Cameron is getting tough on internet porn, so is a Fantasy Tsar now going to decide what's acceptable?

It is dangerous to divide the world into the evil and the family-friendly

Share

It took a while for the great children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson to get the hang of the internet and, when she did go online, her worst fears were confirmed. She typed into a search engine the name of one of her own novels, Bad Girls, and was startled by what appeared on her screen.

Since then, the pollution of the internet by its most popular product has grown worse. Parents have become concerned that their children are wandering through a wild west of perversity. In court cases involving the nastiest kind of crime, the accused has frequently been found to have been a regular visitor to the more repulsive types of websites.

Not before time, many would say, the Government is taking action, ramping up the campaign against the worst kind of pornography, involving children and violence against women, while also making access to any kind of sexual material more difficult by introducing a filter whose default position is, in the phrase of the week, “family friendly”. Those who wish their browsing to be unfiltered will be obliged to opt-in to pornography.

It is a clever, vote-winning conflation of two separate issues, placing the innocence of children beside the most extreme and unacceptable forms of human depravity. Only the most foolish of libertarians would argue against the moral intentions behind the new policy: to bring the full force of the law to bear against those who distribute or possess child or extreme pornography and, as a separate matter, to protect young viewers from graphic sexual content online.

The problem is in the detail. It is an important matter when a society imposes on citizens a device which censors as a matter of course the material being sent to computers. If you then add to that constraint wide-ranging legislation controlling what can be viewed at all, the first question that needs to be asked is: who decides what is legally acceptable? Presumably there will have to be some kind of Porn Board to resolve, for example, whether viewing films containing a rape scene – Straw Dogs, The Accused and countless others – should now be against the law.

Talking about the new legislation, David Cameron has included self-harm as an unacceptable fantasy, while anti-rape groups have, quite rightly, spoken out against the eroticisation of violence against women. Awkwardly, though, the fantasies of men and women are not black or white: all sorts of erotic variety is contained within their 50 shades of grey. Is the Government seriously saying that a Fantasy Tsar will be on hand to pronounce upon on what lurid expression of desire is permissible under law?

It is dangerous to divide the world into the evil and the family-friendly, and rather too easy to blame the internet for the wider problems of society. It is not pornography which is leading the assault on the innocence of childhood but our culture generally. When it comes to eroticising violence against women, mainstream TV and film have a far greater effect than grisly little websites.

Yet for some reason, we seem unwilling to recognise that the presentation of stalking and murder as Saturday night entertainment affects attitudes and behaviour. At a recent conference of television writers, I was startled to discover that there was far more concern about nudity and the objectification of women on TV than the voyeuristic depiction of murder and violence in series like The Fall.

When politicians start pronouncing on matters of morality as a parent, it is wise to be wary. No doubt the Prime Minister will strike a heroic pose as he stands up for family-friendly values against the evils of the internet, but the details of his deceptively sensible scheme need watching carefully. They will either be unworkable or repressive.

Angels, aliens – we all have our delusions

Now and then the British like to laugh at the gullibility of middle America. An astonishing proportion believe in aliens for example, or that the moon landing was a carefully planned hoax.

It is time for us to stop scoffing. A recent ICM poll has revealed that 31 per cent of Britons  – and 41 per cent of British women  – believe in the existence of angels on earth. A large proportion claim to have their own winged guardian sent from above looking over them.

This madness sells books, of course, but it also has a clutch of celebrities in its grip. Gemma Arterton believes that her grandmother sends her messages and leaves angelic feathers after a visit. Judy Finnigan has also found white feathers in her house, while Denzel Washington once saw an angel who looked rather like his sister, but with wings.

Psychiatrists have said that a belief in a personal guardian angel is the brain’s way of imposing a celestial order on life. Vanity might have something to do with it, too.

Twitter: @TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced