Yesterday was not a good day for the pro-censorship lobby. Still, there were moments and there were moments.
The moment when they finally lost the plot entirely and descended from any semblance of coherent argument into abject nonsense came on Channel 4 News last night, in a head to head between anti-censorship campaigner Pandora Blake and columnist and Christian, formerly associated with the Gay Cure organisation, True Freedom Trust, Anne Atkins.
The moment came at a point when it became clear that Atkins was not having the best of the argument. After protesting vigorously that she was being denied her say, she reached for the ultimate deterrent, in the eyes of the anti-porn lobby. Yep: Ms Atkins detonated the C-bomb!
Just think of the children!
Forget the rest. Forget the arguments about porn business and women and individual rights. Blake, she suggested, was ignoring one vital issue. Because “if one children can be saved”, that is justification enough.
Oh, to have been there at that moment! For while the anti-pornsters believe – perhaps genuinely in some cases – that this truly is the ultimate argument, the answer that caps all others, it is in the end pathetic. An indicator that they have run out of anything else to say and therefore will grasp at any straw, invoke any emotion in a dishonest attempt to derail the argument.
You think not? Let’s tackle that argument two ways. First off, what on earth is it meant to mean. Brilliant sound bite: yes, it has that about it. But really? Saved? Saved from what? For what?
Half the argument is essentially circular. It’s the same argument that claims that nakedness in public is a bad thing. Why? Because nakedness in public is a bad thing and, um, if people are naked in public that might lead the public over time to decide that there is nothing at all wrong about nakedness, and for there to be more nakedness. In public. They might even conclude that context is important: that a boob (not to mention a penis and a vulva) are just body parts. Neutral objects that may or may not be sexual according to context and intent.
Thus with saving children. Much of what they are to be saved from is “promiscuity”: the idea that having too much sex, or sex that goes beyond the heteronormative – straight, lights out and with your husband – is inherently a bad thing. Or sex that is fun. Or just sex.
Of course, there is a secondary argument: that being coerced into sex through social pressure is a bad thing; or having sex too young. There, you will find not a little sympathy from those in the anti-censorship lobby. Except, many of the latter believe the real antidote to that issue is sex education: teaching children, from an appropriate age to understand their limits, to respect their bodies, and to understand that they have the right to say no, as well as yes.
And who, historically, have been most opposed to sex ed? Step forward many of the same christian groups with whom Ms Atkins is aligned.
Children at risk of real harm
But maybe she means something else. After all, the BBFC have claimed that there is ample documented evidence of harm following on from practices they now wish to ban, film-wise. Gas-mask wearing, f’rinstance. Or facesitting.
If they really cared about harm to children, perhaps they could take time out from their busy schedules to read the latest report on child mortality from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Therein, they will discover reported something like 5,000 child deaths in the UK each year. Around 3,000 of those occur in respect of children under the age of 1 (neonatal): the remaining 2,000 occur between the ages of 1 and 19.
If you want the detail, read the full report. However, the primary factors associated with these deaths are:
For the neonatal group: low birth weight, often associated with maternal smoking, poverty and/or a very young mother
For the older group: dread illness (such as cancer), injury (of which road accident is probably far and away the pre-eminent cause) and and suicide
Let’s pick those apart. Young mums are not inevitably the result of poor sex ed. But it certainly contributes. There is little that can be done about dread illness.
However, each of the other three is precisely knowable: each of the other three represents a precise calculable threat to the life of children. Yet those who trot out the “if one child can be saved” mantra seem strangely complacent about the carnage resulting from transport related deaths (41% of unintended deaths in the older age group).
Funny that. You’d think that if they really meant what they said, they’d be just as excited by films such as “Fast and Furious” which, if life really does imitate art, almost certainly does contribute, at some level, to children dying.
Ditto smoking. We are a long way on from the outright approval of that practice conferred by chain-smoking heroes from film noir days. Still, it goes on in film. Still, it is an issue where it might be just as appropriate to consider “saving children”.
Censorship that kills
As for the final category, suicide, this is the dodgiest of all. For while there are many reasons, not all knowable, why young people kill themselves, one well-known antecedent is bullying and self-doubt related to issues of sexuality. Not just for those who are LGBTQ – though those are particularly at risk – but for every young person growing up today.
The solution? Again, sex ed and access to information can go a long way to reducing the risks here. And yet, again, those actively increasing the possibility of risk and, ultimately, harm to children are our self-appointed censors. Not just of film, but of the wider internet. For it is the filtering policy of this government that has been shown time and time again to be blocking young people in desperate need of access to information they need.
Yesterday was not a good day for the pro-censorship lobby. Because not only did they fail to win the argument, but when pushed into a corner, they lost it altogether.