UK Censors Domestic Porn; No Pattern To What’s Banned

The United Kingdom just passed a law prohibiting domestic filmmakers from depicting certain acts in online pornography. It is an absolutely perfect example of how dangerous, how confusing, how pointless, and how downright stupid such a law can be.

The law now lists thirteen things actors and actresses may not portray in domestically-made online porn films. Here are some facts about these thirteen:

* The behaviors in every one of them are legal in real life.
* You (yes, you) have almost certainly done at least one of these, and probably will again. Maybe tonight.
* Every one of them is done consensually by thousands or millions of people somewhere every day of the week.
* None of these necessarily causes harm. If consensual, most of these can’t possibly cause harm.
* More than of half of them do NOT involve the genitalia.
* None of the banned depictions involves children.
* These criminalized depictions have nothing in common with each other.
* Each of these can be defined in a wide variety of ways (which will lead to self-censorship and arbitrary enforcement).

Did I mention that each of these activities is legal in real life? At least for now.

So why this particular list? Nobody knows. Which means it could change tomorrow.

Are you eager to know what the specific depictions are, so you can decide how you feel about the new limits on Brits rights to create (and therefore to watch) what they want?

It’s a common enough response, but it shouldn’t be. How do you feel about the government limiting what adult depictions adults can create or watch? The answer shouldn’t be “it depends on this image.” Why? Here are some depictions the government could add to this completely arbitrary list tomorrow:

Same-gender sex
Same-gender kissing
Anal sex
Interracial sex or kissing
Sex or kissing between two adults with a large age difference
Sex where one partner is in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled
Sex between senior citizens
Sex with a blindfold
Sex where one or both partners have erotic piercings
Sex where one or both partners’ pubic hair is shaved

Many people think that pornographic depictions that make “normal people” say “yuck” ought to be banned. Let’s say that none of the above depictions make you say “yuck”; the truth is, plenty of people would say “yuck” to one or all of these. So who should be in charge of what’s illegal—you or them?

That’s the same problem with the list that’s just been published. There are things on that list to which you might say “yuck”—but others wouldn’t. Again, who should be in charge?

Like all censors, the British censors justify their violation of adults’ civil rights by saying this makes Britain safer for children—without even bothering to say how. Rather than the porn, it’s laws like this that damage British children: they reduce the freedom these kids will have as adults, and will reduce their respect for the law when they eventually watch foreign-made porn featuring material that’s banned if made in Britain.

Are you curious about what acts are banned from being depicted?

Does it matter? Does it matter if they make you frown? (Some of them certainly won’t; a few might.) Does it matter if the list focuses mostly on one gender? (There’s one specifically female activity; the rest are gender-neutral.) Does it matter if the actors are generally smiling while acting? (For most of these depictions they would be.)

Does it matter if the activity doesn’t depict physical “sex,” but depicts mind games played by people in costume? If person A can watch a mind game on film and not get aroused, while person B gets turned on watching it, should it be considered pornography? And if so, should it perhaps be prohibited just for people like B rather than for people like A as well?

And if certain erotic mind games can’t be depicted, does that make them thought crimes?

Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of democracy. No country protects anything less than it protects porn; porn is the bottom threshold of free expression. Raise that bar and we have more artistic, political, and social freedoms. Lower it just to prohibit a picture that lots of people don’t like, and the bar for all expression is lowered.

This latest law comes from one of the most democratic, freedom-loving nations in the history of the world. We’re not talking Egypt or Russia, where the government is committed to stifling expression; we’re talking about a country that has spent centuries investigating the outer limits of free expression.

There is absolutely no reason to think that if it happens in Britain, it can’t happen here.

* * *

You still haven’t seen the list; do you feel a little teased? FYI, some kinds of erotic teasing are on Britain’s updated list of prohibited depictions.

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