This is a (slightly updated) repost of an article I originally wrote in 2011, regarding the decline of Britain’s (once) great liberal paper, the Guardian
The British press is among the best in the world. And among the worst. We have some of the most intelligent journalism that can be found anywhere, but also some of the most appalling. There are five daily newspapers (Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and FT), from across the political spectrum, that are worth reading; of these, the Guardian often stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to providing high-quality journalism. When it comes to challenging dangerous abuse of power within the British state and corporations, The Guardian is often alone in publishing stories ignored by the rest of the British media.
At a time when social conservatism is on the rise in many pernicious ways, it was good to see a Guardian article by Zoe Margolis (aka The Girl With The One Track Mind) challenging the anti-sex crusade spear-headed in parliament by rightwing Tory MP Nadine Dorries. And yet, on the broad subject area of sex and sexuality, The Guardian, more often than not, comes down on the side of repression. The paper comes very much from the liberal, middle-class, English tradition, and the one subject the English middle-classes have always had trouble dealing with is sex. The Guardian also tends to take anti-sex campaigners more seriously if they adopt the “feminist” label than if they crusade under a more old-fashioned “morality” banner. On this subject, the Guardian’s coverage can swing from liberal to deeply conservative in the blink of an eye.
I blogged recently about the UK Government’s steps towards Internet censorship, using the excuse of “protecting children from pornography”. The Guardian, normally a warrior against censorship, lost its mind in an editorial on the subject, using Daily Mail-type phrasing such as “…bombarding of people’s homes and children by pornography…” and “…the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values…“. The editorial also mentioned a recent government-commissioned report on “sexualisation”, neglecting to mention that it came from a Christian lobbying organisation. The idea that anyone who doesn’t want to see porn is “bombarded” with it is of course laughable, and serious research on porn has yet to reveal the harmful side effects claimed by conservatives of various shades.
And this wasn’t a one-off: on the icky subject of sex, The Guardian is often deeply conservative. For a podcast, I interviewed London strippers who are defending themselves against campaigners who threaten their right to work in the London boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. These women are articulate, well-paid and belong to trade unions. Yet, the Guardian is apparently convinced that stripping is bad, and refuses to take seriously the voices of the women themselves who earn a living that way; instead, they give a platform to “feminist” (aka sexual morality) groups who use dubious propaganda methods (such as claiming a non-existent link between strip venues and rape) to attack the venues and the people who work in them. While women who strip have offered to write for the Guardian about their experiences, only one ex-dancer, Homa Khaleeli is published, because she tells “the truth about lap dancing” – in other words, she makes the “exploitation” and “objectification” noises that Guardianistas want to hear.
The Guardian has a confused idea of defending sexual freedom. While Gay, Lesbian, Transgender issues are treated with the appropriate straight-faced correctness, other forms of sexuality and sexual freedom have Guardian journos giggling like schoolchildren. Fetishes, swinging, polyamory, BDSM, open lifestyles, bisexuality and sex work… these aren’t causes for free speech but excuses for The Guardian to pander to middle-England prejudices.
It’s not that I’m asking for the Guardian to become a campaigner for sexual freedom; but it should be delivering the quality of journalism it does so well elsewhere. Repeating misinformation about porn leading to marriage break-up, lap dancing leading to rape or most prostitutes being “victims” isn’t good journalism. Accepting the word of a woman simply because she calls herself a feminist but ignoring the many voices of women who earn their money this way isn’t fair or balanced. Ignoring researchers in these fields but listening to morality campaigners lets down the readership.
It’s not that The Guardian is the worst offender – not by a long way! – but it’s the one (or am I being naive?) that should “know better”. In fact, the most level-headed coverage of sex and the sex industries comes from the Financial Times and its stable mate The Economist, but these are targeted primarily at business people. Among mainstream press, the Guardian, often alone, has the courage to expose police brutality and corporate corruption. Why not maintain the same high standards on the difficult subjects of sex and sexuality? Up your game Guardian, and stop being so damn English about sex!
Much of social media has been transfixed this week by Nike’s “brave” decision to sign Colin Kaepernick for its latest ad campaign. Kaepernick had reached fame – and simultaneously destroyed his career in American football – by kneeling during the national anthem at games in protest at anti-black discrimination and violence in America.
Kaepernick’s action aroused a level of annoyance for “disrespecting the anthem”, being anti-patriotic, or simply bringing politics into sport. Of course some of this backlash was driven by racism, but not all of it. Unlike other similar protests – like the iconic black power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics – Kaepernick’s protest was repeated at game after game.
The first thing that became apparent was that Nike had played their move to perfection. They had, no doubt, researched the idea impeccably before putting it into action. The game-plan rolled out roughly like this:
Nike announce they signed Kaepernick.
An unknown number of angry people (though probably not many) burned their Nike shoes, filmed it, and published their videos to social media.
(Probably) The marketing dude at Nike got promoted.
Nike had smoothly played a game based on what might be referred to as “information arbitrage”. Arbitrage is the act of profiting by exploiting price imbalances across markets – buying something cheap and then immediately selling it at a higher price elsewhere.
Imbalances in information can be valuable. In rural Africa, before the introduction of mobile phones, a farmer might have sold his corn cheaply to a merchant, unaware that the merchant could sell it for double the price only a few kilometres away. So, the introduction of mobile telephony in Africa was greatly beneficial to subsistence farmer, and cut the profits of middle-men.
In the case of Nike and Kaepernick, the information imbalance relates to American racism. Social media, combined with the dominance of “liberal” thought, has spread the idea that black people in America are subject to terrible, ongoing racism in their daily lives. This idea originates in the very real racism that was endured by black Americans for most of American history, from the earliest days of the slave trade until the post-Civil Rights era. Information was key to ending the segregation and oppression of black people in the US South: specifically, the arrival of cameras to cover civil rights protests exposed a horror that many Americans had been previously unaware of.
The civil rights movement didn’t end racism in America. It only began the cultural processes that began to diminish racism. Such changes must occur across generations. But certainly, racism did begin declining from the 1960s, and that decline was significant and ongoing. Like all vaguely-defined concepts, racism itself is hard to measure, but it can indirectly measured by asking people whether they would be happy living next door to, marrying or voting for someone of another race. And sure enough, such attitude surveys exist. Such surveys show that racist attitudes have been in steep decline since the social upheavals of the 1960s.
For example, the proportion of white southerners who would vote for a black President has risen from about 70% in the 1970s to over 90% now. It’s worth considering these numbers for a moment, because many or most people today would guess at far lower numbers, given the widespread belief that most Americans – especially American southerners – are deeply racist. Why do we tend to overestimate the levels of racism in America?
Movements don’t just decide to pack up and vanish when their goals are reached. This was especially true of the civil rights movement. Having succeeded, in the 1960s, in shining a light on racism, and winning the passage of civil right legislation, the movement continued to roll forward into the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Ironically, as racist attitudes slowly declined, the perception of racism went in the opposite direction. The less racism there was, the more people believed there was. This was fueled by a new generation of civil rights leaders, such as Al Sharpton, who would jump on any incident, publicise it, racialise it, and monetise it.
By the present decade, this movement (more correctly described as a “grievance industry”) was finding racism everywhere, and the mass media was willingly reporting all this “racism” without question. To make things worse, social media appeared. The public tends not to understand the difference between anecdotes and evidence, and so social media became swamped with anecdotes that further exaggerated the perception of American racism. Every video of a police shooting became “proof” that all black people were at constant risk of being shot by police (although in reality, two white people were being shot by cops for every black person). When social media got bored of police shootings, it moved on to get outraged about increasingly trivial examples, like some student wearing blackface or a klan outfit to a Halloween party.
When even trivial examples of racism became hard to find, completely non-racist things were deemed to be racist. White people wearing dreadlocks, white people wearing hoop earrings, in fact by 2017 pretty-much-fucking-everything had become “racist”. This mania wasn’t just spread by bored students, but became the mantra of once-sane liberal publications like the Guardian and Salon, which hired black columnists (on the condition they wrote about how damn racist everything is all the time).
Quietly, black people who didn’t feel like the victims of continuous, 24/7 racism were being pushed away from the left bit by bit. They are spoiling a perfectly lucrative oppression narrative. Wealthy and successful black people, and especially those that don’t back the oppression narrative of the new left, are a threat to the profits of the grievance industry.
Here was the information imbalance used by Nike: the American (and global) public believed racism to be far higher than it really was. Nike signed Kaepernick knowing that, inevitably, some idiots would burn their shoes and post the videos to social media. The public and the media, who generally don’t realise that anecdotes aren’t evidence of a trend, believed that the videos constituted a widespread racist backlash against Nike. And so in turn, a tiny backlash created a huge counter-backlash: first on social media, and then in shoe stores.
Nike’s strategy couldn’t have worked without the information imbalance. If American society was really as racist as many now believe, the campaign would have risked losing them significant sales, and they wouldn’t have been able to risk the brand damage. If on the other hand, the public was aware of how small the racist backlash was, there wouldn’t have been a counter-backlash.
All this is fine: Nike’s campaign has demonstrated, again, how weak true racism now is in America. Kaepernick gets a good paycheck, and Nike’s shares rise. Everybody happy. Furthermore, this strategy will only work temporarily, while the information balance persists. The more it’s exploited by advertisers, the less effective it will become. Black people will get tired of being presented as victims, and white people will tire of being saviours. One day, a campaign such as this will generate a broad response from black people: “Stop using your anti-racist virtue signalling as a way to sell shoes!”. And then perhaps, we can finally move on into the postracial era that was prematurely announced with Obama’s election in 2008.
Those familiar with this blog will be aware that I have for a long time been a campaigner for sexual freedom, and against censorship. As well as political campaigning, I sometimes write about the science of sex – for example, on how the trade of sex is innate in humans as well as many other species. I have recently launched a dating service that allows users to either offer or request a gift when they post. Readers of the Sex & Censorship blog can get 60 free Jems (worth £45) to try it out (see details at the end of this post).
Many people maintain a belief that “sex trade” refers to prostitution only. But prostitution is merely one, particularly straightforward, example of sex being traded. From marriage to sugar daddies, from gifts of flowers to diamond rings, the sex trade is vast; quite possibly, it’s collectively the world’s biggest industry.
The price of dating and mating underlies pretty much everything else in the economic and social sphere. When supply rises (as it did for example after the invention of the pill), the price falls. When supply is constrained (by, for example, laws against adultery or prostitution), the price rises.
Similarly, the price of romance is constrained by how much men can pay. Once, when travelling in a West African city, I asked a young men if he had a girlfriend. “No,” he replied mournfully, “I don’t have a moped”. Moped ownership was, in Bamako at least, the entry level for any woman to take you seriously.
The fact that romance is a tradeable commodity is widely understood, but also can be difficult to talk about. And yet, it’s a fact that poorer men are far more likely to be single than wealthier ones. You cannot change human nature, but you can make dating more honest.
This is why we developed Jaunt. Jaunt is a site for singles to find fulfilling dates, not an escorting site. But yes, it does allow a gift to be suggested on each jaunt (our word for a date). So a club night might come with an offer of free tickets, or an evening in a restaurant with a request for dinner and drinks. In fact, you can offer or request pretty much anything you like, except for cash.
The idea isn’t to “encourage” people to pay for dates, but simply to make visible what has always been there. Men spend far more on dating, courtship, romance and mating than women do. This isn’t “wrong”, it’s a fact of human nature. But honesty is important, especially when starting out on a relationship.
Sex & Censorship readers are offered 60 free Jems (that’s plenty!) to try out the site. First, sign up (you’ll get 10 free Jems to start with) and create your first jaunt. Then mail email@example.com to get another 50 free Jems.
The aftermath of the recent van attack in Toronto, which resulted in the deaths of 10 people, followed a now familiar pattern. Immediately after the attack, people divided into their rigid political tribes. Right-wingers expressed the belief (possibly even the hope) that the attacker was an Islamist. Even if he wasn’t, they said, this is surely the modus operandi of the Islamist terrorist. Similarly, left-wingers quietly hoped they could somehow pin this on the alt-right.
Such is the sad state of political discourse today: blaming the opposite side has become more important than respectfully remembering the individuals who died. The need for “our side” to be good and “their side” to be evil is now stronger than the need for compassion and human kindness. Politics is no longer politics: it has become religion.
The attacker, it turned out, was declared to be an Incel: an involuntarily celibate man. Incel is defined by Wikipedia as: “online communities whose members define themselves by being unable to find a romantic or sexual partner”.
This news was seized on with enthusiasm by the identitarian left. It perfectly fitted the “toxic masculinity” and “systemic misogyny” narratives of neo-feminism. And it gave a chance to mock those who had confidently pinned the attack on Muslims. Like most political narratives today, of left or right, it was sneering, hateful, triumphant, and an excuse to hate a broad group of people for the actions of one person. This is all so predictable now. If Owen Jones hasn’t yet penned a Guardian opinion piece on how all men need to take responsibility for this murderer, he will soon.
But there is a broad truth here, about humans as a species, and it’s about sex. If the mass media and the political establishment weren’t so tightly wed to social-construction theories of human behaviour, they might realise that evolutionary, genetic and psychological science has far better explanations for these occurrences than sociology can provide.
I have said, repeatedly, that a rise in violence is the inevitable outcome of attacks on sexual freedom. In my 2016 response to Ofcom’s consultation on porn regulation, I warned the regulator as follows:
“…the government’s own research suggests that restricting sexual imagery to teenagers may result in a rise in sexual violence…”
The government ignored such feedback, and has pressed ahead with censorship plans that will cause a rise in sexual and other violence: we must hold them to account for this.
Involuntary celibacy isn’t new: it is an ancient condition of mankind. Sexual relations between humans, in all societies, are defined by the fact that women, not men, choose mates. Given a free choice, women will opt for the genetically and socially fittest mate, even if he already has other mates. So polygyny (one man with multiple mates) is the predominant form of family unit in ancient societies. Recent genetic research has revealed the astounding fact that, 8,000 years ago, women were 17 times more successful at mating than men were. In other words, for every man that mated, there were at least 16 who never did. This gross inequality in the distribution of sex has defined the human state for most of our existence.
Women, past or present, have had no problem finding mates: the issue for women is to find the best available mate. For men, on the other hand, the issue has been simply one of mating at all. The rise of civilisation in the Middle East gave rise to new ideas, including egalitarianism. For the first time, societies recognised the unfair distribution of sex, and set out to balance this. This can be clearly seen in the writings of the Abrahamic religions: ancient Jewish law is inclined towards monogamy, and Christianity strongly so. Islam imposes a limit of four wives.
Although state-imposed rules on marriage are increasingly seen as outdated, the imposition of monogamy was radical and egalitarian. It recognised that most men were losers in the mating game, and that this situation created grave problems for society, including sexual violence.
Put simply, a truth about humanity is this: the more sexual frustration that exists, the more violent society will be. Anyone who has travelled in sexually repressed cultures will be aware of this: for example, while we travelled in Morocco, my partner was groped repeatedly, even in my company. When I attended a hip hop festival in Morocco, fist-fights broke out constantly around me, despite the almost complete absence of alcohol. Sexually frustrated men are more likely to be violent, it’s this simple.
The Incel phenomenon isn’t just confined to angry western men. The promise of “72 virgins in heaven” to Al Qaida terrorists was a strong motivation for their mass murder. The promise of sex slaves in Syria was a motivation to go and fight jihad there.
The rise in sexual freedom since the invention of the pill has created new problems to solve. Monogamy is declining, and the number of single men has increased, especially among those with autistic and other social disorders. There are remedies to this new sexual tension: free pornography, legal and destigmatised sex work, and (in the near future) realistic sex dolls. The easier and cheaper sex and relationships (even virtual relationships) are to find, the less sexual frustration we will have to deal with. And the less frustration, the more peaceful and safe society will be.
Later this year, the British authorities will attempt to block pornography from exactly that segment of the population that is most inclined towards violence: 15-18 year old teenage males. They are creating a tinder box. Please help me fight back.
Every now and then, I need to take a step back and check I’m not exaggerating the looming threat to free speech. And then, along comes a story like this, which confirms: nope, things are bad for free speech, and they’re getting worse. This week, things took another little turn for the dystopian when a teenage girl was convicted of racism for posting rap lyrics on Instagram.
Yes, you read that correctly. A British teenager has been convicted for posting the lyrics from a rap song (I’m Trippin’ by Snap Dogg) on a social media site. As if to illustrate a fundamental problem with censorship, we don’t know exactly which lyrics she posted, because news sites didn’t specify. Thus, not only is the girl being censored, but so is coverage of the “crime”.
To give a feel for the Orwellian atmosphere, here’s the BBC trying to report the trial, without itself offending anyone:
“The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive… PC Dominique Walker… told the court the term was “grossly offensive” to her… Russell’s defence had argued the usage of the word had changed over time and it had been used by superstar rapper Jay-Z [at Glastonbury]…”
Being somewhat braver/stupider than the BBC (and having listened to the track), I’m going to hazard a guess that the word was Nigga, a term that is liberally used in hip-hop (and, of course, has its roots in the racism of the old US Deep South).
This court case is worrying at multiple levels, and should deeply concern anybody that is worried about the future of the Internet as a free medium. It provides yet more evidence that the Establishment has now seized on “hate crime” as a tool of authoritarianism. PC is no longer the realm of well-meaning (if misguided) students, but of the police state. As I’ve blogged previously, Theresa May – hardly a well-known leftie – previously banned Tyler the Creator, a rapper, from touring the UK because his lyrics were deemed to be misogynist and homophobic. Did May genuinely care about the feelings of people who never listened to Tyler’s music anyway? Or did she simply enjoy finding a new excuse to ban a black man from entering the country?
Context should be important, and yet has been apparently ignored by the court. The fact that the girl (it seems) meant no offence is deemed to be of no importance. The fact that the word formed part of a song was of no importance. The fact that the word was not being used to abuse somebody was of no importance.
The ruling, bizarrely, appears to have been strongly influenced by the view of an individual police officer, who claimed the word was “grossly offensive” to her as a black woman (one presumes that she isn’t a fan of the work of Snap Dogg and other rappers). In doing so, the court has made a deeply racist judgement that the view of one black woman is representative of all black people. No white person would be deemed capable of speaking for white people – so why does the legal system patronise black people in this way?
Not all black people agree with PC Walker. The rap artist Greydon Square makes this clear in his hard-hitting tune, N-Word. In 2007, the black American (but London resident) comedian Reginald D Hunter named one of his stand-up tours “Pride, Prejudice and Niggas”, and was promptly banned from advertising it on London transport. If anything illustrates the madness of censorship, it’s the irony that a black man from the Deep South was censored by a British bureaucracy in order to protect the feelings of black people.
The teenager – whose name I won’t repeat here, but who has been named in the mass media – is now branded a racist: something she probably is not. This, in the current era, is akin to being labelled a “communist” in 1950s America.
Most of all, the ruling raises a serious question about impending censorship of the Internet. Snap Dogg’s videos and lyrics can be found on YouTube and in many other places. Should his work now be taken down, to avoid offending people like PC Walker? Of course, this would apply broadly to hip-hop, as well as to literature and cinema.
People that think the state might censor non-black people, but not black people, for use of the offending word, is doubly naive. Firstly, that would be illegal under equality law. And second: Really? Which part of “the lessons of history” did you miss?
The word also appears in the great anti-racist novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Would the state be misguided enough to censor this work too? I think they just might.
Last week, a YouTuber known as Count Dankula was found guilty, in a Scottish court, of being “grossly offensive”. He had published a video of his girlfriend’s pet pug doing Nazi salutes in response to anti-semitic remarks. I argue that attack on comedy are a sign that free speech is under grave threat, and that this trial has done nothing to make Jews, or other minorities, safer.
Thanks to a supporter who contacted me via my Facebook page, I discovered that my book Porn Panic! has been briefly discussed on a Facebook feminist group called Level Up. Which is nice – except that the discussion is deeply inaccurate, and handily illustrates some of the deep problems within the identity-obsessed left that my book identifies.
I should point out here (to anyone poised to suggest that my taking issue with feminism is “sexist”) that the book has been well reviewed by female reviewers and readers, including this lovely tweet received today:
So anyway, the Level Up thread (shown in this screenshot) begins by complaining that Porn Panic! conflates “objecting to the objectification of female bodies with censorship” (followed by a sad/angry face).
It then proceeds with a series of increasingly wrong claims. I applied to join the group in order to respond (politely, of course!) but it’s looking like my application is being overlooked. Hence this post.
Having been branded everything from a Nazi to a misogynist and (this week’s favourite insult) an alt-right sympathiser, I think it becomes ever more important to correct false claims.
Do I conflate objecting about objectification with censorship?
Yes, pretty much. Not directly, but by pointing out that claims of “objectification” invariably come along with “something must be done!” demands. The deeper point is that objectification itself is a dodgy concept, suggesting that one woman can demand another woman’s image be removed, simply on the basis they’re both women. So a model doesn’t have a right to work, because feminists demand a right for no woman, anywhere, to be “objectified”. It’s nonsense, of course – the only person who has a right to decide where her image is seen is the person who owns the body in the image, not random strangers. “Objectification” has become an excuse for bullies to attack the right of women to self-expression.
Do I claim feminism is a driving force for censorship?
Yes, very much so. The poster complains that I equate censors with “feminists complaining about sexism”. That’s not very accurate, except in the sense that some feminists don’t know the difference between sexism and sexual expression. So when a feminist says “sexualised music videos are sexist and something should be done!” then really they’re saying “erotic images of women are harmful and must be censored”. Porn Panic! documents many real-life examples of this behaviour.
Am I connected with Spiked?
A commenter responds: “A quick google suggests that the author is connected with the vile brigade of Spiked”. Quick googling has replaced genuine research for many people online. I can only assume she found a review of my book in Spiked. But then, the book has also been reviewed (favourably) by feminist bloggers, and nobody’s suggested this connects me to feminism.
Are Spiked vile? “Vile” is one of those words that identitarians (including feminists) seem to throw around with abandon. Spiked is an interesting publication, with roots in the far-left Revolutionary Communist Party, but currently is a blend of liberal/libertarian and other viewpoints. I support the excellent Spiked defence of free speech, which is desperately needed in these censorious times. Spiked is refreshingly radical on other issues too, though we part company on issues like Brexit (I’m a staunch remoaner).
Have Zero Books gone all libertarian?
The commentor goes on to say: “…Zero Books which used to be a very interesting publisher has been literally taken over by the Spiked/Institute of Ideas crowd and they seem to publish little else than their questionable ‘libertarian’ stuff…”
I’m incredibly proud to have been published by Zero Books. They’re a left-wing imprint that (unlike much of the left) hasn’t been gripped by authoritarian or identitarian viewpoints. My publisher Douglas Lain seems to be one of the few Marxists left in the world who knows what Marxism is; and though I no longer call myself a Marxist, it’s important to differentiate between Marx’s ideas and the claptrap spouted by most “Marxists”. I’m also an ex-leftie left distraught at the atrociously reactionary state of the political left, so Zero Books is my ideal publisher. Unlike many on the left, ZB looks for intelligent viewpoints from many sides for their podcast and YouTube channel. They have not “literally” been taken over by Spiked, Institute of Ideas (which is linked to Spiked) or libertarians.
Freeze Peach is bad, m’kay?
The poster replies: “Eurgh yeah I’ve seen way too much of Spiked moaning about freeze peach on university campuses. They can’t even be bothered to find out what freedom of speech entails” – which is pretty hilarious, as she goes on to say “…no platforming is people demonstrating freedom of action!” (No Platform being one of the most blatant forms of censorship now prevalent on the left).
“Freeze Peach” is a way of sneering at free speech that has become fashionable among lefties (the fact they need to sneer at free speech at all is revealing). Ironically, I even mention the term in my book:
“Free speech, once the bedrock of liberalism, has – quite literally – become a dirty word on the political left. For a while in 2014, it even became fashionable for some online activists to mock the defence of free speech as FREEZEPEACH, using the argument that free speech cannot be allowed while some groups remain oppressed. The argument is a circular one, because in the swamp of identity politics, some groups are deemed to be permanently oppressed, by definition. So the argument goes: all women are oppressed; all men are privileged; therefore men cannot have free speech, because they use it to oppress women.”
I’d welcome the chance to discuss these points further via the Level Up group or elsewhere. You know where to find me!
I’ve attended London’s Notting Hill Carnival most years since 1981. This year, like most, I went both days: Sunday with the family, Monday just to dance. Carnival showcases a West Indian culture that (unlike European cultures) shows no shame in blurring the line between dance and sex. And of course, this openness is bound to upset western sensibilities. Once, conservatives would have complained bitterly about the displays of sexuality, but the mantle of anti-sex puritanism has now been firmly taken over by the political left, and especially by parts of the feminist movement.
As an anti-censorship activist over the past decade, I began to notice about five years ago that anti-sex feminists had particular issues with black music and dance. I dedicated some time to documenting this in my book Porn Panic!
“Since their invention, music videos had come under fire from morality campaigners, but this was a phenomenon better known in the United States, with its powerful Christian right, than in Britain. Many of the attacks on popular music in America contained thinly-veiled racism. US Society was racially segregated for most of its history, until relatively recently, and most white Americans had had little contact with black Americans or their cultures, until the rise of music recording and radio. Although black artists were often boycotted by radio stations, white performers, from Elvis Presley onwards, began to copy black music, and young white people began to dance to it. Unsurprisingly, this infuriated white conservatives.
A 1960s circular from the Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans reads as follows:
“Help Save The Youth of America
DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS
(If you don’t want to serve negroes in your place of business, then do not have negro records on your jukebox or listen to negro records on the radio.)
The screaming, idiotic words, and savage music of these records are undermining the morals of our white youth in America.
Don’t Let Your Children Buy, or Listen To These Negro Records…”
Such a message shows more than hatred or anger: it reveals fear. As well as breaching the carefully constructed walls of racial segregation, black music and dance had caused a deeper concern: it was highly sexual. African dance had always been more ‘wild’ than the European equivalent. Now, as civil rights and anti-colonialism movements peaked, and segregation ended, continents were belatedly colliding. For the first time, black music entered mainstream Western culture. The dam broke. This was not a meeting of equals: African culture poured over white society like a tsunami.
Blues, jazz and rock and roll had just been the beginning. Now soul, hip hop, disco, reggae, dancehall, afrobeat, soca, dub, house, R&B, and many other genres sold records by the millions and entered the charts worldwide. By the turn of the century, it was hard to find music in the British charts that did not have some black roots.
And the videos that came with the music showed another African influence: clothing became skimpier, hips and backsides rolled in a way that white bodies had never before moved. As the moral panic against ‘sexualised’ music videos took root, it was not just a reaction to music; it was a reaction to blackmusic.
Black female artists came under particular attack during the Big Panic. Especially singled out for criticism were Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. But far from apologise and cover themselves up, all three of these artists revelled in their displays of sexuality, and responded to attacks by becoming more ‘sexualised’, apparently taking enjoyment from taunting the mostly white, middle-class commentators that were attacking them. Beyoncé’s famous performance outfits became more revealing. Rihanna turned up to the 2014 Council of Fashion Designers Awards in a near-transparent dress, which generated an inevitable barrage of outrage. Minaj’s Anaconda video gave the finger to her critics, being a celebration of her famously rounded backside, and featuring the line, delivered as a parody of a prissy, white girl: “Oh. My. Gosh. Look at her BUTT!”
Prudish anger mounted, with article headlines such as “Don’t call Beyonce’s sexual empowerment feminism” trying to create a faux-liberal case for demanding that the singers cover themselves up. But there was no contest: three of the world’s most confident and talented black female performers could easily handle whatever the bloggers and journalists could dish out. Commentators were reduced to whining, inaccurately and patronisingly, that the singers were the ‘victims’ of a white, male-dominated capitalist music machine. The women, and their millions of fans, paid little attention.
Given how deeply rooted the Big Panic was in the political left, and that the anti-sex movement was dominated by white, middle-class women, endless overt attacks on black performers would begin to look suspiciously racist. A white target for the rage was needed. Enter Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus had committed multiple sins in the eyes of moralists. She had been a child star, and now had the nerve to grow up and become an attractive young woman. She appeared naked in the video for her single, Wrecking Ball, and, most outrageous of all, during a 2013 live TV performance, she twerked.
Although twerking was a fairly new term, it described a dance move that had been around for decades, if not centuries. Nobody who has seen videos for hip hop, dancehall, R&B or other black music styles could be unaware of the ways in which some black female dancers could move their hips, buttocks and thighs. I had been a happy witness to this at least since I started attending London’s Notting Hill Carnival and West Indian parties in my teens. It is hardly surprising that twerking provoked the backlash it did among so many commentators: the link between dance and sex had never been more obvious.
Now the anti-sex movement could finally take aim from the moral high ground. Object teamed up with black feminist group Imkaan, created an astroturf campaign to censor music videos called Rewind and Reframe, and, with help of the ever-supportive Guardian, began to insinuate that Cyrus’s twerking was not just sexist, but in some way racist too. Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman ludicrously complained that Cyrus had ‘culturally appropriated’ black people by daring to move her buttocks in a certain way, and having apparently worked herself into an angry froth, described the performance as a ‘minstrel show’. Under the guise of anti-racism, here was a white ‘liberal’ journalist doing what racists had done in the Deep South decades earlier: trying to stop black culture from being adopted by white people. In place of an exhortation not to buy ‘negro records’, the new left had found new language to express their discomfort that white kids were copying the dance moves of black artists.
Freeman’s real problem was revealed in the article when she wrote of Cyrus “…adding in a racial element while she copied the dance moves of strippers and bellowed her love of drugs”. Black people, nudity and drugs: the triumvirate that has upset white conservatives for centuries. She even dared to invoke (or appropriate, perhaps) Martin Luther King, ending the article by stating that she ‘had a dream’:
“I have a dream that female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors on magazine covers and in their stage acts. I have a dream that the predominantly white music world will stop reducing black music to grills and bitches and twerking. And I have a dream that stupid songs about seducing “good girls” will be laughed at instead of sent to No 1.”
Freeman’s dream, of a world free of strippers, porn, drugs, good girls doing bad things, and white people doing black things, is hardly a progressive one. She could have found her dream in Selma, Alabama, in 1963, where King made his famous speech. If any article summed up the 21st century collapse of the left into ugly conservatism, this one did.
If it had appeared alone, Freeman’s article might have simply been a one-off piece representing her own views. But it was not: the Guardian was in campaign mode. The piece was handily followed and supported a couple of months later by an article from Imkaan’s Ikamara Larasi titled ‘Why must we accept the casual racism in pop videos?’, putting the boot in on Miley Cyrus once again, and adding the ‘authenticity’ of a black voice to Freeman’s messy argument (albeit a black voice with close links to Object). And in case we did not get the message, a month later Larasi wrote another Guardian piece, ‘Sexed-up music videos are everyone’s problem’. Beyond her two attacks on music videos, Larasi was not again seen in the Guardian; her work was done.
In addition to Freeman’s and Larasi’s contributions, the Guardian carried a surreal ‘news’ piece on the story that 73 year old Christian singer Cliff Richard also disapproved of Cyrus’s behaviour, and he “just hopes she grows out of it”.
However clumsy and quasi-racist it might have been, the Guardian’s attack on ‘sexualised music videos’ helped do the trick. It was never about convincing Cyrus fans – the goal was to put pressure on the UK authorities. Just one month after Larasi’s second article, in January 2014, the Guardian wrote in approving terms that the BBFC wanted to regulate (i.e. censor) music videos in the same way it did feature films. Of course it did: the BBFC, let us not forget, is a private business.
“Following the issuing of new classification guidance from the BBFC on Monday, the organisation’s assistant director, David Austin, said it was responding to pressure from parents who were concerned about the sexual imagery freely available to children who had access to the web…”
And a few months afterwards, in August 2014, the Prime Minister, David Cameron announced in a speech on (ominously) The Family that the government was backing censorship of music videos:
“From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.”
The Big Panic had claimed a an important cultural scalp. Without any genuine public discussion or outcry, and certainly without any research showing that ‘sexualised music videos’ were causing any harm to anyone, music – and especially black music – would be subject to prurient censorship controls. The old Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans would be proud.”
Currently circulating on social media: a video purporting to show a woman being attacked by a “Muslim rape gang”, somewhere in Europe. This video pops up repeatedly, often claimed to be in different locations. Its spread is orchestrated by far-right blogs, which may in turn be creations of the Russian state as part of Putin’s war on the EU and European stability. The claim is a hoax – the video in fact shows an attack on a woman by a Czech drug gang last May. The protagonist was jailed in December.
There is no accusation more potent than a rape allegation against “foreigners”. This taps deep into our primitive, evolved instincts; as I’ve written previously, the most valuable asset in any human society is its fertile women. Much of what is called “racism” actually stems from anger amongst men that “their women” may cross tribal lines to mate with outsiders. The loss of female mates from the tribe is the greatest loss of all. Thus, a stereotypical complaint about immigration is that “they come over here, take our women…”. When an accusation of rape is made against outsiders – whether true or false – the lynch mob is more than happy to spring into action. The idea that “our women” might voluntarily mate with foreigners is difficult to accept – far easier to believe that force was used.
Rape claims were a driving force behind the lynchings of black men in the US South in the early 20th century. Nobody knows how many of these claims were fabricated. But one can suspect that the proportion is high – after all, with lynch mobs on the loose, and no effective protection by the law, how many Southern black men would be likely to risk raping white women? This was demonstrated only recently, when a woman – Caroline Bryant Donham – admitted she had fabricated a rape allegation against a 14 year old black boy in 1955. The accused, Emmett Till, was lynched.
Foreigner rape claims are so powerful that they can even be utilised as a tool of war. During the 2003 Iraq War, a US soldier, Jessica Lynch, was famously captured by Iraqi forces. Rape claims abounded. It shows something about the human psyche (and the relative value put on male and female lives) that claims of rape against one woman aroused more anti-Arab emotion in America than dozens of male deaths in battle. The rape claims turned out to be false, but the propaganda helped rally American support for Bush’s war. As if to demonstrate the link between rape accusations and racism, two other female soldiers had also been captured: one black, and one native American. Unlike Lynch, neither became household names.
So it is unsurprising that, of all the accusations made against Muslim men in Europe by the far-right, rape allegations are the most popular. This formula has been reused and refined for a number of years. The English Defence League often focused on accusations against Pakistani men, while ignoring similar claims against white men. Their attitude seemed to be: rapes are OK, so long as “our tribe” is perpetrating them.
The feminist movement has been culpable of aiding and abetting the far-right by also making false or exaggerated rape claims, though typically against all men as a group rather than immigrants. In recent years, some feminist commentators have deliberately stoked up fear of sexual violence, using fake statistics and unrepresentative anecdotes. The prevalence of sexual violence in the western world has, in fact, been falling for decades, rather than rising. This is inconvenient for a movement that claims ‘rape culture’ is a dangerous force and is turning men everywhere into dangerous brutes. The “campus rape” hoax has been a recent example – the media happily reported a fake epidemic of sexual violence on university campuses.
These claims are used to empower an increasingly intolerant feminist movement, which requires male evil for its continued existence. Further, there is good money for “women’s rights” organisations in false rape claims. Canadian columnist Margaret Wente has exposed the rape culture myth, and accused its proponents of being a ‘grievance industry’:
“The evidence is overwhelming. We are more enlightened now, and men – most men, anyway – behave much better. That is bad news for the grievance industry, which must stretch its definitions of assault and abuse to ridiculous extremes to keep its numbers up.”
The far-right has increasingly adopted feminist language and propaganda in its attempts to demonise Europe’s Muslim population. The fascists of the 1930s had a traditional view of women as mothers and home-makers. Today’s fascists stress how liberal they are, and use their supposed liberalism against Muslim migrants, accusing Muslims (mostly falsely) of not accepting European values such as women’s rights. This ignores, of course, the fact that women’s rights are almost as recent an innovation in the West as they are in the rest of the world.
We must demand proof rather than blindly accept far-right accusations of “Muslim rape”, or feminist rape-culture accusations against men in general. Among the strongest of our western values is the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the specific case of rape, this value is under attack by fascists and feminists alike.
This week’s protests to prevent a controversial speaker – Milo Yiannopolis – from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley, are a sad indictment of the of the state of progressive politics. The location of the incident, once the birthplace of a great liberal movement, makes for a sad comparison with the great radical era of the 1960s.
Those of us who were teenage activists in the 1980s felt we’d missed out on something. Our parents’ generation (at least, in our imaginations) had the civil rights movement, the great anti-Vietnam war protests, the hippy movement, Black Power and psychedelia. Their soundtrack was Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Joan Baez, Motown, Simon and Garfunkel. We had Reagan and Thatcher, mass unemployment, power ballads, and yuppies. They had great progressive victories, we got used to experiencing defeats.
We, children of a grey London that was run down and depressed after half a century of economic decline, dreamed of the California of the 1960s. I read Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, and knew all about San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district, the centre of counterculture, although in reality, my entire experience of travelling outside Britain was limited to a couple of short trips to France.
And I read about the university campus at Berkeley, near San Francisco, the heartland of 1960s American radicalism; a radicalism which, already by the 80s, was ebbing away. In response to repression, Berkeley had been birthplace to the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, which aimed to ensure that everybody on campus was given their right to speak. It was, in today’s terms, the mirror image of the current student obsession with “no platforming” (i.e. censoring) ideas considered unacceptable. While the movement was left wing, it is important to realise that it created a space for all political speech. As the Wiki page notes: “This applied to the entire student political spectrum, not just the liberal elements that drove the Free Speech Movement”.
Contrast this anti-censorship attitude with what happened this week. Milo Yiannopolis, a provocative speaker of the right, was due to talk about “cultural appropriation” – a bizarre, illiberal idea, now popular on the left, that access to culture should be segregated by race. “Cultural appropriation” popularises on the left an idea that the 1960s left stood firmly against: that people should be treated differently based on nothing but their skin colour or racial origin. It is a bullying and authoritarian ideology, and has resulted in racist incidents like a famous attack on a white man for the “crime” of wearing dreadlocks, and the cancellation of a reggae festival because too many white people were involved.
Milo is a well known shit-stirrer, and enjoys winding up easily-offended illiberal types. He’s annoying, often (but not always) wrong, and I’ve done my best to avoid him. Unfortunately, some on the left have decided instead to promote him, by protesting against him, having him no-platformed, or calling him a “Nazi” for no good reason. Thanks to these intolerant arseholes, we’ve had to put up with Milo being everywhere, and getting a lucrative book deal. Thinking about it, this is pretty much the same way that “liberals” helped Donald Trump reach power. Thanks guys.
Fans of George Orwell will enjoy what happened next. Milo (a gay, Jewish man), due to speak out against a racist, pro-segregationist ideology, faced protest by people calling him a “Nazi”. The talk was cancelled, and riots ensued. And (did I mention?) all this happened at Berkeley, once the home of the Free Speech Movement. Oh, and then Donald J Trump, perhaps the closest thing to a fascist ever elected in America, tweeted to defend free speech against attacks from left-wing Berkeley students. We live in the age of irony. Or perhaps the era of facepalm.
Western liberalism is facing its greatest threat since the 1940s, if ever. The far-right may soon seize control in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. And if you’re expecting a defence of liberalism from the left, it seems you’ll be disappointed.
Free speech must be defended as a universal human right. Human rights cannot be stripped from people on the basis that they’re Muslims or Communists. Nor can they be stripped from people on the basis that they offend other people. The left will not defeat the fascist right by being more fascist than the right. That way lies tyranny.
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