On the obscenity of everyday life

Today in the UK, a person stands trial for distributing allegedly “obscene” DVDs. These DVDs contain scenes of fisting, watersports and some fairly hardcore BDSM activities, which are considered to be “obscene”. Now, these activities are perfectly legal to watch if you happen to be in the same room as the participants with their consent, but it is, for some strange reason, possibly illegal under British law to represent them on film. The outcome of the trial will therefore be very interesting–if the DVDs are deemed “not obscene”, this opens up an avenue for porn to contain such activities.

What is deemed “obscene” and “not obscene” is a thorny issue, and appears to be defined arbitrarily. In the current obscenity trial, one of the contentious issues is that the “four finger” rule was violated–usually, porn sticks to insertion of only four fingers to avoid the legal trouble full fisting entails. Likewise, the British Board of Film Classification has deemed films depicting female ejaculation to be problematic, ludicrously believing that squirting is the same as urine and is therefore subject to the same censorship as watersports.

It is curious to note that what is considered to be prosecutable under the Obscene Publications Act appears to be entirely content of a sexual nature. ObscenityLawyer lists the following:

·“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”
 ·“torture with instruments”
 ·“bondage (especially where gags are used with no apparent means of withdrawing consent)”
 ·“activities involving perversion or degradation (such as drinking urine, urination[…] on to the body…)”
·“fisting”

This demonstrates our peculiar hang-up about sex. If one literally interprets the word “obscene“, it can be taken to mean “repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral and ethical principles” or “disgusting to the senses”.

Here, I can count dozens of instances of things which I perceive to be obscene: indeed, half of day-to-day life appears obscene. There is the egregious the egregious, such as newspapers running a vast colour photograph of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse on their front page or triggering videos advising women not to get into an unbooked minicab or they will be raped horribly. Then there’s the low-level, less visible stuff which is dictionary-definition obscene nonetheless: consider that we have a government whose goal appears to be to tear the welfare state to pieces and redistribute the shreds to their rich mates. Consider rape culture, street harassment, the trivialising of violence against women. All crassly disregard moral and ethical principles, and all are utterly repugnant.

Yet none of this considered obscene, at least not by law. The law–and I again thank ObscenityLawyer’s brilliant post on the issue for this–states that the material must be likely to “deprave or corrupt”. This ambiguous definition is steeped in society’s aversion to sex but not violence. Therefore, a picture of a murdered man may be run on the front page of a newspaper where a big dripping cunt may not. Therefore, Michael Gove may cheerfully quietly privatise state education  and the papers will report it as though he is doing good humanitarian work, while had he had a fist up his bottom most people would cry obscenity.

Yet the low-level stuff, the morally and ethical disregard can and does deprave and corrupt. It seeps into our vocabulary: suddenly “choice” becomes anything but, and basic right for every person to live in dignity becomes seen as a dirty word. It cannot be prosecuted because the legal system is a part of the same obscenity: for example, is it not obscene that it took 18 years to convict two (of more murderers) for a racially-motivated crime, while children participating in poverty riots were convicted in days?

The system looks at obscenity in porn through the lens of the acts itself, but here is nothing inherently obscene about consenting adults fucking on film, no matter what kinds of sex to which they are consenting. Yet we may critique things which are obscene–is there coercion and a lack of consent in some porn? Does some porn convey misogynistic attitudes? These instances are real obscenities.

So much of society is riddled with genuinely repugnant content, everywhere we look. And it’s far worse than a bit of fisting.

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3 responses to “On the obscenity of everyday life

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