This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 28th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.
The moral panic over porn has been ramping up for some time now, so it was inevitable that it would eventually engender state action; no government can long resist its sick compulsion to control its subjects’ lives in still another way, and when some useful idiots are practically begging for “protection” from scary pictures and naughty words, it’s like offering an alcoholic a tall, cold glass of rum punch on a blisteringly hot day. But UK Prime Minister David Cameron says this isn’t censorship because the internet is dangerous, and besides it’s “for the children!”
Every internet user in the country will be asked whether they want to have access to pornography, David Cameron will say, as he warns that hardcore images are “corroding childhood”. A joint British and American “task force” will…tackle obscene websites, while Google and other search engine providers will be required to draw up a “blacklist” of the most depraved and illegal search terms …The initiatives…also include…measures to stop children accidentally stumbling across explicit but legal pornographic images in public places…The six biggest companies providing access to wireless internet in cafés and railway stations have all signed a deal to block legal pornography where children could view it. The roll-out of “family friendly Wi-Fi” is expected to begin from the end of August…
Though the majority seem to recognize this censorship for what it is, and some point out that it can’t even work as promised, I’ve already heard others asking how this is a big deal, since adults will be able to “opt out”. But that’s not every time they sign on to the internet; it’s only once, when service is established. In other words, the decision is kept permanently in the records of their ISPs…records government can have for the asking, and which prosecutors can trot out at “sex crime” trials as evidence of their “perversion”, and which police may be granted powers to study for the very type of witch hunt authorized by another section of the PM’s initiative. As for the concept of “family friendly wi-fi”…have you ever tried to use filtered internet service? Cameron and other censorship advocates like to pretend that so-called “porn filters” only do what their name implies, but that’s far from the case; they usually block any- and everything containing certain taboo words, which includes a great deal of medical and psychological information, GLBT and sex worker rights resources, and people, places and companies whose names contain banned syllables such as “sex” or “cunt”. At the Desiree conference last month I discovered that even my blog, which is not remotely pornographic but does discuss sexual topics, was blocked by the filter at a donut shop in Las Vegas. But at least I can guess why mine is caught in the net; some companies are blocked for no discernible reason, and getting themselves unblocked is incredibly difficult. And then there’s the slippery slope; I hope I’m not the only one who shudders at the phrase “illegal search terms”.
But as important as they are, censorship issues aren’t the only reasons to oppose this horrible nanny state expansion; as I’ve pointed out before, such schemes inherently infantilize women. Dr. Brooke Magnanti writes:
…many such discussions treat women exclusively as victims or potential victims, with no more control over their own lives than toddlers. With the endless ongoing campaigns to ban boobs in the Sun or ban whatever type of porn is being presented as a cause for panic this year, no one ever asks – what if we ban this, and attitudes towards women don’t improve? What then? Because there are plenty of places with considerably less sexual freedom and access to porn than here, and they are not exactly bastions of gender equality either…
Censorship, as Robert Heinlein famously observed, is “like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.” It is dangerous tyranny to restrict the activities of adults to those which our self-appointed masters determine to be appropriate for children, and (as any sex worker or drug user could tell you) impossible to stop people from seeking out avenues of pleasure by banning them. After five years of trying, Australia gave up its plans for a national porn filter last November; even the notoriously-puritanical United States seems to recognize that putting the djinni back into his bottle is impossible. The UK should heed these examples and shut down this ill-considered pipe dream now, before it has resulted in the waste of millions in addition to all of its other bad effects.