Thursday, 16 April 2009
Channel 4 and I have fallen out recently. In a big way. And not because they insist on persevering with Desperate Housewives. What was billed as a sort of Sex and the City 2.0 died a sorry death halfway through the first season and has succeeded only in affirming Teri Hatcher's neuroticism as about as grating as a undersized thong. And what is it with the ridiculous 'up-to-something' mischievous music they have punctuating every scene like a xylophonic nightmare?
In fact, Desperate Housewives is reason enough to fall out with Channel 4. But alas, this isn't the sole cause of my ire. For years, Channel 4 has prided itself on being at the very forefront of controversy and polemicism, with cutting edge programming which displays a genuine desire to inform, challenge and discuss. So imagine my chagrin when two weeks ago, they dedicate a week of primetime scheduling to pontificate about the dangers of the pornography on the nation. Now, I’m not a wanker, but that sort of Mary Whitehouse preaching just doesn’t sit right with me.
Massive graphics, a condescending presenter-cum-investigative journalist getting vox pops on big red sofas in London sightseeing spots and a steady supply of repetitive statistics of varying degrees of veracity telling us that seven out of every six teenagers in Britain has Chlamydia and that it's all porn's fault.
And that was it. For a week. No actual debate, no discussion, no desire to inform and challenge. At not one point did it actually give any sort of evidence pointing to the damaging effect that porn is supposed to have on the youth of today. At one point, our host, Anna Richardson, trying to convince us of the depraved pornographication of the nation, went on a scientific field trip around the main supermarkets and came back dismayed at finding that paragons of middle-class virtue, Waitrose, sold lube. There it is there. Concrete proof that we are a bunch of sex-mad fetishists swinging our way around the country. It's about as conclusive as Prince Harry's paternity.
Furthermore, it was horrendously condescending to teenagers, constantly trying to inform them that that the fake boobs, fake lips and fake lips they saw in porn was not what real sex was supposed to be like and that it was tainting their poor little brains, and then tried to clear up some of the inconsistencies by showing them pictures of baggy penii and saggy boobs and telling them again that sex was not lovely and airbrushed, but was in fact disgusting and overrated, achieving the probably desired effect of abstinence in anyone under 18.
Actually, if that's what real sex is supposed to look like, then you can count me out as well. I understand what they were trying to get at – that we shouldn't have high ideals and thus high pressure to attain them making sex more enjoyable and relaxing. But I don’t need porn to tell me that I prefer a shaven haven over a mighty bush. Porn doesn’t tell me that all women are insatiable sex kittens (probably the reason most men use porn anyway!).
We all know that as we get older, our nubility and virility is cruelly snatched from us. We've all, unfortunately, accidentally caught glimpses of our saggy mums getting out of the shower. We’ve all had to apologize at some point or another because “that’s never happened before, babe, I promise.” We are aware that porn is virtual reality, and that’s why it’s there.
In my mind, it’s just too easy to pick on porn. If we are going to try and locate a reason for the promiscuity of youngsters and the respective pressure to perform, why don’t we look towards the litany of lurid glossy magazines on the shelves of our newsagents. These magazines are constantly telling us that our orgasms aren’t good enough, that we don’t last long enough and that quite simply, we ain’t getting enough.
The ability to access pornography is, granted, probably too easy, but there’s still a stigma to it. Imagine the outrage as everybody peers over their Metro in the morning on the Tube to work, while you sit with your latest copy of Black Dong in Hong Kong. Women’s magazines, with their explicit examples on how to give the perfect blowjob and tips for safe rimming, are acceptable and they’re everywhere and they are within the jurisdiction of the paying teenager. Not that I think that that is a bad thing. I’m merely highlighting the fact that if it is acceptable for youths to read about it, why can’t they see it, bearing in mind most of them are doing it.
It is right to educate the young on STIs. Parents are too scared to broach the subject, and schools don’t really go far enough to explain what they are, and what they do. It’s a darn sight better than those adverts where sexy people snog in the streets with gonorrhoea emblazoned across their undercrackers. That is an advert endorsing STIs, if anything. Never has the Human Papilloma Virus seemed so sexy. I’ve always argued that if you want to make kids wear condoms, put up billboards with diseased vaginas and warty willies.
No, I support the education of youths on STIs. What I don’t understand is why the proliferation of disease has anything to do with porn? Is there a causal link that is unbeknownst to me that details the relationship between the amount of bandwith used and the number of genital warts found? Couple this with the new series, The Hospital, which details teen excess and its effects on the NHS and it seems like Channel 4 have some vendetta against British youths, and are determined to show them up as the atavistic, knuckle-dragging sexual deviants they simply are not.
I suppose the point is this - is porn that bad? For the soul, I mean. The industry as a whole is far from perfect and doubtless needs some sort of union to ensure uniform health and safety standards, as well as ensuring working conditions are decent and the workers themselves are treated in a respectful fashion, but what are the actual far-reaching effects that pornography is supposed to have on society holistically?
Well, we can argue the points backwards and forwards and we have done for about thirty years since Simone de Beauvoir brought out the Second Sex, but there is no conclusive proof that there is any actual harm on society or on the individuals within that society. But even if there was, what are we going to do about it? Most adults drink and many of them drink to get drunk. We know this is harmful to us personally, and to society in that repairing people that have alcohol-induced accidents costs us all money, yet we still drink and we’re still allowed to, guidelines and all. And we’re allowed to because we live in a Western liberal democracy.
The pornography debate ultimately is the old struggle between liberals and conservatives and what they believe is the purpose of law. One believes in the sovereignty of the individual and their freedoms. The other believes in the right for authority to protect the individual from perceived harm.
In being committed to educational programming, Channel 4 align themselves with the former view, that is to say, proffer them education and allow the viewers to make up their own minds. They cannot dogmatically make unsubstantiated assumptions that pornography is bad without some form of actual debate. Oh, I’m angry with Channel 4. However, I’ll offer them this olive branch - I will reconcile with you on the condition that you on the condition that you remove Desperate Housewives from the airwaves.