The goverment’s urge to censor the Internet seems to be gathering momentum. The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, said he wanted to see online content meet the same standards (for sex and violence), required for television. Why on earth should it?
Despite what latter-day Mary Whitehouses would have you believe, it’s almost impossible to have porn thrust upon you online – you have to actively seek it out. On TV, at least in theory, it can leap unbidden onto our screens though, apart from the occasional movie, I can’t recall the last time I saw nudity on TV, never mind sex. OK – I can – it was in Californication, but in that context not even the most pathologically puritanical could take offence at it. This was sex as fun, which is probably an alien concept to the likes of Burnham – it certainly was for Whitehouse, who would take offence at the most innocuous scenes (by the way, when she was banging on, in her early days, about the torrent of filth on TV, it sure as hell wasn’t on my telly!). And here’s a thought – her fellow-traveller, Lord Longford, once said that exposure to porn was immensely corrupting, yet he saw more porn, during a long life spent interfering with the rights of others – in the interests of censorship, of course – than any ten people you care to name but, oddly, didn’t consider himself corrupted. Basically, porn was OK for him, but we can’t be trusted with it! And in that, you have the essence of censorship.
Given, though, that it’s impossible to censor the Net without the co-operation of every ISP, I can’t see it working. After all, we’re paying ISPs to provide connections, not to decide for us which websites we can visit. As an adult, only one person has the right to decide what I look at – me.
Children are a different issue – they don’t pay so they don’t have any rights online, but it’s up to the parents to control them, not the government or ISPs. And this takes us back to an earlier point – sexual content doesn’t lie in wait for the unwary – it has to be fetched to the screen. Also, when it comes to plain vanilla sex – and there’s a lot of that online, for reasons that elude me (I’ve been online for 12 years – the novelty of watching other people fuck has long since worn off), sex isn’t a spectator sport, but I seriously doubt that a child would be damaged by watching it. BDSM and other, allegedly deviant, fringe activities, though, may have undesirable effects on kids, but they are pastimes for consenting adults, and it’s incumbent upon parents to ensure their kids do not have access to this, or anything else they might be tempted to dangerously emulate. It’s not a job for the service providers.
Children need censorship for their own protection, adults do not. It could be – and, indeed, has been – argued that psychologically vulnerable adults may be at risk, and/or be moved to put others at risk, as a result of watching “unsuitable” material. True enough – and the same applies to kids, too – but forget about the Internet; if they want such material they only have to hire, or buy, DVDs, to get more sex and violence than you can shake a stick at. I don’t see anyone clamouring to ban the sale, or hire of DVDs, or Bowdlerise them into incomprehensibility.
No, the problem that governments, and assorted busy-bodies, most of whom really need to get a life, have with the Internet is that it’s outside their control and they haven’t – yet – found a way to tax it. Censorship may be the thin end of the wedge, with adults having to buy a licence to enable free access to the entire Net. Or maybe I’ve just given them an idea – oh, bugger!
Where does censorship stop, though? Banning Internet porn and/or violence is probably just the thin end of the wedge (don’t get me wrong about violence – see my previous post). Television, of course, has been heavily censored for years – ask yourself when you last saw sex and nudity (apart from Californication!), on your screens. Movies on TV are censored by advertising – have been for a long time on the analogue channels -and just when it looks as if it might get a bit rude, someone tries to sell you bleach! I don’t know about satellite channels. You do get the odd bit of non-sexual nudity on Four and Five, though (and last night, on Five,if you saw Naked Parents, in the Hidden Lives strand, you probably wished you hadn’t!).
When, then, can we expect the censorship campaign to extend to books and other printed matter, I wonder? And not just top-shelf mags but publications containing “undesirable” ideas. Once the idea that censorship is in any way desirable or permissible takes hold – and if we allow the first step, subsequent steps will be impossible to prevent – then we may as well all go and live in China or North Korea, where even our thinking will be done for us…
A caveat – I woud be quite happy for Grey’s Anatomy to be censored – god forbid that Ellen Pompeo, now a grotesque bag of bones, should ever be allowed to take her clothes off!