The protracted soul-searchings by Appeal Court judges over the Andy Warhol television documentary, followed by a series of raid on ‘pornographers’ by the police have put the question of what is obscene and what isn’t back into the centre of public attention – where it ought to stay for a good while longer so that it may be resolved.
The trouble is that the time it takes the law to make up its mind as to what is offensive – and is therefore the basis for a criminal charge – makes the court the wrong place for it to be decided whether something should be available to the public or not.
Publish and be Damned
The situation in this country now is that you can publish whatever you like – and the court will make its mind up later whether or not you are to be damned. And that situation is, quite obviously, not good enough.
Society must decide, once and for all, what it is going to allow. The choice, quite starkly, is between all or nothing.
If the answer is nothing, then we have opted for a society that doesn’t want to develop.
It’s a truism to say that standards have changed over the last so many years. The only reason they have changed is because society has developed organically. The moral censors and porn-breakers are usually fighting a rear-guard action.
To change organically society must accept new ideas constantly.
That’s why a society that refuses to allow certain things to be published, because they offend the standards of those judges and censors of our moral taste and behaviour, is a stagnant society. Judges and censors are usually ageing, middle-class and totally out of tune with the times they live in, not seeing outside their own cloistered world.
In fact, society has set up these censors precisely to halt change, without realising that it is the worst possible move as far as its own interests are concerned. By doing this, society has surely shut the door on an organic change.
A closed-doors society cannot keep itself away from the influences of the rest of the world.
Eventually, either those who censor will find the ground eroded from under their feet or the members of the society they control will refuse to be ruled by out-moded laws any longer.
These considerations are quite apart from the allegations made by the porn-swoop police that the ‘pornographers’ were involved in underworld gangster warfare. The gang allegations are more than a mere side-light on the whole subject of pornography. It is a product of the very system that censorship is intended to protect.
There will always be a need for what is described as ‘pornography’ and while society goes on denying people what they want to see, the porn-biz is going to be very big business, a high-profit business, where a contact magazine that sells wholesale for 10p retails to the public at £1. And it’s that sort of high-profit business that attracts the less honest to cash in on the great titillation bonanza.
By its absurd practice of attempting to clamp down on sexual publishing – and then only after the event – society builds up not evolutionary, but revolutionary pressures and opens the way for racketeers, who will, naturally enough, be prepared to join battle to carve themselves a monopoly out of this multi-million pound trade.
There’s one answer that relieves the law of the burden of wasted hours spent in finding out whether or not a girl’s breasts are offensive to a judge; a solution that avoids the massive costs of such court cases and destroys the semi-gangster sub-culture the underground porn-market creates. The answer to all these problems is quite simple: scrap censorship as we know it now.
New ‘Porn Laws’
Let people see anything they want to. They’ll get to see it anyway, by hook or from crook. Perhaps it would be necessary to extend the existing system of movie-censorship in a modified form to cover all areas of publishing.
The sanest way to censor would be for something that is to be published to be passed as fit for people under or over a certain age. Above that age anything should go. It would need a censorship board to deal with those areas of publishing not already affected by censors, but once a publisher had his work passed as fit for adults, he would be sure there would be no possibility of prosecution.
This, surely, is the only way to get out of a situation where we are beset by cranks on one hand and people (we are told are gangsters) on the other.