We really must be in a new paradigm when some people on Twitter end up thinking Sophie Mirabella speaks truly and I find myself feeling some sympathy with Stephen Conroy.
But that’s perhaps by the by.
I think one of the most interesting things that came out of Q&A tonight was the way it made me think that the debate over the internet filter is thoroughly misframed, or rather it fails to engage altogether with the issues that underlie it.
Australian Sex Party President Fiona Patten was asked a very interesting question about the way that exposure to sexual content habituates people to a very instrumental view of sex, stripped of its intimate contexts and wrenched out of any sort of human relationship. Whether or not its representation is becoming more violent, I can’t say. But I do think that most of what we see under the guise of “adult content”, and its extenstion into the sexification of everything, has very little to do with:
(a) Mungo McCallum’s view that pr0n is something that people resort to in order to spice up their sex lives – he’s almost certainly completely wrong that it’s not something that people casually consume over their morning tea;
(b) Freedom of expression or civil libertarian arguments.
Stephen Conroy’s gesture, echoed by Sophie Mirabella, that adults can make their own informed choices harks back to some sort of older framing of the censorship debate. We might think of radical Italian cinema, or the Marquis De Sade, or the bowdlerisation of Greek texts, or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The censorship battles of the 50s and early 60s were largely about a certain notion of high art, a culture of classical humanism opposed to one of wowserism. Similarly, the ‘free love’ aspects of the 60s sexual revolution had at least the aspiration of expanding human pleasure and obvious links to liberatory movements and impulses.
But we don’t live in that world today.
The nonsense that we’re bombarded with – day in, day out – and here Conroy was right about the ubiquity of it and the fact that it can’t be neatly confined to a “family space” to be filtered out – is something quite different, that doesn’t sit neatly into a liberal versus wowser frame. I’m not just talking about pr0n here but about the insanity of every single mag at the supermarket checkout queue screaming about bodies, bikinis and plastic surgery, and all sorts of other stuff. It’s the marketisation of the body, its commodification – what we’re talking about is the colonisation of the libidinal by capitalism.
There’s a neat circle, then, between social liberalism and economic liberalism, which show both up for what they are. I think we need to confront that before we start jumping up and down about “freedom” when what we actually mean in practice is the right of capital to impose particular body forms and modes of apprehending sex and relationships through relentless repetition.
At the same time, the individualisation of social relationships makes them much more disposable, makes sex much more of an object of assessment and judgement rather than an expression of love. Not that I want to argue that there’s some sort of pristine act of love being deformed, but I think it is incontestable that sex is more and more thought of in a very decontextualised way, even within relationships.
What is to be done?
I don’t know, but I think we need to start talking about commodified sexual culture as it is, not in terms which were set in a very different social formation.
[Just to be clear, I’m not making a pro-filter argument. I am saying a lot of the affect that underpins it comes from elsewhere than the reasons articulated for and against, and that we’re missing something very serious if we think only in terms of liberties or the rights of adults.]