This week Google notified erotic bloggers that their blogs would be switched to private access only next month if they included sexual imagery. They were quick to add that they were not actually deleting the blogs, just making them much, much harder to access. I would imagine in an attempt to ward off claims of censorship.
This censorship (and it is, in the same way the British Board of Censorship fooled no one when they changed their name to the British Board of Classification) is the latest in a long line of interference of our right to freedom of speech on the web that focuses on sexuality and gender. Long gone are the halcyon days of the early web where one could explore and present oneself as you wished. It seems every few months there are new laws aimed at saving ourselves from us.
The trouble is, all these laws really are, are anxious reactions by Governments and multi-nationals to the web’s fast and vast explosion onto our consciousnesses in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The ebb and flow of freedom is something that is largely predictable (in that we can see it happening in the 30’s and 70’s after previous decades of decadence) and I always knew that my industry’s expansion at that time would be met with an almost equal backlash a few years later.
It was the truly awful 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy that really signposted a change for me. She argued that women were now becoming as bad as men in that they perform sexist and sexualised ways that keep themselves (other women) down. I particularly remember her slating masculine lesbians called “Bois”, who according to her, stomped around like men and treated other lesbians (supposedly the proper ones?) in demeaning ways, because she argued, they want to be like men! Behind her disgust lay an admiration of men, as the ‘real men’ to which these ‘silly lesbians’ aspired to be. She obviously knew nothing about masculinity being a performance that can be done just as validly by women. You just wanted to throw a book about Poststructuralism at her and her awful logic, but what we had to do for the first time is entertain her ideas and campaign against them, because alas, other people believed them to be sound.
As always with censorship the discourse is not about taking away rights but about saving groups of people, historically women but when this became difficult due to the large number of pro-sex women in 1990s, the debate moved onto saving children (another argument that actually has no social science basis, see the work of Danielle Egan, for instance). More recently the debate has become one of porn addiction too. The fact that the goal posts keep changing ought to flag the argument up as a non starter, but alas no, the media’s attention span is too short for such a long view.
More recently we also see arguments about encouraging truthfulness. When Facebook banned the use of pseudonyms as profile names (which disproportionately affects transgendered and native American people). They did so in the name of preserving the truth and openness, that is, the idea that people should stand honestly behind their profiles and postings, rather than pretend they are ‘someone they are not’. Again, somebody find the poststructuralism projectile.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the state of play in the 1950’s when you had conservatives – who hadn’t lost the argument on moral or relativity grounds yet – were actually honest and self-knowledgeable enough to speak in terms of saving morals, society and the family? You then had a solid grounding for an anti-argument, for freedom from such historic constraints. These days the picture is much more blurred. People are both conservative and progressive, or at least, many progressives are in fact conservatives. I learned this lesson early when my St Martin’s tutors and college staff in the late 1990s ripped my film posters down and prevented me from showing my graduation film (which included both sex and urination) at the graduation show. It was truly a shock then to learn they could not see the hypocrisy of them calling themselves supporters of and practitioners of experimental film. They probably still don’t today.
People now are also split between their desire for the new freedoms and their own fears of a demise in society, morality, all of which are further confused with their own emotional insecurities at a time when technology is vastly outstripping our ability to deal with the fruits it bears. Such moral panics as these bouts of censorship, can be thought of as panic attacks caused by a baby Super-ego throwing it’s toys out of the pram in order to use the only power it has against the Id’s drive to explore everything, something that scares it deeply.
The only compensation I keep reminding myself is that largely, we are becoming more progressive and generally more brave and open hearted (as well as educated) as a culture. Yes these teething problems will occur, but it is two steps forward and one step back with censorship, always has been. There are too many people who like freedom; the cat is out of the bag. Just like happened in the early eighties with the moral panic around video nasties, there will be an advancement of freedoms again in ten years or so, once the superego has caught up and feels itself comforted in its blanky. Then it will all start again, but will we remember how the current spate of censorship didn’t work enough to be able to see it for what it is? That’s going to be a lot harder if we don’t have freedom of speech to write blogs and articles in order to remind younger generations and ourselves…