TV and Porn

Earlier this week the hard-core porn channel XXXTV was banned. But Bryan Appleyard argues for new attitudes to ...

The weird thing is, of course, that Playboy TV has been available to British viewers for some years. Assuming you have Sky, just flick through the seemingly thousands of German channels and, eventually, you'll get Hefner's bimbos in all their silicone glory, not doing much, admittedly, except writhing. But this is, remember, SOFT.

Doubtless there is also plenty of HARD to be had, if not now, then soon. For the truth is that TV porn in all its multicoloured combinations is, like Anthea Turner or Rocky 12, on the way. The Daily Mail and Virginia Bottomley can say what they like, sex on TV is a fact of the future. The frontier-eroding technology of satellite and cable combined with the unfortunate tastes of the British masses make it certain.

People get upset about this because broadcasting has always existed in such a peculiarly cosy realm. Any newsagent has long been able to provide you with spectacularly explicit material. And, with a little digging, I'm sure the average hardcore porn fan can find more or less what he wants. Indeed, even mainstream movies now contain sex scenes that would have been classed as hard core 20 years ago.

But broadcasting has been kept under control, primarily because it is seen to be "in the home". These virtual writhings would be in our living room and, therefore, can be suppressed in the name of good housekeeping. Television is insistent, intimate; it is expected to behave.

This is, in its way, fair enough. Porn is depressing and so is the pervasive exploitation of sex in advertising and the movies. A somewhat less publicly sexy world would be a pleasant relief.

But let's get real. The airwaves are now open. We cannot, Canute-like, hope to stop the porn. Ranting about a culture in decay because of a few televised writhings, couplings and whippings is futile. If that is what makes a decayed culture, then we are already far too decadent to even hope to be able to do anything about it.

The real solution - if that is what is needed - is to persuade or even educate people to stop thinking of broadcasting as in any way safe. Why should it be? Nothing else is. And, in truth, television never has been.

Personally, I regard Neighbours as much more socially corrosive than Playboy TV. Maybe you don't. But the point is that even mainstream television is already a cultural and moral minefield. If it doesn't mess you up, it will certainly corrupt the kids. Anybody who lets sub-12-year-olds watch Neighbours is helping to construct a warped culture. After 12, of course, it's either too late or you've brought them up so well that they can take it.

The hard fact is that television - mainstream or satellite - has escaped the bonds of local prejudice or concern. If you care about such things, it ought to be regarded with as much caution as a newsagent's shelves or a video store. Turn the page, flip the channel and prepare to see something you'd rather not have to explain to the children.

Broadcasters cannot be trusted. Of course they can't. The very idea is absurd. Viewers must stop whingeing and take responsibility. Wildly implausible, I know, regrettable, I agree. But what's the alternative? Radio? Forget it.

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