|Twenty years or so after the cessation of hostilities over censorship and erotic entertainment media, a new foray has been fired from the leftoid corner.
However, the protagonist isn't an antiporn radical feminist this time, but a Canadian film-maker and Frankfurt School Marxist. For the uninitiated, I'd better explain that Frankfurt School Marxism consists primarily of strong cultural pessimism about the existence of any progressive tendencies within popular culture. Capitalist consumer commodity culture must result in oppression and domination of inhuman social values, they argue.
Why is this recurring now? Throughout the twentieth century, there were periodic displays of conservative moral outrage at new media technologies, sexual or violent imagery. It happened when the first motion pictures were screened, it happened when horror comics shocked and scandalised communists and conservative Catholics alike in the fifties, it happened when horror movie videos were labelled "video nasties" in the United Kingdom and it could have happened in the eighties here, but...
In New Zealand, we had the good fortune to have a relatively progressive Labour administration during the latter half of the eighties which decriminalised male homosexuality and presided over liberal censorship changes, which provided opportunities for liberal social scientists and LGBT communities to argue that discrimination against lesbian and gay erotic media was untenable in the new legislative environment. There was a shortlived feminist group called "Women Against Pornography" in the eighties and early nineties, but feminists had other serious concerns to confront, given the early nineties New Right onslaught against pay equity and trade unionism.
Media effects theory was employed by LGBT community members to argue that media products were only one influence on social behaviour, whether positive or negative, compared to greater influences from family background, educational institutions or other sources. This put things back into perspective and defused most subsequent attempts at moral panics against media products from the conservative Christian corner.
Mind you, it's difficult not to agree with some of the antiporn critiques when one reads about specific vile examples of straight male misogyny. For instance, take a ghastly Japanese anime "rape game," RapeLay, which features simulated sexual violence against female anime figures. Fortunately, one can't find this on Amazon.Com anymore, because the online distributor pulled it from their shelves. Similarly, Haddow discusses Max Hardcore, whose 'gonzo' product featured adult women made up as prepubescent girls and subjected to simulated rough sex. Mr Hardcore is currently serving a prison sentence. While this stuff is pretty awful, it should be noted that it is simulated performance, and distributors and law enforcement got the offending product off the shelves, which tends to blunt Haddow's implicit case that straight smut is getting raw and misogynist.
He also interviews Virginie Despentes, author of Baise-Moi, subject of wrathful interference from the Society for Promotion of Community Standards when its film adaptation featured at a recent New Zealand film festival. Baise Moi, however, is actually a feminist rape revenge genre film. In this genre, sexual violence is depicted onscreen, but it certainly is not eroticised. Furthermore, the woman then turns the tables, and takes graphic and often gory revenge against her initial tormentors. Sure, it's individualistic, and features graphic violence, but no-one's asked female audience members about the narrative denouement. For that matter, Promouvoir, a French pro-censorship religious group which also opposed Baise-Moi's screening, is affiliated to the far right anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant National Republican Movement. Should we be banning what some women might find profoundly empowering through depiction of active resistance to sexual violence, however?
Virginie Despentes argues that smut is a closed loop. It is purely there to elicit self-pleasure and consumption of more related media products, and has no causal relationship to violence against women. Haddow agrees- he thinks that untramelled market capitalism has led to an upsurge in straight male infertility, impotence, learning disabilities and autism, so they're too enfeebled to respond otherwise due to environmental devastation thanks to the New Right.
Haddow's jeremiad is based on the following rationale, instead. Smut is a capitalist consumer commodity, and was responsible for the rise of the Internet. However, it was too successful and now, storyline components and elements of smut are beginning to find their ways into mainline genres, so smut is forced to 'up the ante' and resort to violent content and even 'snuff.'
What is wrong with this 'hot pink apocalypse?' For one thing, recent news items suggest that it is certainly not the case that erotic entertainment corporations are in good shape during the current recession. Both straight and gay erotic DVD producers are under attack from consummately DIY artisanal and anti-corporate tubesites, eating into their profit margins. Why pay for something when one can gain free access?
Moreover, it is certainly not the case that viewers of erotic media are somehow desensitised, given the ongoing fierce gay male community debate about the control and curtailment of bareback DVDs. Should they be banned outright, fought with re-eroticised safe sex campaigns (on tubesites?), actively boycotted or be undermined through unionisation of the male performers and enforcement of occupational health and safety laws in their countries of origin? This controversy suggests that many of us aren't desensitised.
Meanwhile, as straight men are biting the dust, younger gay men have more social opportunities, so gay male erotic media may not occupy a central place in their lives, compared to older generations of gay men for whom it provided one of the few positive depictions of male intimacy and validation of consensual gay male sex available to them. Possibly then, gay erotic media consumption is diminishing amongst younger gay men as their lives start to resemble those of their straight counterparts more.
To be frank, Haddow has made a stale, cliched and obsolete argument for the ubiquity of the erotic entertainment industries. His "hot pink apocalypse" is an empty phantasm of wild authorial exaggeration.
Doug Haddow: "Pornocalypse Now?" Adbusters 83: 17:3: May/June 2009: 24-31: http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/83/pornocalypse-now.html
Virginie Despentes: King Kong Theory: London: Serpents Tail: 2009. Craig Young - 18th June 2009