They called it the ‘thanksgiving dip’. I once worked for a fairly large streaming porn website and I was shown a graph of the number of visitors in the hours around when people in the US usually eat their thanksgiving dinner. The ‘dip’ looked more like something catastrophic had happened: the traffic was reduced to a mere trickle across every part of the site. Looking forward a couple of hours I could see that a vast surge in traffic had then rocked the website and almost overwhelmed the servers. This apparently happened every single year. An image formed in my mind of countless thousands of people sneaking off for a sly porn session as a private interlude to their respective family gatherings. I found it hard to track down reliable numbers or data sets on global porn usage, but I don’t think it’s conjecture to say that there are huge numbers of people across the world who enjoy pornography on a regular basis. It’s likely that that only a small percentage of these people are open about their viewing habits. Pornography remains a guilty pleasure for a major part of its audience.
There is never a shortage of reasons floating around why porn ought to be kept out safely of the public eye. Anti-porn commentators often point to the vicious exploitation carried out by stereotypical characters like Max Hardcore or Jimmy Hooligan. These men use their studios as a means to brutalise women and to indulge their own power complexes. Those arguing against porn often cherry-pick these people as a way to make it seem lurid and exploitative in every part of the industry. Whilst the largest and most visible part of the porn industry has largely been backward-thinking, male dominated and extremely tedious in its output, it doesn’t have to be this way. Pandora Blake is one person who has worked hard to finally turn the tide of shitty, formulaic porn with her website Dreams of Spanking. The site foregrounded consent and made an effort to include a broad spectrum of performers, genders and fantasies. The case against her by UK regulator ATVOD has already been described eloquently and in detail by Pandora herself. In short, they used the BDSM aspect of the site and (somewhat bizzarely) its deliberate out-of-scene discussions around consent to persecute her and force her to close the site. In their flailing, ATVOD have unwittingly thrown their real intentions into sharp focus.
The regulator went into insane detail about the sexual acts which were prohibited, citing risk of possible bodily harm one key reason. Conveniently, the often more violent acts usually found in mainstream male-centric porn somehow didn’t make it onto ATVOD’s ban list. What’s really at the core of this case are the same backward beliefs which have underpinned just about every attempt to legislate sexual desire, namely:
- Sexuality is a dirty thing which needs to be suppressed, especially if it runs counter to the ‘traditional’ model.
- People whose sexuality is ‘weird’ or ‘deviant’ in any way need to be prevented from expressing it.
If you can, I urge you to help in the Dreams of Spanking case by donating to Backlash who are providing legal assistance and who have supported many others in the past. However, I also believe that the problem does not start or end with this case. There remains a feeling of shame around sexuality which pervades much of society. The same thing which makes people giggle as they mutter about ‘bonking’ or ‘doing it’ also empowers vultures like ATVOD. When even talking about sex is problematic, it becomes much easier to restrict dissenting voices on the subject. Dreams of Spanking created a space for interesting and varied sexualities to be expressed publicly. By knocking this site offline and denying the visibility it gave to its subjects, ATVOD’s ignorant actions have consequences which stretch beyond its ill-defined remit. Having visible and positive figures who challenge mainstream thoughts on sex is crucial to combating further misrepresentation and prejudice. Without these voices it is easy to isolate people and paint them in whatever way is politically useful.
If you consider yourself a fan of cinema or you appreciate any form of art, I put it to you that pornography should not be automatically seen as something lacking value. It takes great skill and execution to make a comedy film which makes you roar with laughter rather than another Adam Sandler movie. The same is true of something erotic and original enough to set your heart racing. Porn (and ultimately a large role in the public image of sex) remains largely in the hands of the Max Hardcores of this world. If this makes you angry (and I hope it does), there is action you can take. As a viewer, you can support people who strive to make porn which is ethical. You can challenge people wh present false arguments on the subject and who seek to paint sex as something that must be hidden away in shame or simply an extension of male dominance. As a filmmaker (or an aspiring one) there’s never been a better time to pick up a camera. Shooting pornography can be an artistic and political act as the Dreams of Spanking case has demonstrated. The extended absence of Pandora Blake’s website is saddening but I hope that the storm it has generated will prove to be a catalyst for further interesting artists and performers to enter the fray.