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