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Porn policy is a messy business

26 September 2013 1,767 views 3 Comments

PORNOGRAPHY, non-violent erotica, blue movies, whatever you want to call it these days, doesn’t get the headlines that it once did. This is because the genre has mostly moved onto a different platform and is now largely beyond the reach of regulators.

Every now and then some feminists raise moral issues about certain types of ‘gonzo’ or radical material that transgresses ‘acceptable’ boundaries. But by and large, middle-class Australia appears to be negotiating explicit sex on the Internet without any moral outrage or evidence of actual harm.

In fact, the X-rated movie industry as we have known it, is in decline all over the world. This is due to the fact that there is so much free material available on line. The traditional adult movies with their paper-thin plots just don’t work anymore. People have become much more discerning in the face of such a bewildering amount of free material to choose from. The ‘couples’ movies of the 2000s – many of which were produced by ‘feminist pornographers’ like Candida Royalle – have also lost their appeal. Even ‘amateur’ material produced by couples at home and by independent filmmakers has lost their market share. These films showed average people in their average homes having average sex and for the last decade have been among the biggest sellers.

On the other hand, more and more porn actors have been getting a guernesy in mainstream films. Starting with French film director, Catherine Breillat casting Euro mega porn star Rocco Siffredi in her ground breaking R rated film ‘Romance’ in 1999, we have also seen ageing US superstar Ginger Lynn in ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ (2005) and Sasha Grey who had her mainstream movie debut as lead actor in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ (2009). She also starred in the HBO television series, ‘Entourage’- an American comedy-drama that after eight seasons concluded in September 2011. These crossover roles have offered a new direction for the ailing porn industry.MNIR Story Ad

But in a totally unpredictable scenario, it was the mainstream erotic fantasy, ‘50 Shades of Grey’ that brought new life and injected more money into the porn industry than anything that had come out of its own production houses in 20 years. This book was read so widely and by so many people who previously had not been willing to seek out porn in its usual haunts, that even small, suburban, adult shops experienced a surge in interest in X-rated DVDs – as well as in all the products that were said to be used by the protagonists. No only that, but women are now by far the major consumers – purchasing well over 50% of products from adult retailers. This has to be one of the major retail turnaround trends of the past few decades. Not that long ago, this domain was the exclusive haunt of men.

In the wake of this Grey-shaded tsunami, a different kind of adult film has started to emerge. Shot on high definition video and featuring attractive models/actors, some have called it ‘post romantic porn’. There are no tattoos, no silicon breasts. The actors are attractive boy/girl next-door types and the settings feature crisp white linen, moody morning or late afternoon lighting, and sensual lovemaking as opposed to mechanical sex.

This is clearly the new direction that porn is taking and from a consumer’s view it is long overdue. However, Australia’s regulatory regimes are not up to scratch in dealing with these changes. Although this new generation material is non-violent and aesthetically pleasing, it is still banned under archaic state laws that are purely based on degrees of explicitness.

In 2013 we have a situation in Australia where these films are quite legal to view and to download off the Internet but if citizens want to buy them at a retail outlet they have to engage in an illegal transaction. This fracturing of official censorship policy between the online environment and the offline one is the fault of the previous Labor administrations which refused to endorse or even reply to the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s enquiry into classification. The Commission also dealt with the lack of uniformity of laws between state and federal regimes – both on and offline.

The ALRC recommended that all these different laws in different jurisdictions be harmonized and brought under one set of laws so that people could understand where they stood in terms of what was legal for them to access and what was not.

Former Labor Attorney-General Robert McClelland, who together with his Justice Minister, Brendan O’Connor commissioned the million-dollar enquiry said, “It has become increasingly clear that the system of classification in Australia needs to be modernized so it is able to accommodate developments in technology now and in the future. All they had to do to achieve their stated aims was accept all the recommendations of the ALRC. However neither of them nor the next Labor Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, did anything of the sort. They simply ignored the recommendations in this regard, not wanting to scare the horses before the September 7 election.

Bringing Australia into the 21st century by adopting a level playing field between online and offline regulatory environments is an evidence-based approach to pornography that most western democracies have embraced. Hopefully the next meeting of State and Commonwealth Attorney’s General will get on with the job of harmonizing state and federal laws in this ‘grey’ area.

Professor Ross Fitzgerald’s erotic novel of the year, SOARING, with illustrations by Davida Allen, is now available as an e-book.

The Daily Telegraph, September 26, 2013, p 27.

3 Comments »

  • Robbie Swan (author) said:

    Sex Party success shows people want uniform laws.

    Ross Fitzgerald’s call for one national law on adult films is long overdue (September 26).
    Most people in NSW will not know that the previous NSW administration gave police the power to determine the classification of a film, just by looking at its cover. “Porn police” from the federal Attorney General’s department fly all over the country at taxpayers’ expense, to check and see if adult shops are selling X rated films that are quite legal to download on line and legal in the ACT and NT.
    It’s a joke.
    As Ross Fitzgerald says, most families are coping just fine with internet porn.
    To its credit, the federal Coalition ditched its version of an internet filter only days out from the election because they realised it was not popular. The relative success of the Sex Party in the federal election is an indicator that people want uniform laws around sex and sexuality.

    Robbie Swan
    Public Officer
    Australian Sex Party

    The Daily Telegraph, September 27, 2013, p 82.

  • Michael Wilding said:

    LIBRARIES UNDER THREAT
    BY MICHAEL WILDING

    07/03/2014 Sydney Review of Books

    A university librarian, Craig Brittain, wrote:

    Years ago, at the request of Lyndall Ryan (at the time, the professor of Women’s Studies at Flinders) I was asked to establish the Eros Foundation Archive, a collection on, by and about the Australian and international sex industry. Its access is highly restricted and it is housed in Special Collections, but there have always been grumblings right from the beginning by certain staff members and academics about its very existence. Why have we got it at all? I can easily imagine a situation in which material of this nature might be purged … The next University librarian or vice-chancellor (or a conservative government, Labor, Liberal or Green) could easily decide that we shouldn’t have such filth. That the research interest of the university, which had justified the collection in the first place, had changed, and we should use the space for more worthy material.

    It could be decided to rid the Eros Archive of the pornography on the grounds that it’s of limited academic value; or at least the non-Australian material, on the grounds that it’s not our responsibility to preserve the products of other countries, even though the original brief from Women’s Studies and Sociology was to collect as widely as possible. There is plenty of material in the archive that is unique to the collection (that wouldn’t be held by ANY other libraries, in Australia, or anywhere else) –- magazines and newsletters from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (Australian and international) and X-rated videos from Australia, the US, UK and Europe.

    Originally my job was to collect information about all aspects of the sex industry (and related industries, and health and social issues) – (a) about the Australian industry and how it related to the international industry, (b) printed and video materials produced by the Australian sex industry, (c) overseas products available in Australia. This original brief could easily be ‘forgotten’ or altered to suit changed attitudes to this sort of material. The current University Librarian and Special Collections librarian continue to support it, but it always bothers me when a library has theonly copy of anything, especially of material as sensitive as this. The only way to protect it would be to digitize it and to distribute the digitized collection to other interested libraries. This is unlikely to happen, but until it does it’s always under threat.

    Indeed, selective purging is already undertaken.

    Brittain informed me of some books I know of that have been removed from libraries and destroyed for various reasons over the years. This required compliant librarians who had to actually go and get the incriminating material from the shelves, remove the catalogue records and physically get rid of them. In the past a few librarians disobeyed instructions and hid copies in back cupboards or Special collections for a saner time. I think of: Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy, 1968-1975, J.R. Walsh and G.J. Munster, 1980; Ross Fitzgerald’s From 1915 to early 1980’s: A History of Queensland, UQP, 1984; Bob Ellis’ Goodbye to Jerusalem, Viking, 2002 (the unrevised edition); Frank Tesoriero’s Community Development, Pearson (fourth edition) and the text book Understanding Health, ed. Helen Keleher and Colin MacDougall (containing chapter 13 by Tesoriero ‘Human rights and Health’) OUP, 2011. Both removed from some libraries on the grounds that Tesoriero had been charged with accessing child pornography on his computer, not because of plagiarism or poor scholarship. Oxford pulped the third edition of Understanding Healthwhich contained a chapter by him and republished another ‘third edition’ with a replacement chapter. (He was subsequently convicted and given a suspended sentence.)

  • Rob Gill (author) said:

    To: editor@sydneyreviewofbooks.com

    What a pity Michael Wilding’s excellent piece ‘Libraries under threat’
    (SRB 07-03-14) didn’t pick up on the demise of the National Drug Sector
    Information Service (NDSIS), a subsidiary of the Alcohol and other Drugs
    Council of Australia, which the Abbott Government defunded in November
    2013. ADCA had served as the peak body for the Alcohol and other Drugs
    sector (AOD) for over 46 years and the organisation’s plight in part
    contributed to the resignation of the assistant Minister for Health,
    Senator Fiona Nash’s chief of staff due to conflict of interest with his
    prior business dealings.

    Senator Nash has been unable to explain, without constantly changing
    her story, the reason for the decision to cut funding. Several freedom
    of information requests have been utterly stonewalled by the Health
    Department so the issue remains clouded.

    The NDSIS managed what is regarded as one of the world’s finest AOD
    references, with nearly 100,000 items on the shelves at the now closed
    ADCA office in Canberra. The NDSIS was also the source of many other
    online resources, keenly sought after by academics, students,
    practitioners, police and paralegals – not to mention sections of
    Senator Nash’s own department.

    It appears that this valuable resource, owned by the Department of
    Health, may now end up in landfill, despite pleas from around Australia
    and overseas to preserve it. Many signatories to a petition to save ADCA
    highlighted the importance of the library and its associated databases
    and websites to their work, to their efforts to treat family members
    with drug and alcohol problems, and for the purpose of study. Many
    doctorates in the field were achieved through access to NDSIS holdings.

    The international body, Substance Abuse Librarians & Information
    Specialists (SALIS) warned against the loss of such libraries worldwide
    in a 2012 editorial in the journal ‘Addiction.’
    The importance of the evidence base contained in the NDSIS holdings,
    combined with ADCA’s decades of experience and advocacy, is inestimable.
    To allow it to be trashed on the basis of some warped ideology borders
    on the criminal.

    Rob Gill
    former Communications and Policy Officer
    The Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia