I used to be broadly opposed to Mary Whitehouse and her kind for the way they railed against the depiction of anything to do with sexual behaviour on the stage, on TV or movie screens, or in music and literature. I wished they would turn their attention to violence.
Now I am less certain.
I still hate to see violence depicted in the arts unless in such a way as to show the futility of it. In my view far too many television series, movies and computer games glorify violent behaviour of the most extreme kind. Why are they not as widely condemned as is pornography?
The Pleasure Principle
There are, unfortunately, many examples of the two elements, violence and sexual activity, coming together. At what point ought the depiction of sexual acts become repugnant to society? I suppose it must be at the same point at which the acts themselves should be deemed repugnant. But where, exactly, is that? The answer must be that there is no exact answer; it depends on the sensibilities of the participants.
Ideally the foremost objective of anyone engaged in a sexual act should be the giving of pleasure to the other participant(s). I include the plural here in the belief that it is possible for all participants in a threesome or, indeed, any number up to and including an orgy, to derive pleasure from the activity. But it should also be axiomatic that every member is free to withdraw at any time when, for him or her, pleasure has been replaced by distress.
In other words it is not any specific activity that is reprehensible so long as all those taking part are receiving pleasure as a consequence of their participation.
Problems with Porn
One of the problems with porn is that the participants are actors; and a good actor is able to feign emotion so that it will always appear to the viewer that he or she is taking pleasure in what is happening to him or her. How can the viewer be certain that the actor has not been coerced into performing, against his or her will, some act that he or she finds repulsive?
To confuse matters further, some porn is deliberately aimed at pleasing those viewers who enjoy watching suffering, and, especially, violent sexual acts. The viewer might wonder: is that rape scene real? Or is the actress pretending to be suffering when actually she is enjoying it? And, by extension, do all women secretly enjoy being subjected to violent sex acts?
The Sex Trade
I assume the majority of women who earn a living from the sex trade, in all or any of its varied forms, do so either through economic necessity or because they are placed under intolerable pressure by a man. But it is also true that some women enjoy and justify what they do as legitimate ways of earning a living. Whether as “escorts”, exotic dancers, porn stars or behind the camera in pornographic movie production.
A woman wrote the notorious Fifty Shades of Gray and there are many other women writing erotica.
It is too simple to say that all women in the sex trade are being exploited.
It is, I would argue, men who are the ones being exploited by pornography. After all, it is men whose instincts are being aroused in order for everyone involved in the production to make a good deal of money, whatever their gender. Why, then, is it feminists who have taken over the role of moralists in this debate, portraying every aspect of sex that does not result in the female participant(s) receiving pleasure as a form of rape?
Which brings me back to the central argument: in the 1970s the lifting of taboos encouraged the belief that anything goes when it comes to performing and portraying sexual activity. Nothing was regarded as unacceptable, even paedophilia. Indeed, such magazines as the edition of Oz that featured in an infamous trial deliberately tested the boundaries by encouraging young people to talk about sex.
Left wing politicians were duped into supporting an organisation promoting paedophilia. Nabokov’s Lolita was lauded, both in literary form and in the movie version. Bands like the Rolling Stones were pursued by “groupies”, many of them under age and many of them offering themselves as sacrifices to their “rock gods”.
Why Saville got away with it
My contention is that all of this created an atmosphere in which it was inevitable that the activities of Jimmy Saville, Stuart Hall and others were overlooked.
I’m not suggesting that such behaviour was condoned by those who ought to have known better, but it is easy to see why people who may have suspected said nothing in the belief they would be laughed at or condemned as fuddy-duddies.
That is why I am ready to re-evaluate my opinion of Mrs Whitehouse.
At the time I was irritated by her attempt to have Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-ling removed from the BBC’s play list. It was my son’s favourite tune and how do you explain to a seven-year-old the innuendo supposedly buried in the lyric? What would she make of some of the explicit songs and raps that make up the modern hit parade?
The general principle behind her campaign – that suggestible individuals of all ages need to be protected from the constantly repeated assertion that “whatever turns you on” is OK – is, I now recognise, a valid one. It is one of the themes of my soon to be published novel Transgression, and one I shall return to in future posts.