Sunday, 17 March 2013
It never ceases to amaze me what our cultural leaders decide to claim is empowering to women.
I also wonder, with profound fear and dismay, how much longer it will be before sadistic hardcore pornography is entirely above ground, shameless and free.
I do know that our current relationship with porn is unsustainable.
The changes its reputation has undergone in my lifetime have been extraordinary: no other phenomenon maps out the contours of the sexual revolution so plainly, or with so keen a cutting edge.
And it's important because for a lot of that time porn was unequivocally accepted in all approved discourse as the dark side of sexual freedom: in the seventies and eighties the dominant radical feminist view of it (basically the same as the pre-existing general popular view of it, though this was dismissed as patriarchal, and suspect in its motives) was that it was a plain social evil, with practical ramifications in terms of sexual crime.
When I was a child, less than forty years ago, and until well into my teenage, true pornography - ie in which the sexual act was not simulated and shown in clinical detail - was literally illegal - was prosecutable, in theory and instance - in Britain.
While sex shops made a brisk trade of censored videos in which every clear instance of penetration was cut out, the rest of us found relief in top shelf magazines in which women posed in attitudes of solitude and what might today be innocently mistaken for dignity. Their genitalia could be shown, but squads of enforcers recruited just for this purpose regularly checked to ensure they were not using any object to show or even suggest penetration, or holding their vaginas open slightly with their hands: these, too, were punishable offences until the twentieth century was almost spent.
(Incidentally, I notice that these magazines are still on sale, in exactly the same profusion as ever they were. I don't doubt the contents will be unrecognisably more explicit now than the sort we crowded round in the playground, but even so, who still buys them when actual moving pornography is free on everyone's computer? It's an absolute mystery, like still seeing rows and rows of Super 8 movies in the Blu-ray age.)
The rehabilitation of porn began early in America and the rest of Europe: though the feminist influence was felt strongly there too, nothing could stop it once legalised.
But still it remained an underground, somewhat embarrassing thing. A steely nerve was required to walk up to the counter and purchase some, especially if the person serving was a comely wench. Nothing more ably revealed the schizophrenia of porn: I am about to pay for the privilege of entering a fantasy world in which I am master and all women are my slaves, but what this ordinary girl in a crummy job, who I would give anything to impress, can see with laser penetration in my shifting gaze, dry lips and moist palms is that the only slave in the room is me.
Porn was for losers, everybody knew that really.
Now, for the first time, that really has changed.
In Britain, it was the lad culture of the 1990s that resulted in the attitude shift, and then of course the internet that made the idea of any of us standing around waffling about it utterly pointless.
It's here now, whether we like it or not, and in such degrading, bestial forms as would make the most hardened consumer of top shelf material of, say, twenty five years ago, weep. And it's free, and it's instant, and you need not assume that any man you meet in any capacity in the course of your day is unfamiliar with it. Especially if he's just the cooler side of middle-aged. Then it's more or less a dead cert.
The law of diminishing returns in material of this sort (same as with violence) is so obvious, and the analogy with drugs (the constant need for a greater and greater dose just to reach the same plateau of stimulation), is so undeniable that those who do deny it - and there's no shortage of them - are to be shunned and condemned as much, indeed far more, than any helplessly in thrall to it.
Its obvious effect on society in terms of the nature of sexual relations, particularly in the underclass from which English law and the interest of hypocritical social reformers has entirely retreated in terror, is incalculable in terms of misery inflicted (upon women), crimes committed (against women), and progress reversed (for women).
It's even being used as an excuse in British courts: young teenage boys raping ten year old girls are pitied because they learned their sexual attitudes hunched over a computer screen watching anal gang bangs.
The question is: what is going to happen when this generation begets the next? And the next?
I truly have no idea what the official legal status of pornography is in Britain now, but it is plainly irrelevant, whatever it is. When the internet exists, and offers such a profusion of unimaginably sadistic and misogynistic material at no expense and seemingly no risk, how long will the idea that it is still somehow and in some sense disapproved of, floating as if in a cloud above the issue, with no anchor in law or social practice, possibly survive?
How will they even know, even if they might be receptive to the notion, that there was a time when it was felt to be a social evil? By whom? And who will be around to tell them?
The idea that we should accommodate the fact of porn is everywhere now.
It's still not quite de rigeur to make plain our love of it, but reinforcement of the fact that we live in a world where it exists, and that that's fine, is everywhere. And women must accept this too.
This Huffington Post feature is a typical example. It's a series of photos of some of the people who were once called 'porn stars', as in porn 'stars', but are now just called porn stars, without their make-up on.
Three things, in particular, strike me.
First, just how monumentally hideous so many of these women are. They look like the gargoyles on a medieval church. This is the case in many instances even with their make up on, and in a few cases it is difficult to even tell which photo is which, so grotesquely mangled are their features even in their naked state.
But they are not just ugly. Their faces are profoundly sad. Some of them are much older than they might otherwise appear. Many, many of them, are much, much younger.
Look at the token smiles, the hollow eyes, the nervous, insecure stances. These are lost, empty, abused, plain, unprotected young girls, victims in an industry that loathes them and sells their despair as aids to masturbation.
But that is not what we are supposed to see. The focus of the piece is not that the women featured are pornography 'stars': they might be 'stars' of any sort. The issue is that we should think about our attitudes towards women - not pornography whores but women generally - appearing without make-up.
As the article begins:
Whether they're being papped without their slap on, uploading photos to Twitter, or taking part in charity campaigns, the world has seen its fair share of female celebrities without make-up in recent months. So, as the latest batch of make-up free photographs go viral, this time a selection before and after shots of porn stars taken by make-up artist Melissa Murphy, HuffPost UK Lifestyle can't help but wonder why 'baring all' continues to make the headlines?
We are not supposed to be questioning the mass-acceptance of the pornography industry. Instead, we are being asked to interpret as evidence of our own unreasonable attitudes towards women the supposed need for the 'stars' of such productions to be made-up whenever seen in public!
As the safe, warm, untroubled, well-paid mental defective who wrote the article continues:
For women in the public eye, the decision to go make-up free can lead to criticism from onlookers... Despite the fact that women commonly go make-up free in everyday life, when it comes to celebrities we seem to have different standards.
Just remind yourself who these "women in the public eye", these "celebrities", that we are discussing are! How small-minded of us to react adversely to the sight of women, whose sole reason for existence is to serve as sexual playthings, indeed by proxy as the sexual playthings of every man on the planet, when they appear without make-up!
And lastly, and most importantly, note that all this is being sold as female empowerment.
What 'HuffPost Lifestyle UK' is telling you is that women - women like you, like your daughter, like that girl on the estate that her boyfriend keeps locked up except on the one night of the week he drags her in tottering heels to the nightclub and then beats her to a watermelon pulp when she gets home because she made eye contact with another man for three fifths of a second - should find some sort of inspiration in the sight of these pathetic, wasted fools parading the true extent of their hopelessness by daring to be seen without cosmetics. Cosmetics, those tools of female enslavement!
The terrifying line, that leaps from the screen and spits mucus in your shocked, open mouth, is:
HuffPost UK Lifestyle believe that pictures such as (these) could have the capacity to empower women and address body image issues.
Whoever wrote that deserves a fortnight in the stocks. And no, that is not a flight of figurative fancy on my part. I'm not being whimsical, or exaggerating for effect. Whoever wrote that deserves a fortnight in the stocks.
But please don't misunderstand me. I get no pleasure from seeing people being spat on and pelted with rotten fruit. It's empowering.
HuffPost UK Lifestyle thinks that being nailed into a block of wood and assaulted by random passers by has the capacity to empower idiots who refer to themselves as a stupid-sounding third person collective, and address body image issues...