The furore over the rather trivial matter of a pay-TV adult offering reminds us that old-fashioned patriarchal moralists didn't die with the National Party. Now Cosatu is leading the charge." /> Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies | Daily Maverick
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19 December 2014 23:25 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies

  • Ivo Vegter

The furore over the rather trivial matter of a pay-TV adult offering reminds us that old-fashioned patriarchal moralists didn't die with the National Party. Now Cosatu is leading the charge.

I don't subscribe to TopTV, in part because several of its channels offend me.

God TV is the kind of religious programming to which I think impressionable children should not be exposed. If parents want to indoctrinate their kids, let them do so, but I don't care for that junk on TV.

Current TV is a “documentary” channel owned by the high priest of man-made global warming alarmism, Al Gore. I strongly object to telling neurotic audiences, including children, that they're a disease on the face of the planet instead of a productive blessing to humanity.

Some people feel equally offended by the socially-conservative Fox News, also carried by TopTV as a basic part of all its packages.

These channels do not require parental controls, which is the least one would expect for fare that offends people so.

However, despite the gravity of my disapproval and the righteousness of my opinions, I wouldn't dream of calling upon the broadcast regulator to refuse TopTV a licence for these or any other channels. Yet that is exactly what a motley collection of religious busybodies, along with elements on the left like Cosatu, are doing about a proposed bouquet of adult entertainment for TopTV, an upstart satellite TV operator licensed in 2008.

(The regulator has as usual delayed a decision on the matter, in breach of its own regulations, and had to wheedle an interdict out of the courts to stop TopTV from going ahead, perfectly legally, without the official permission that had to be granted or withheld by November last year.)

Predictably, the usual tired arguments against pornography are being trotted out. The most common is that exposure to depictions of sex will turn us all into depraved monsters. This, from the same lot who gleefully watch “action movies” glorifying murder, theft, and war.

If porn turns us into pedophiles and rapists, and its absence keeps sinners on the straight and narrow, someone might want to tell the Catholic Church to ban pornography... Oh, wait. It already does. So why have its priests become the canonical stereotype for predatory child-buggerers?

Meanwhile, several studies indicate that the very opposite is true. Anthony d'Amato, of the Northwestern Law School in Chicago, found that the incidence of rape in the United States has declined by 85% between 1973 and 2003, the very period when pornography emerged from the furtive shadows of “Deep Throat” to bask in today's ubiquity.

d'Amato told Raw Magazine: “Critics argue that exposure to depictions of violence causes violent behavior. They say that rape is just a subcategory of this principle. They couldn't be more mistaken. Exposure to violent movies, TV programs, or video games has NOT produced more social violence. It has produced the opposite. The amount of social violence per capita in the year 1900 when street gangs attacked pedestrians and murders were common far exceeds the incidence of violence today. Sure, there is violent behavior, but when it happens it makes headlines. Back then it happened so often that it wasn't newsworthy.

Broken down by US state, he finds that the four states with lowest internet access (and therefore, lowest access to cheap or free pornography) showed an increase of 53% in reported rape cases. Conversely, the four states with highest internet access showed a decline of 27%.

Another paper, by Todd Kendall of the John E. Walker (sic) Department of Economics at Clemson University, offers half a dozen avenues of evidence for the claim that cheaper access to pornography reduces rape. In economic terms, he finds that pornography and rape appear to be substitutes.

True, Kendall admits that there are inherent limitations in the data, such as assuming that rape reporting is a reliable proxy for rape incidence. True, as d'Amato points out in his paper, the trends of increasing access to pornography and decreasing reported rapes may be mere correlation. True, sexual violence may have more in common with violence than with sex, being about power, not lust. This Freakonomics piece has a link to a good critique of Kendall's paper.

However, those who claim the opposite are on even shakier logical ground.

By analogy, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose not that rich food makes you fat, but that fat people are simply inclined to eat more. The acclaimed mockumentary “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock, for example, blames McDonalds for the obesity of its customers. It was cleverly answered on more than one occasion, by films such as Soso Whaley's “Me and Mickey D's” and Chazz Weaver's “Downsize Me”. Both demonstrated that a McDonalds diet could just as easily lead to weight loss, not gain. It turns out it wasn't McDonalds that made people fat, but eating 5,000 calories of anything a day without proper exercise.

If it is no surprise to find that many fat people eat a lot, would it be odd to find that violent people are inclined to enjoy violent films or games, as was alleged about the Columbine school shooters? Would it be surprising that rapists may be inclined to enjoy pornography?

That this appears to be true in a few highly dubious studies conducted by ideologically-picked commissions – such as the Meese Commission appointed by Ronald Reagan – which usually just examine the entertainment choices of known rapists or self-selected “victims of pornography”, says nothing about those of us who are not rapists.

And if it is true that rape is about power, not lust, then surely the same arguments would go for violence in films and games, which d'Amato points out is likewise inversely correlated with violence in society?

The broader data used by d'Amato and Kendall might not be the final word proving conclusively that pornography reduces rape, but they do make a convincing case that there is no evidence for the opposing claim of the moralists: that pornography causes rape or other social ills. On the contrary, easier accessibility to fantasy outlets seem to reduce the frustrations that lead some people to act out their anti-social urges, while doing no harm at all to the vast majority of us who don't share such sociopathic frustrations.

The other classic standby for the crusaders of repression is “think of the poor wittle children”. Pearl Kupe, for example, speaks for a bunch of busybodies styling themselves the Christian Action Network. I think of such groups as Monty Python's famous gangs of anti-social grannies, viciously preaching at perfectly decent citizens.

“Putting in pin-blocking functions presents very little challenge to the increasingly techno-savvy generation, and I know this being a mother,” she told the Times.

Perhaps it would help if she could be trusted not to tell her kids the access code for adult channels. If I were Ms Kupe, I wouldn't admit to being such a negligent or permissive mother in a national newspaper, lest the Child Protection Unit invade my home and take my kids away.

You see, moralistic nanny-staters do that sort of thing, and before you know it, we'll be like Norway, whose government allegedly separates children from their parents on the most flimsy (and frankly, racist) grounds imaginable. Eating with your hands, oh, the barbaric outrage!

Ms Kupe's “techno-savvy” children (she says it like it's a bad thing) will probably be aware that they can just turn on e-TV for all the soft-porn shlock they could want. Her children will no doubt know that they can go to Google, click “safesearch off” and find a vast trove of pornography, from the dull and mundane to the sick, twisted and bizarre. The button that declares “I am 18 or over” is hardly a challenging hurdle.

So how on earth will it make a difference if a satellite pay-TV channel adds a few porn channels? Ironically, it may not even make much of a difference to their bottom line, because pornography is so easy to find for free elsewhere.

Besides, banning stuff simply does not work. Kids in my day, despite their parents' vigilance, easily got to see blue movies on VHS tape, simply by asking a friend whose parents were less strict, or making the acquitance of a bent video store clerk or corner café owner. That all pornography was strictly illegal was no bar to “techno-savvy” children then. Why would it be an obstacle today?

Religious moralising has no place in a free country. You're free to practice your religion, and free to choose not to subscribe to TopTV. But leave others out of it. Neither meddling busybodies nor the state has any right to dicate moral values to you, or to us.

Cosatu is in the vanguard of the anti-porn lobby this time. It claims: “Such programmes will contribute to a lowering of moral standards in the country and further erode the revolutionary morality of our struggle movement.”

Rubbish. The revolutionary morality of the struggle movement was about freedom from oppression. Some of us remember when organisations like Cosatu were at the receiving end of the heavy hand of the state. It is deeply ironic that such an organisation on the left would now advocate repressive measures against freedom of speech that would warm the hearts of the moralising ooms and tannies of the National Party and the NG Kerk.

It is worth remembering that repressive societies that dictate moral values to their citizens – such as many conservative religious countries of the present and past – are also infamous for the patriarchal oppression of women. Cosatu is on the wrong philosophical side of this argument.

It is free to disinvest from TopTV (the union federation owns an indirect share), but imposing its preferred social values on others is an unconscionable attack on our liberty.

As always when a matter involves freedom of speech, conscience and thought, this case recalls two justly famous quotations.

The first is attributed to a beacon of the Enlightenment, Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The second is a poem by a Christian, pastor Martin Niemöller about the creeping dangers of totalitarianism. Communists and trade unionists alike might want to take note:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The broadcast regulator, Icasa, is set to rule on 31 January whether or not to issue TopTV with a license to carry adult channels. If you really are religious, pray that it does so. Then cancel your subscription. You don't have one? Thought not. Then mind your own business.

PS. I wish to express my thanks to a reader, a survivor of rape and family violence, for asking me to write this column. She proposed the gist of some of the arguments, and helped with the research. For reasons of privacy, she wishes to remain anonymous. She has my admiration and respect. DM

  • Ivo Vegter
IvoVegterBW

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He approaches issues from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He grew up in the deep south of Johannesburg, and learnt his politics reading the Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad at Wits University during the early years of the country's transition to democracy. He recently left the city for the lower cost of living of Knysna, where he continues to write about everything under the sun. He is always right.

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