The BBC reports this week that ‘porn filters’ have been switched on by some of the UK’s internet providers.
It’s not a strictly accurate name, as it’s also possible to filter out online gaming or social networking sites if parents have concerns about their children using those facilities too. However, it’s typical lazy journalism to focus on just one element of ‘family friendly’ internet blocking.
As is usual with these things, I have as many concerns regarding these filters as I would regarding what constitutes ‘porn’. Who determines what is ‘porn’? Who are these self-appointed moral guardians?
For me, the naked body is rarely ‘pornographic’. Yes, there are images out there that are unsuitable for ‘family viewing’, even in instances where it’s ‘only’ a naked body. I’m thinking of the type of shots where the content is more suited to gynaecological course work than anything, or even where a naked male is sporting erections, perhaps (although even here it’s a natural process that might be deemed suitable in context, i.e. arousal and reproduction within sex education). Other than that genuine naturism rarely contains imagery that is pornographic, by my definition. A naked body simply isn’t, in itself, pornographic.
That said, I accept that my definition of ‘pornography’ isn’t the same as the next person’s. Some people might find a naked body pornographic. I’m not about to challenge their views on this. Neither do I wish others to challenge mine and, more importantly, assume their views mirror mine. I don’t generally feel a need to visit even genuine naturist photo sites; my preference for a naturist experience is that it should be first, rather than second-hand. However in editing this site, I often do witness some naturist sites, particularly in the context of us attempting to mirror ‘nudes in the news’, and reflect RL naturist activity with the SL one.
In doing so, there’s no ‘porn’ (in my opinion). What there is is people who are indulging in social nudity. It’s how we were born, it IS the ‘natural state’.
And then I turn my attention to news, being a bit of a news junkie, only to discover that there is a surfeit of -in my opinion- pornographic imagery around, most of which goes unremarked. Whatever atrocity is facing the globe at any particular moment in time seems to have photographers and cameramen scurrying to produce the most graphic imagery, much of which would fall into my definition of ‘porn’. The mental image of an Iraqi Republican guardsman immolated in his tank during Gulf War 1 is seared into my brain, and pornographic in its gratuitousness.
As one UK commentator put it, in respect of pornographic images, ‘in every picture there is a victim’.
Yes, and that’s no different for the image of a dead Iraqi soldier.
Pornography is defined as ‘the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal‘ so my declaration that war imagery is ‘pornographic’ isn’t strictly accurate. But I know that if it comes down to a choice between naked people wandering around a naturist campsite, or the dead and dying from a war zone or the wake of a natural disaster, I know which I’d prefer my children weren’t witness to.
And if we define porn as I’ve italicised it above, where do we draw the line?
Consider, in the context of the italicised definition, the image below.
It’s from the Kama Sutra. It ticks every box going in terms of being ‘pornographic’. Is it pornographic? Is it something family filters should be blocking? Or does it quantify itself as ‘art’? Does it quantify itself as ‘part of the world’s great literary works’? Does it quantify itself as ‘a self help guide’?
Should it be blocked by these filters?
Consider the image below, in the context of ‘porn’.
Goya’s ‘Maya Desnuda’
Painted by Goya in 1797, can we say if it was never used for the purpose of sexual arousal, thereby qualifying as ‘porn’?
So what’s going to happen to the likes of some works of great art is the porn filters’ algorithms are picking up on flesh-colour? Is Goya’s work airbrushed by them? Where does porn filtering end and authoritarian censorship begin? Do we extend this censorship to words, eventually?
Will there be a clamour for certain words to be filtered out of the life experience on the values of some anonymous figure? Actually, this has already begun, with some websites, such as Amazon, filtering out ‘pornographic’ content. (Note…wouldn’t they be better off filtering out excrutiatingly bad literature, be it the ‘pornographic’ 50 Shades of Grey or the highly regarded but excutiatingly dull works of Maya Angelou? See how difficult it is? You may love Maya Angelou’s work. I don’t rate the books, or the tedious, numerous autobiographies, at all. But does that give me the right to censor your experience of them? No. Does that give anyone the right to censor your freedom to read or view text or images that you don’t regard as pornographic? No….up to a point).
Granted, none of this is what the ‘true’ intent of porn filters’ purpose, which appears to be, or is spun in a way to appear to be, related to the odious, unforgivable crime of child pornography. In that respect, I have no sympathy with users and abusers, and proponents, producers and consumers of it are equally as bad, should equally be exposed to the full effect of the law and punished with severity. The minimum tariff, in my opnion, is that those indulging in this sort of imagery, either as manufacturer or consumer, should be a life imprisonment term. All of us have the utmost responsibility to protect our children (by which I mean ‘the children of the globe’) from being the victims of this sort of heinous crime.
While I welcome each and every development in eradicating this type of material, I simultaneously fear for the future of the internet with some I wouldn’t trust with the petty cash box from a church choir -you will have your own list of dubious, slimy politicians you can insert here- holding the keys to ‘the freedoms of the internet’.
Where might it all end?
Are we going to eradicate the Kama Sutra? Are we going to eradicate Goya? Are going to eradicate bad ‘erotic’ literature? Are we going to eradicate political philosophies, with whole trains of though airbrushed from the human experience simply because some with differing views despise them? As an example…would attempts to stamp out neo-fascism ultimately result in ‘Mein Kampf‘ being airbrushed from the internet, despite the fact that it demonstrates the lunatic, unhinged ravings of a ridiculous figure?