the same way Saint Theresa wrote the Inside Castle as an example of the many rooms of heaven, I think through pornography a similar many roomed mansion of sexual exchange can be written. Not only that, but within pornography, eroticism and the many rooms of sexual desire, you also have a pointer back to the spirit. “The orgasm” (so called) is not just a base physical pleasure, it is a hugely complex, transcendental mystery filled with all the contradictions of man.

And what further proof do you want of this than the wreckage of human souls strewn over its arid beaches? All that loneliness and apparently ruined “mental health” are surely examples of the problems of temptation, of too much longing and too much God? Doesn’t great art come exactly from these kinds of human ship-wreck, that know something about Hell and where to find it?

Ven Oods

19th December 2019 at 12:33 pm

“Porn too is almost certainly not, in my view, without artistic worth.”
It certainly makes the scriptwriters’ jobs somewhat easier. Plotting and dialogue are, of necessity, not too taxing.

Gareth Hart

19th December 2019 at 8:54 am

We have the label Social Justice Warrior for those on the left who engage in dogmatic enforcement of ‘social justice.’ We now also have the label Moral Justice Warrior for those on the right who engage in the dogmatic enforcement of ‘morals’.

The sex negative puritans on the left and the right are firmly in charge.

In Negative

19th December 2019 at 10:38 am

Shouldn’t that be “sex positive puritans”?

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th December 2019 at 2:41 pm

Don’t drag the Puritans into it. They were the best thing that ever happened to this country.

steve moxon

19th December 2019 at 8:20 am

Opposition to ‘porn’* is naked contempt for and hatred towards men.
Female erotica* such as ’50 Shades of Grey’ is greeted with no animosity other than for its appallingly low standard of writing.
Far from there being any evidence that erotica* is harmful, it serves the useful purpose of providing a sexual outlet, and is correlated with reduced levels of sexual assault.
* ‘Porn is a pejorative word. The proper term is erotica. The term ‘porn’ in itself is anti-male sex discrimination.

In Negative

19th December 2019 at 10:33 am

50 Shades got a lot of stick for its “wrong messages” to women; likewise Twilight. I’d argue that the war is on sex negative expressions of sexuality more than eroticism as a whole and I think that it’s women who are the most dangerous force in this equation. Female sexuality can, in the sex positive frame, betray the sisterhood by expressing blatantly patriarchal tropes. And this was said about 50 Shades.

As it happens though, there’s a whole community of chicks that are topping 50 Shades in spades. Dark Erotica – a primarily female genre – seems to me a pretty exciting area of female sexual expression.

It’s easy to condemn violent and negative male desire as it plays handily into the narrative that exploitative power is always bad. Female (or feminine?) sexuality has a tendency to subvert that story. Women get away with this more easily than men, perhaps, because they are the ones exploring power against themselves; when males explore the negative aspects of their sexualities, they express their power against the woman.

That said, unless you go mainstream, anyone can write anything these days. Amazon won’t touch you mind.

Michael M

19th December 2019 at 12:35 am

If you aren’t convinced by the freedom of expression argument, what about a science-based one, as argued by a (French) former proponent of freedom of access to porn?
https://amgreatness.com/2019/12/15/a-science-based-case-for-ending-the-porn-epidemic/

steve moxon

19th December 2019 at 8:27 am

It’s rubbish. Anything is potentially addictive. Trainspotting is. Nobody ever proposed banning trainspotting.
The vast majority of adults have no problem at all in how they consume erotica.
Erotica is a very useful means of men sublimating their natural desire for numbers of sex partners without actually trying to obtain numbers of women for such purpose, with all of the problems that would entail.
Prostitution is another social service in this regard, but erotica is even more useful in avoiding potential break-ups with pair-bond partners.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th December 2019 at 2:43 pm

If you think that trainspotting and porn are synonymous then that is worrying!

steve moxon

19th December 2019 at 3:01 pm

As ever Mz Xenophobia misses the point entirely.
Extreme ideologues invariably do

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th December 2019 at 7:59 pm

Why not become a Christian and learn some self-control (and gain some self-respect!).

Michael M

19th December 2019 at 8:17 pm

You obviously didn’t read it.

steve moxon

19th December 2019 at 8:38 pm

I did read it. It’s rubbish. Consuming ‘porn’ [sic] does not replace the desire for actual sex! This claim is by those seeking confirmation bias for their anti-male prejudicial nonsense.
Of course, in some people weird addiction phenomena occur, no doubt in consuming ‘porn’ [sic] as with such as trainspotting. The exceptions prove the rules.

TrappedInTheOffSide .

21st December 2019 at 8:06 pm

You are completely right but only to some people. Some go the other way

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