Category Archives: Politics

Pro-Censorship Feminists vs Tyler the Creator

A feminist campaign against Tyler the Creator, a hip hop artist, led to Theresa May banning him from touring the UK.

One of the core themes of my book Porn Panic! is the way in which feminism has become a force for censorship. While pro-censorship feminism began decades ago by attacking pornography as ‘misogynistic’, its scope has since broadened significantly. Now, any expression that might be labelled as misogynistic, or offensive to women, becomes a valid target for censorship.

One of the most shocking recent examples of feminism-as-censorship  was the ban (by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May) on a popular hip hop artist, Tyler the Creator, from the UK. The following is an extract from Porn Panic!:

… The next ban of an ‘unsuitable foreigner’ was a breathtakingly pointless piece of cultural (and probably racial) bullying. Tyler the Creator, a young, black American hip hop artist was barred from the UK (where he had been planning to tour) in August 2015. The basis of the ban was that he had written and performed misogynistic and homophobic lyrics several years earlier, at the age of 18. There could have been no serious suggestion that Tyler was any kind of threat to anyone – especially since his lyrics were no longer of the crude kind that had once caused offence. But now, his mere physical presence was deemed to be a significant enough problem that he should be barred from entering the country.

The smell of witch-hunt was again in the air. Some primitive human fear instinct had elevated a young man who had once penned some unpleasant words to the status of kryptonite; merely being in his presence might turn young British men into violent rapists and homophobes! The ‘rape culture’ meme came into play. While rape is measurable, rape culture is not. It is the superstitious idea that rape somehow hangs in the air and infects people like a virus. Carriers must be quarantined.

The hand of pro-censorship feminism was again visible. Collective Shout, an Australian feminist group with a history of anti-porn campaigning, had already successfully petitioned to have Tyler banned from Australia based on his lyrics and alleged bad behaviour. The British ban merely rubber-stamped the earlier Australian decision. Where have all the racists gone? Leftward. They appear to have realised that lynching a black man is no longer OK; unless you first label him a misogynist. Then it’s fine.

Hip hop has long been a proxy for racism. It is a black artform that has lasted decades and grown from strength to strength. Although a creation of New York City, it encapsulates the African excellence in rhythmic, spoken word performance. It has elevated poetry to new heights and become the world’s most widely-adopted musical form, in every language. It is common to hear hip hop dismissed in its entirety as ‘cRap’ (geddit?) This makes no more sense than to dismiss all poetry, or all guitar music. Hip hop infuriates because it represents a global triumph of something uniquely African.

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Small, forgettable events like the inexplicable travel ban on a young American man are litmus tests for our political system and societal attitudes. Our culture does not appear to be in a good place right now.

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Audio: Zero Books Interview with Jerry Barnett

My book Porn Panic! is to be published this week, by Zero Books. I porn-panic-zero-bookswas recently interviewed at length about the book by Douglas Lain of Zero Books, and this has now been published at the Zero Books site as a podcast. Douglas is a great interviewer, and I thoroughly enjoyed our lengthy discussion – I hope you will too.

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Please click here to subscribe or listen to the podcast at the Zero Books site

The Anti-Sex Left and its War on Free Expression

My left-wing pedigree runs deep. As a teenage activist in the early 1980s I joined every cause and every march of the day, from anti-racism and CND to anti-Apartheid and Cuba solidarity.

I read Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and I joined one of the proliferation of far-left groups of the day. Like many of my comrades, I drifted away from the struggle after Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the miners, but I retained my core identity as a leftie.

Until, that is, decades later, when a stripper rocked my world.

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Continue reading at Heat Street…

Podcast 9: Dr David J Ley on Sex Addiction

This week, I spoke with Dr David J Ley, a clinical psychologist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is also an occasional contributor to Sex & Censorship and to Psychology Today. In 2012, David’s book The Myth of Sex Addiction confronted the rising moral panic over “sex addiction” and “porn addiction”, as well as the “addiction cure” industry which sells expensive remedies. His new book, Ethical Porn for Dicks, is a guide for men on how to use pornography responsibly, and will be published later this year.

London Event: Zara du Rose DVD Launch Party

Zara du Rose, pornstar and dominatrix, invites you to join her on 30th July in London, for a party to launch her new DVD, Zara’s Girlfriends. Zara explains…

“Guests will be greeted with canapés and welcome drinks. Then we head to the secret basement of our venue for the evening. There, the mood will change and we will step back in time to how Soho used to be! With private viewing booths and an intimate setting, you’ll be the first to see my brand new DVD, Zara’s Girlfriends!

The event is open to industry professionals, fans and general adult film lovers!

Tickets are VERY limited, only 30 available & less than 20 remaining.

Come and join me for an evening of previews, giveaways and a chance to enjoy this unique setting in London!”

Tickets are available here:

The Great Sex Work Decriminalisation Swindle

As reported here last week, a parliamentary committee issued a report calling for sex work decriminalisation. My own reaction was somewhat sceptical; in contrast, sex worker activists and commentators rejoiced at a “historic victory” which, to me, didn’t seem much like a victory at all. This rejoicing led to deep confusion among observers, many of whom mistakenly believed that Parliament had rejected the “Nordic model”, which criminalises the purchase of sex.

In the intervening days, my scepticism has deepened. The sex work author and researcher Laura Agustín also questioned the report, referring to it as “meaningless”, and writing on Facebook:

“My advice is do not rejoice: This is stage one of making an anti-sex-buying law in which women selling are decriminalised while men buying are criminalised”

I agree: last week’s announcement was not a win for decriminalisation, but simply a deferral of the key decision wrapped in confusing language. And while, yes, the way is still left open for the committee to back decriminalisation, that isn’t what happened last week. Nor, I suspect, will it be the committee’s final verdict.

No decision has yet been made

First of all, the committee (as it made clear) has not reached a decision on whether to follow the New Zealand model (decriminalisation), the Nordic model (criminalise buyers) or some form of legalisation. Since this is the only decision that matters, then nothing of substance has yet happened. All the committee announced was that, whichever decision it eventually makes, it recommends the reform of laws on brothel-keeping and soliciting. But this is just stating the obvious: whether the committee favours New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, or some other model, there will be no point maintaining existing restrictions on brothels. So the lip-service paid to decriminalisation is – as Agustín says – meaningless, and apparently designed to mislead.

“Decriminalisation” has changed meaning

A good way to tell if you’re winning is to watch the reactions of your enemies. If – as sex worker campaigners claim – this is a victory, then prohibitionists will be fuming, right? Except… they aren’t. What the campaigners seem to have missed is that both sides have embraced the language of “decriminalisation”. Here, for example, is Vera Baird QC:

“Regardless of whatever brings women into sex work … I fully back the notion of decriminalising sex workers”

Yet Baird is a staunch prohibitionist. This is politics: when your opponent has succeeded in setting the narrative, steal their narrative. Note the subtle use of “workers” rather than “work”. Similarly, the Christian Tory MP David Burrowes has called for soliciting to be decriminalised. Both Baird and Burrowes went on to call for the Nordic model to be implemented in the UK: which is semantic nonsense, since the Nordic model criminalises sex buyers.

In other words, “decriminalisation” can now either mean decriminalisation, or the exact opposite, depending who uses it.

Why has a meaningless statement been issued?

Given that the interim report means almost nothing until the key decision has been made, the question then arises as to why it was issued at all. I asked activists who were close to the inquiry process, but none seemed able to answer the question. The report was clearly issued to get media attention; if it was intended to confuse and misdirect people, it apparently succeeded.

The political climate is ugly

As I have noted for some years, British liberalism appears to be in decline across the spectrum. This is true on both the political right and left; the liberal centre has shrunk as social conservatives and authoritarians have taken over both wings of politics. In this climate, it would be surprising if a radical decision – such as decriminalising sex work – were to take place.

I hope Augustín and I are wrong, and the sex work representatives are right; but as things stand right now, it seems to me that we have been witness to the Great Decriminalisation Swindle.

Britons Light Fuse With Brexit

This article was first published at XBIZ.com on Friday.

In my new book, Porn Panic!, I recount the rise of a new British fascism. What began a few years ago, for me, as a campaign against anti-sex feminists who were trying to censor pornography, grew gradually into a realisation that free speech and other fundamental underpinnings of liberty were under fierce assault from all sides. This new authoritarian movement, which is taking over both wings of politics, has been slowly gaining ground over the past 10-15 years. But with yesterday’s Brexit vote, the way is clear for an explosive rise in fascism across Europe – and beyond.

Having stayed up most of last night to watch, with increasing incredulity, the EU referendum results, I’m still reeling. It’s not that the result was especially unexpected; but the scale of the catastrophe that is now – in real time – engulfing the UK and European economy is staggering, and dwarfs the 2008 meltdown. And if the economic fallout is massive, the political implications will be even more so. Yesterday, the British people lit the fuse. The explosions are only just beginning.

For months, most people with any understanding of what has been unfolding have just looked at each other and said “But we’d never actually vote to leave the EU, would we?”, and we’ve reassured each other that, no, when it comes to the crunch, the British people would pull back from the brink. And so this morning’s news – that the UK population voted by 52% to 48% to exit the EU – is hard to stomach.

From the perspective of the goals of my campaign, Sex & Censorship, the news is very bad. Many of the protections of free speech, net neutrality and human rights that exist in British law have been passed down to us from the EU. EU law offers a good deal of protection against the anti-sex and anti-free speech laws and regulations that I’ve campaigned against. Now, those protections risk being stripped away. The British state, restrained in many ways by the liberalising influence of the EU, may shortly get free rein to pass laws that would not have been acceptable in a western democracy during the liberal postwar era. It’s probably fair to say that yesterday, that era came to an end.

The fact that the resignation of the Prime Minister is one of the more minor stories in today’s news helps illustrate the scale of events. It’s hard to find a comparison on a historical scale. Certainly, this crisis of European politics looks to be every bit as significant as that of the 1930s. Nationalism, which has been slowly rising in Europe (as well as globally) since 9/11, has now been unleashed in a way that few living Europeans have seen in their lifetimes. The European Union has presided over the longest era of peace in European history; the British people just voted to burn it down.

The global significance of the referendum was underpinned by the fact that Donald Trump chose today to fly in and visit the UK (he quietly pre-announced the visit a few weeks ago). Trump understands the nature of fascism, and has shown a far deeper understanding of the threat to western democracy than most of the established political class. This morning, he hailed the referendum result. Simultaneously, the odds of a Trump win in November were cut sharply. Nationalism begets nationalism, and today’s Europe provides Trump with all the nationalistic sentiment he needs to further his authoritarian bandwagon. Elsewhere in Europe, fascists are celebrating. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders celebrated the British poll and called for one to be held locally. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen did the same. Those with a knowledge of WWII history will know that the Netherlands and France were deeply infected by the fascist bug in the 1930s/40s. It is not so surprising that the anti-immigrant backlash is growing rapidly in those same countries today.

Amidst the chaos, it seems churlish to ask what this means for the adult industry. But as has been so often pointed out, sex is the canary in the coalmine of liberty. Sexual and political freedoms have always gone hand-in hand; an attack on one is an attack on the other. And so surely we all – on both sides of the Atlantic – are in for a huge battle in the coming months.

 

Jerry Barnett is an author and campaigner, and runs the Sex & Censorship campaign and blog. His book, Porn Panic!, will be published in August, and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

Identity Politics is Killing Solidarity and Fuelling Fascism

There was a time when we on the British left owned terms like Unity and Solidarity. The broad left had formed around a single, enormous issue: the obscenity of poverty. Thus, the left once represented the disadvantaged, and the right fought to maintain the old status quo. When fascism last surged in the 1930s, it was the left’s broad base that ensured British fascism was crushed: it alone could unite the mighty industrial working class with immigrants and sympathetic liberals. It was opposition to poverty that united white working class people with the immigrants – Irish, Jewish, Black and Asian – that came to Britain over the past century. Ultimately, this was why the left eventually championed the fight against racism: because it understood that the biggest problems faced by immigrants – bad housing, low pay, state indifference, routine violence – were shared by poor white people, and formed alliances in factories and poor communities that transcended race.

Racism was never a one-way street. Tension and violence grew in high-immigration communities because of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. Mass immigration – then, as now – benefited the economy as a whole, but placed a disproportionate burden on poor communities. People who complained about rapid, disconcerting change in their neighbourhoods were not uniformly attacked as “racists”; instead, the left sought to find common ground and build unity. The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the lasting testaments to this approach: it was a community creation designed to bring white and black people together in the wake of race riots.

But the Labour Movement, the foundation of the old left, effectively collapsed during the 1980s and 90s for a variety of reasons. The left dwindled, and found new power bases: no longer in factories or council estates; instead in academia and the public sector. It lost touch with working class people, and lost interest in poverty. It instead adopted identity politics, dividing people by race, gender, sexuality just as it once united people across these lines. It became whiter and more middle-class, and gradually came to represent the interests of white, middle-class people above all others. Step by step, from the 80s onward, the left took on the attitudes of the old fascist movements, seeking to divide society into isolated, opposing groups of people.

None of this mattered much, until a new surge in left-wing support followed the 2008 financial crash. My initial excitement at the left-wing resurgence turned into disgust as I saw what the left had now become.

I first noticed the shift via my involvement in sexual freedom causes. The old Christian right had died along with Mary Whitehouse. Now, a new conservative movement surfaced, this time based around the remnants of the old feminist movement. The new attackers of sexual freedom came from the organs of the new-left: universities, trade unions, local authorities and the Labour Party. This new left had lost all interest in tackling poverty and disadvantage, because they had no experience or understanding of it. Instead, they declared gender, skin colour and sexuality to be the true marks of oppression. So, porn and other sexual expression came under attack, not because it was “ungodly” but because it was deemed to “oppress women”. Thieves had stolen the language of the (now defunct) progressive left and used it to advance fascist agendas.

So we saw the grotesque sight of middle-class “left-wing” people declaring themselves to be “oppressed” (for reason of possessing a vagina or extra melanin in their skin), and attacking poor white communities as “privileged”. The new-left had restarted the class war, but this time was firmly on the other side.

So when Edie Lamort, a stripper-activist (who I interviewed some time back), declared herself some years ago to be the “canary in the coalmine”, she was very prescient. The attacks on her and her comrades, by fascists in left-wing clothing, were indeed an early sign of a broad attack on liberal values from the political left.

The pus-filled boil of identity politics, quietly swelling since the 80s, really only burst within the past couple of years. And now, the identity fascists are dismantling all remnants of cross-community solidarity as rapidly as possible. Every progressive movement of recent years is collapsing as identity politics moves in. Among the most spectacular examples has been the undermining of the campaign against police violence in the United States. A few years ago, thanks to smartphones and social media, and campaigns such as Copblock, a bright light was shone for the first time on the astonishing violence of US policing. Although there was clearly a strong racial element, police violence was meted out across all communities. If there was a particular “identity” group at the receiving end, it was overwhelmingly poor, young men, of all races.

But to make it a “male issue” would have been foolish and divisive. A Martin Luther King character, should one exist today, would identify a common cause and an opportunity for cross-community solidarity; but this is not the liberal 60s, and there appears to be no room for uniting characters like MLK today. Instead, the issue was seized by black nationalists. The hashtag #filmthepolice gave way to #blacklivesmatter. In a remarkable reversal of logic, black nationalists – backed by identity fascists – declared #alllivesmatter to be a “racist” sentiment. Never mind that numerically, the single biggest identity group to be shot by police was white men; or that, proportionately the greatest sufferers were native American men. The issue was now owned by the 24% of victims who were black, and the other 76% were excluded (Source: The Counted). This marked the high watermark of the campaign against police violence: it had been killed by sectarianism. If there ever was a signal to white working class people that nobody cares for them, here it was.

Now, when a 12 year old (white) girl was shot dead by police, there would be no community mobilisation, no public outcry. After all, what hashtag does one use in such a case? #Alllivesmatter was already deemed racist, and #whitelivesmatter would be even worse. So, the girl’s name never made it into the public consciousness: Ciara Meyer RIP: killed by police, forgotten by identity politics.

Now, it seems, the scourge of mass shootings in the US is going the same way. While only a couple of years ago, every shooting was met with horror, and renewed calls for gun controls, now the campaign has been targeted, divided and sunk by identity politics. A steady stream of mass killings – driven by easy access to guns, however much the gun lobby denied it – was punctuated a year ago by the killing of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. Like many such mass killings, the shooter was an angry/crazy/hateful (take your pick) white man. Unlike most others, the targets were exclusively black.

Dylan Roof, the shooter, was no doubt motivated by racist views: but statistically, the event was an outlier. It makes no sense to declare a single atrocity, carried out by a single person, to be representative of anything but the views of that person. Racial violence has, in fact, tumbled a long, long way since the days of the lynch mob. But identity politics (which previously had no interest in the long succession of mass shootings) now awoke, and declared the issue a black-owned one.

And with the recent mass-shooting in a gay club in Orlando, the divisiveness reaches a whole new level. This time, identity fascists of the right blame “Islam”, while those of the left are determined to blame “Homophobia”. But neither explanation is matched by a genuine trend: neither Islamist nor homophobic atrocities are regular enough events to be anything but outliers. Homophobia may still be commonplace, but is almost certainly at its lowest level in US history. The same old explanation holds true for this mass shooting as for all the hundreds of others: an angry/crazy/hateful individual managed to get hold of military-style weaponry.

Identity politics is really the politics of the self. The identity warrior’s deepest instinct is: “How can I make this all about MEEEE?” Thus, the ever-vapid commentator Owen Jones walked out of a Sky News dicussion on the Orlando shooting, ostensibly because the other commentators were refusing to acknowledge homophobia. But in reality, Jones had finally found an American massacre that he, as a gay man, could associate himself with, and so become outraged about. Never mind that, as a British person, the chance he will ever encounter a mass shooting is close to zero. Never mind that many of the dead were undocumented Latino migrants rather than middle-class British journalists. Jones’ sexuality is the hook with which he can claim a stake in the misery of strangers, far away.

And here is the real tragedy of identity politics: solidarity is dying. While, only a few years ago, we could all unite to express shock at the killing of a black person by a racist, or a gay person by a homophobe, or a Jew by an anti-semite, now this is quietly breaking down. Now, every atrocity is an identity atrocity, and so every atrocity fosters further anger and division, while not so long ago we could unite in our common humanity against the tiny minority that commit vile acts of hate.

Identity politics is the politics of self-pity. If I were to choose this route, I could assert my Jewishness: henceforth, I could declare any anti-semitic attack to be all about MEEE. But I choose not to be defined by my Jewish heritage, however much self-pity it could allow me to wallow in. My children are Nigerian-Jewish; should they revel only in the victimhood of Jews and Nigerians? Should my daughter declare herself a Judeo-Nigerian Feminist, and add gender self-pity to black and semitic self-pity? We are in a race to the bottom: when we selectively ignore horror, because we don’t identify with the identity of the victims, we are losing our humanity.

Is it surprising, therefore, that poor whites would now also choose to unite around their racial identity? Is the rise of Donald Trump or of Nigel Farage so surprising in this climate? This new ascent of the fascist right was clearly preempted and driven by the rise of fascist politics on the left. We have no chance of resisting the rise of of the far-right in Europe and America if we adopt fascist methods and ideas ourselves. We need to rediscover the solidarity of the old left: we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer, however much – or little – they resemble ourselves.

The Queen’s Speech 2016: Online Censorship Now Official Policy

Since 2010, when the government empowered ATVOD to regulate video-on-demand services, the direction of travel has been clear: there would little point in enforcing tough regulations on UK content providers, without also the power to block overseas services. Last Wednesday, the Queen’s Speech to Parliament finally confirmed what has been looming for several years. The huge and unelected communications regulator Ofcom is to be given extra powers over Internet content. This announcement was tucked innocuously away within the plans for the Digital Economy Bill, as follows:

“All websites containing pornographic images to require age verification for access”.

On its own, this is an odd announcement. After all, this provision has already been a UK regulation enforced by Ofcom since 2010, and was strengthened in the AVMS 2014 law (which prompted the famous face-sitting protest outside Parliament).So why is the government repeatedly announcing the same measure? It isn’t, really: it just reuses the “child protection” justification for different actions. This time, Ofcom is to be given powers to disrupt overseas providers that provide “adult” content without first verifying users’ ages. If this seems reasonable, keep in mind the following:

  • The government consultation on online pornography, which closed only last month, has not yet even reported. What was its purpose then?
  • When government talks about “pornography”, this is shorthand for any content it considers unsuitable for children, which (as long experience has shown) includes anything from sex education to drug information; from “extreme” political speech to self-harm support sites.
  • Age verification is, in practise, riddled with problems, as I previously outlined here.
  • The powers assigned to Ofcom, as yet not specified, are likely to be open-ended. So although the talk is of pursuing adult payment and advertising services, it seems a certainty that site blocking will be on the table soon.

What does this mean?

The Internet as we know it is going to change fundamentally. Mindgeek, owner of the largest porn services, has signalled that it will comply with the UK law, which means that sites like Pornhub and Youporn will no longer be freely available. Most major providers will doubtless follow. And sites featuring strong fetish content – even that which is legal in the United States and much of Europe – will not be able to comply with UK regulations at all, even if they implement age verification. But porn represents the tip of the iceberg.

In 2014, the major ISPs implemented optional “porn filters” in response to arm-twisting by David Cameron. The result was that about 20% of all websites became unavailable to users that switched on their “child protection” at home: a reminder that “porn” is a shorthand for a very broad range of content. Most users simply switched the filters off: this new regime will be far harder to circumvent.

Many services that allow user-contributed content will be classed as “adult”: Twitter will, unless it heavily self-censors its adult content. So, no doubt, will its live streaming service, Periscope, which could well be used to stream sexual material.

We will be watching as the Digital Economy Bill progresses. The wording of Ofcom’s new powers will be important to the future of free speech in the UK. Join our mailing list or Facebook page to keep track of events. This campaign is entirely funded by donations from supporters – you can donate here.

Brooke Magnanti and Paris Lees Appear at Parliamentary Sex Work Inquiry

An inquiry is currently under-way in the British Parliament into the laws governing prostitution, and last week Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) and Paris Lees – both former sex workers – gave evidence.

There are two broad forms that a change in the law might take: either towards full decriminalisation – as has been the case in New Zealand since 2003 – or towards the criminalisation of clients (the so-called Nordic model). While the vast majority of sex workers favour decriminalisation (96% according to a recent survey), the inquiry made clear from the start that it is inclined towards the Nordic model:

“The Home Affairs Committee is looking at the way prostitution is treated in legislation. In particular, the inquiry will assess whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.”

So from the outset, the inquiry appears to be slanted towards a legislative model that is opposed by sex workers: an approach that signals moralistic goals, rather than a desire to reduce harm.

Judging by The Mirror’s account, the discussion was somewhat surreal. Labour MP Keith Vaz, who seems to have a particular, long-term issue with sex work, appeared reluctant to believe the accounts of women who had actually been sex workers:

“Mr Vaz expressed disbelief at when Ms Lees said she’d never met anyone who had felt pressured into becoming a sex worker.”

It is well-known that prohibitionists claim to have met countless women who have been forced into prostitution, but these victims tend to remain invisible, and are apparently never able to speak for themselves. As Lees responded:

“It seems to me you’ve had people at this inquiry who’ve got absolutely no business talking about sex work. Whose only qualification seems to be that they write for the Observer.”

This experience is very similar to my own when debating against anti-porn campaigners. As I wrote in my open letter to the anti-sex Object some months ago:

“It has long troubled me that Object are prepared to make endless claims of rape and sexual abuse against the sex entertainment industries; and yet, to my knowledge, you have filed no police reports.”

Those interested in the issue should carefully watch the inquiry unfold in Parliament. Any truly open-minded exercise would doubtless come to the same conclusion as Amnesty International did last year: full decriminalisation is the only way forward that is backed by evidence. But, I suspect, this is not the recommendation that this particular inquiry will reach.