Cameron announces pornography crackdown

By Jonathon Graham

The internet is arguably man’s defining technological achievement. Since its rudimentary beginnings in the 1960s, society has been driven to ever greater heights through its usage. It provides endless possibilities and unparalleled opportunities for innovation, as well as consistently challenging our preconceptions of ourselves and others. Oh, and if you want to look at naked ladies/men it’s good for that too!

It’s a strange fact about humanity that our ability to create new and exciting ways to share and display information is only paralleled by our unrelenting desire to flood these mediums with our favourite recreational material: pornography.

The premise behind Chatroulette, for example, offered a potentially fascinating sociological experiment. What would these brief connections reveal? How would our cultural differences manifest themselves? Somewhat disappointingly, I learnt very little from my brief flirtation with the site, aside from the fact that a desire to expose oneself on the internet appears to be a universal human emotion.

Significantly, however, the purpose of pornography goes beyond mere titillation. In the battle for living room domination it was allegedly VHS’ willingness to distribute pornography that ensured its triumph over the superior Betamax format. Similarly stories have been presented to explain Blueray’s victory over HD DVD. It also appears that the industry will have a real say in the development of 3D viewing platforms, with one of the first demonstrations of the format coming at the 2010 Adult Entertainment Expo.

Yet despite its abundance and evident influence, pornography and its consumption continues to carry a social stigma. None of society’s sub cultures, as far as I’m aware, are in any great rush to reclaim the phrases ‘pervert’ or ‘voyeur’ as terms of endearment or empowerment.

In recent times, numerous strategies have been proposed to help segregate our baser desires from more wholesome activities. Recent suggestions include a plan to confine adult websites to a new online domain; thus protecting those unfortunate few who consistently confuse the cornucopia of human achievement that is YouTube with one of its adult equivalents.

In the last few days, David Cameron has unveiled a plan, constructed in conjunction with the Britain’s four largest ISPs, to protect children from the perils of pornography. Under the proposed system, sites containing explicit content will automatically be banned from servers, with access only granted once customers have made the conscious decision to ‘opt in’.

In Tuesday’s Guardian, the British pornographer Anna Arrowhead published an article defending pornography and its positive effects on society. According to Arrowhead, porn is the glue that ‘keeps many marriages going’. This may well be the case, but if we’re going to begin balancing the harms caused by the potential withdrawal of adult entertainment from precarious marital arrangements, against the dangers of prematurely exposing children to debauchery, then we will be left with an almost impossible decision to make. The issue is not one of competing claims, but whether children’s ability to view pornography should be restricted de facto.

Ultimately, of course, this decision should be left to the parents of the children themselves. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suggest that the government should not have a role in providing parents with the necessary tools to make and reinforce their decision. Perhaps the biggest problem with the scheme is that it involves an ‘opt-in’ rather than ‘opt-out’ option. At this stage, it is not entirely clear how the option will be exercised, but it is not hard to imagine the average individual’s unwillingness to expose themselves as someone who puts their own sexual gratification before the well-being of their offspring at their local PC World.

Liberal groups, such as Big Brother Watch, have also been quick to point out that the move sets a dangerous precedent for the exercise of state control over free information. In addition to missing the potential that a choice – and what could be more liberal than offering a clear choice – based option could provide, this criticism also trivialises the difficult task that parents face in shielding their charges from inappropriate images. It is this problem which lies at the heart of the matter and not the creation of a generation of sexually frustrated Winston Smiths.

Pornography will never disappear from the media spectrum; it’s worth too much money to too many people. Vintage options such as magazines also remain viable options for those who wish to indulge. As such, the government’s plans have considerable merit. They would have more merit still if the scheme’s default option was one of opting out, rather than opting in.

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