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Ann Bradley

Spanner and screw

Speaking personally, I can't understand why any man would want to have his foreskin nailed to a board or have a fish-hook shoved into his penis. I understand the associations between pain and pleasure but this sort of stuff is not for me. If a guy ever handed me a scalpel during the lingering moments of foreplay, I'd be up and away faster than you could spell masochist.

But whatever your sexual preference, one thing is clear. The law lords ruling that those who do enjoy consensual sexual torture are open to prosecution is not only an expression of small-minded sexual prurience, but also an example of the state further insinuating itself into our private lives. Lord Templeman laid his cards on the table when he summed up the ruling on what has become known as the Operation Spanner case: 'Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing. Cruelty is uncivilised.'

I agree that cruelty is uncivilised but I question whether a bench of law lords has the right to tell me what's cruel and what isn't. I've never considered the judiciary a particularly compassionate institution. On a scale of cruelty, it's arguable that the judiciary causes more human suffering in a day than those few 'sexual deviants' could do in a month of Sundays.

There are lots of things society needs protecting from - poverty, unemployment, homelessness are just a few obscenities that spring to mind. By contrast, the notion that a group of middle-aged, middle class chaps constitute a cult of violence and a threat to society seems bizarre. The exact nature of the threat was never spelled out by the law lords, but the implication is that society needs protection from depravity, and that the law must decide what is and is not morally acceptable.

After all, if the authorities were to tolerate these perversions from a bunch of professionals including a lay preacher and a teacher, where would it all end? Given a licence to do just as we wish, what might you and I get up to?

The most revolting aspect of the case is the liberal chorus in support of the ruling. Number one on the nausea scale was the former editor of Oz, the radical, outspoken, occasionally banned publication of the sixties and seventies. Time was when editor Richard Neville championed the fight against censorship laws. He recently wrote a nasty piece in the Guardian explaining that they all went too far and that libertarian 'do as you please' thinking is at the root of today's moral decline. He not only accepts that there has been a moral decline, he accepts the blame for it. Furthermore, he bleats that the establishment is not taking the moral lapse seriously enough. He is shocked that it has taken the law lords quite so long to rule against chaps whose idea of fun is a fish-hook through the scrotum.

While the state prescribes what you can and can't do with your lover, former radicals applaud. There's an obscenity for you.

At least Andrew Puddephat, general secretary of Liberty, could see the issue at stake. He may not have the hip reputation of the Oz clique but he managed to condemn 'the way the judgement legitimises intrusion by the state unnecessarily into people's private lives'. And state intrusion is exactly what's going on here.

It is becoming increasingly acceptable for the state to regulate every aspect of our lives. Living Marxism has pointed out that the James Bulger murder exposed how much of our lives is watched by surveillance cameras. Now it's accepted that the state should have the right to peer in though the bedroom curtains. Next on the agenda is increased regulation of what we watch on TV.

The proposed ban on Red Hot Television is an example of the same puritanical censoriousness as the prosecution of sado-masochists. Furthermore, it's already threatening to achieve an even greater consensus of support than the Operation Spanner ruling. It will be interesting to see what Liberty has to say on this, because liberals have been calling for bans on porn for over a decade.

Heritage secretary Peter Brooke reckons the 'sexually explicit content of Red Hot Television is unacceptable....It repeatedly offends against good taste and decency'. Even if you accept that the Conservative Party in general, and Peter Brooke in particular, should arbitrate on matters of good taste and decency, you have to ask yourself why the government is so keen to prevent us viewing 'housewives bursting at the seams with volcanic passion'. Is the volcanic sexual passion of housewives any more offensive than the orgasmic enthusiasm of advert housewives for Ariel washing powder?

I find the presentation of housewives as mindless morons concerned with nothing more than 'household smells' infinitely more offensive than a close up of a Dutch woman's crotch. A reported 25 000 British households have already paid £700 to obtain the transmitter required to view the porn programmes. When it was announced that the sale of these things might be banned, sales sky-rocketed. It seems that a fair proportion of the British public find it more stimulating than offensive, and why shouldn't they?

Is pornography a threat to society? Is it likely to deprave and corrupt? A broad-based moral lobby says it is. Ever since feminist writer, Robin Morgan, declared that porn was the theory and rape the practice, radicals have been happy to support reactionaries like Mary Whitehouse calling for bans on porn. Peter Brooke is worried about porn's effect on kids; feminists worry about its effect on rapists. All ignore the fact that for every rapist who claims he got the idea from porn there's another assailant - like the Yorkshire ripper - who claims to have been instructed by God to attack women. Nobody calls for a ban on the Bible.

Pornography may or may not be something you want to watch. You might or might not want to set fire to your dick or sew up your labia. But whatever your standards of 'taste and decency', whenever the state steps in to regulate what people can do it opens one more door into all of our lives and sets a precedent for greater interference and control.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993

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