The objection to Puritans


…is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think – HL Mencken

Hey look, lads, Claire Curtis-Thomas is back again with her top-shelf campaign, this time using the Graun’s right to reply facility to try and pitch her legislative wares.

Shall we see what she’s got to say this time?

I want you to buy a copy of the Daily Sport, Zoo and Escort, and then find yourself a comfortable and discreet seat and have a good look at them: try and work out why it is that only Escort finds itself on the top shelf, yet the Daily Sport and Zoo are legally and freely available to minors.

Well, Claire, I am guessing here but I think it may just have something to do with the copious amounts of minge on display in Escort. I’m tad hazy on this, admittedly, but I’m still fairly sure that law does tend to draw the line at split-beaver shots, in fact even a hint of pubes, Brazillian-waxed or otherwise, tends to be enough to push magazines over the top into the realms of pornography.

The bill that I presented in the House of Commons this month concerning the appropriate regulation of sexually explicit material was described by Zoe Williams as "specious", "utterly daft", and "a bid for attention over a superficially controversial but ultimately minor issue" (Tactics of the Top Shelf, June 28). This type of reaction is not the exclusive preserve of Williams, but is normally expressed by individuals who either haven’t been able to find the time to read the materials I am concerned about, or who are locked into an age-old "page three" argument. But the debate, like the material, has moved on.

The material certainly has moved on – Escort is actually pretty tame by today’s newsagent’s top-shelf standards, but then oddly enough I would have thought that the kind of people who are mostly likely to consider your arguments to be specious and superficial would tend to be the one’s who do buy things like the Sport, Zoo and – dare I say it – Escort, not those who really haven’t got the first fucking clue what you’re wittering on aboout.

For those of you who cannot bring yourself to buy these publications, let me inform you of the item that came across my desk which precipitated my interest in sexually explicit material.

Brad Pitt in Playgirl?

Actually you must be what? Mid-forties at least, and you’ve been an MP since 1997 – not that  any of us have actually noticed – and you’ve only just developed an interest is sexually explicit material?

Yeah, right – we believe you…

Actually, Claire, you have piqued my curiousity rather, in the sense of wondering why bring this up and why now – you’ve had more than nine years to bring this up after all…

…which is why I thought I’d take a bit of a look at the Boundary Commission’s proposals for changes to constituencies in Merseyside before the next elections…

…and fuck me if your seat (Crosby) isn’t the one that disappearing – now there is a surprise…

An advertisement in the Daily Sport on May 4 2006 described a porn DVD as follows: "A group of very beautiful girls are taken to a wine bar and a gym where they are subjected to a severe major gang bang. Deep cock sucking, fucking in the pussy & ass plus extreme dp’s. If this isn’t enough the dirty little chics [sic] are pushed and forced into drinking very huge amounts of piping hot cum …. Mmmm!"

Really? Whatever floats your boat, Claire.

Having read this, is anybody going to defend the right of publishers and newsagents to display this material where children have easy and legal access to it? In addition to this type of narrative the Daily Sport carries thousands of photographic adverts for escorts, hardcore porn DVDs, and live internet sex shows daily. Similar material can be found in most ladmags.

So it’s not actually the content of the magazines you’re concerned about as the adverts they carry, in which case shouldn’t you be complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority?

My bill is not about censorship. I simply believe that material like the Daily Sport and other equally sexually explicit publications should be placed on the top shelf and only sold to adults.

Yrs, Claire, of course it is, that’s why you had this to say when the Indy gave you a slcie of op-ed to play with…

Women in these publications are shown only as cheap, contemptible sexual commodities, fit to be subjected to a range of exploitative, violent and degrading activities.

That’s not really a line of argument that has much to do with kids, is it? But do go on…

The newspaper and magazine industry has been invited to regulate itself to ensure that this type of material is out of children’s reach, but the industry has clearly failed to do this and continues to put profit before child welfare.

This is article 5.2 of the ASA’s CAP code on non-broadcast advertising…

5.1 Marketing communications should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency.

If you’re that bothered by the ads for porn DVDs in the Sport, then you have the same right as everyone else to lodge a complaint with the ASA.

As things stand, a search of the ASA’s website turns up precisely zero complaints about advertising in the Daily Sport, one complaint about an ad in FHM (not upheld) which complained about alleged drug references in advert for Rizla, and Zoo magazine got busted for TV advert which featured bikini models on space hoppers – not exactly subtle but onyl enough to cause the ASA to rule that it couldn’t be shown before 7:30 in the evening… not exactly a ‘top-shelf’ time.

It seems very much that the reaction of the public to the kind advertising in the Sport et al is pretty much, who cares?

As a nation we have rightly become concerned about child safety and have put in place measures which keep our children away from harm. Control of the media has been inextricably linked with this campaign: the 9pm TV watershed was introduced; films are classified by age; DVDs carry specific warnings; the internet can be managed through parental controls and is monitored by police. These measures are designed to ensure that children are not exposed to unsuitable material which may harm their emotional or physical development. The time has come to extend these measures to the written word and to age-classify publications accordingly.

You mean that as a nation we’ve become paranoid about child safety, the watershed applies only to television, films have been classified since 1912, the warnings on DVD are just plain patronising – you really think U certificate kid’s films need to carry warnings about ‘mild peril’ and ‘mild slapstick’ – parents are responsible for keeping an eye on what their kids are up to on the internet, not the government, and the police are only interested in kiddie porn and grooming.

Still don’t see an actual argument, here, Claire…

Oh, and another thing, when you say that..

The time has come to extend these measures to the written word and to age-classify publications accordingly.

How far does that go? Should Waterstones start putting bouncers on the entrance to their erotic fiction section to keep the kids out? Should we be moving Lady Chatterley’s Lover to the top shelf, perhaps, and have age classification of all literature?

Or should politicians like yourself just butt out, shut the fuck up and make a real effort to accept that while there are plenty of kids out here in the real world, there are even more adults – so many, in fact, that we don’t need political non-entities like you coming over all Mary-fucking-Poppins because the Sport tries to flog a few of its owners porn DVDs.

Maybe you shoudl get out a bit more often and talk to real people – you know us proles – because then you’d find that out here in the real world we do have braincells, and moral values, and strangely enough, we also manage to bring out our kids without your fucking assistance.

In arguing for the status quo, Williams has collaborated with, and sought to justify, an industry which profits from peddling obscene material to children. I fundamentally disagree with her.

Oh, and you haven’t yet provided a shred of evidence to show that kids are buying either the Daily Sport or Lads Mags or, if they are, what age groups are involved – you do realise that the vast majority of 13 and 14 year olds have a basic vocabulary (when their parent’s aren’t around) that’s pretty much identical to that you’d find if you encountered a bunch of pissed-up squaddies on a stag night?

All of which means you have no real factual basis for your claim that they’re peddling obscene material to children.

If and when the Sport starts giving away Dora the Explorer DVDs or FHM starts doing cover shoots with Angelina Ballerina, then you’ve got a point but as things stand you arguments come down to nothing more than speculation.

You know, Claire, you are right when you say things are very different now than they were when Clare Short tried to get a ban on Page Three – she was at least honest about her motives, a quality that seems rather lacking in your campaign.

The last word in this piece goes, deservedly, to HL Mencken…

I am not only wrong, it appears, I am also immoral – the familiar step in Puritan logic.

3 thoughts on “The objection to Puritans

  1. I’ve written quite a lot for Scarlet – the female erotica magazine. What struck me was the inequality in getting Scarlet on the shelves in supermarkets. Tesco was happy to have two semi naked women on the cover of Zoo, tits touching, but not for a man doing a “hand pants” (hand over cock) shot or, in fact, any sort of hinting at cock shot. Eventually Tesco agreed to stock Scarlet but not until all the “clit” lit was put in a sealed up section in the back, unlike Zoo which has real life dogging galore stories inside. Faux, dreamy mills and boon with a large portion was deemed far too rude.

    When kids go into supermarkets they aren’t perusing the supermarket shelves like we do. They don’t look at racks and racks of magazines, taking in all the porn shots. They are more interested in having a tantrum about the chocolate. By the time they get interested at 14/15, they probably know it all or have done it all anyway. I really don’t think a few semi naked pictures is going to do that.

    I mean, you’d have to take all those pregnancy and birth magazines off the shelf too as they show nipples and birthing photos galore.

    And, anyway, MTV has enough suggestive material on it to make the print world look like Angler’s Monthly.

  2. She’s my MP(I didn’t vote for her) just asked her to raise some questions about Lebanese kids getting killed by unexploded cluster bombs being used in civilian areas. Very prompt response (deferred to her secretary). Let’s just hope those dead kids got to see some quality porn first. !!Typical socialist libertarian!!

  3. I live ‘in the real world’ and am trying to bring up two little girls to be confident people in this world. I am sick of going into newsagents and facing pornography at child height. The pornography is dishonest as it pretends to be a newspaper (the Sport) or Lads Mags. The pictures are degrading to women. I don’t want my daughters to be normalised to this. When we travel abroad, no other county we have visited has pornography so mainstreamed. The MP is trying to do something to improve things. What is wrong with that? Straightforward issue, put pornography appearing materials out of site of kids. How is that deserving of your foul armchair abuse?

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