Tag Archives: the Drum

Class, gambling & pornography

6 Jun


Yesterday, author and playwright Van Badham wrote this piece in The Guardian titled “The moral case for gambling,” in which she considers the role class plays in the current campaign to curtail gambling opportunities through legislation. Van Badham writes:

Given the popularity of gambling in this country, I wonder if the public shaming of Australian gamblers has more to do with bourgeois loathing of working-class habits than any genuine moral crusade for public good. It must be very confusing for those who base their social self-esteem on the accumulation of money to witness a pastime that involves the happy sacrifice of it.

I do recommend reading the piece. It’s caused some controversy, and raises points worth considering.

In 2011 I wrote this piece for The Drum, titled “Pornography, the Internet and class”. I’m republishing it here in full, because it seems to me many of the questions I pose are compatible with the current prevailing attitude to gambling. I’m not suggesting the two are interchangeable, however I agree with Van Badham that class does indeed play a significant role in determining prevalent attitudes, and this is a factor we probably need to be aware of when considering legislation.

Pornography, the Internet and class. The Drum, September 8 2011

It seems reasonable when faced with strident action against social mores to require those opposing them to put forward their preferred alternative.

In the case of anti-pornography activists, it’s apparently impossible to persuade them to offer a framework of how they think sexuality ought to be expressed. Like Opposition Leader Tony Abbott they just say no, without proffering any other policies. 

Viewed in the best light, anti-porn activism is a cri de coeur for the protection of women who some activists believe are exploited and degraded by the very existence of pornography; for the protection of children who may access internet content they are emotionally ill-equipped to process, and for the prevention of possible individual psycho-sexual harm that might interpolate itself into the fabric of society. 

At its worst anti-porn activism is an attempt to control and shape the culture to fit particular religious, ideological and/or moral agendas. The moral entrepreneurs who are at the vanguard of the anti-porn movement are overwhelmingly middle class, and it is from a middle class platform that they launch campaigns that express the horror, disgust and outrage evoked in them by pornography, as well as what they believe to be its ruinous effects on sexual relations. 

All pornography is positioned by activists as deviant, regardless of the content. It’s extremely difficult to ascertain just what their range of “normal” sexuality includes. One activist, Professor Clive Hamilton, refuses to use the word “vagina” when attempting to describe close-ups of “well, I don’t know what” in early editions of Playboy, for example. Many would find this male squeamishness towards female genitalia offensive. Are we to regress to such euphemisms as “down there?” 

Those who produce, create and consume pornography are perceived as deviants who must be rescued, punished when appropriate, and hopefully redeemed to participate in non-pornographic sex. Global eradication of anything other than “normal” is the goal, without ever stating just what that “normal” might be. 

Accounts written by activists of what they have seen in their forays into the netherworld of porn are like dispatches from Dante’s second circle of Hell:

The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.

Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn. 

In this account of internet porn by academic Dr Abigail Bray the porn world is entirely comprised of victims. Young girls, women, grandmothers, feminised men, and animals are subjected to horrific violence, and all of it done to them by men.

I haven’t viewed any of these sites. Taking Dr Bray’s descriptions at face value and imagining myself part of such a world feels unspeakably awful, but that’s my personal reaction, not a universal absolute. Pornography is an expression of the vast and sometimes very frightening range of human sexuality, whether I like it or not.

It isn’t made clear if the victims (other than children and animals) have been forced to participate in these acts, but it is an assumption with which the reader initially co-operates. The description asserts “countless sites” depicting such pornography, so there must be correspondingly “countless” numbers of adult human beings engaging in its production, either by choice or under severe duress.

Who are these human beings and how did they arrive in the Second Circle? As yet there’s no comprehensive answer to those questions. Women who work in hardcore porn are, unsurprisingly, resistant to inquiries by outsiders.

Women who have consented to interviews disassociate themselves from the kind of porn Dr Bray describes. They also express considerable aggravation with anti-porn activists, who they feel are insulting and patronising. They accuse anti-porn activists of making life more difficult for them by portraying them as psychologically sick, morally bad, victimised, and in need of rescue. In so doing, the women claim, activists are in fact supporting porn producers in their opinion of the women they hire as disturbed, and highly exploitable. They also feel unfairly lumped in with women who endure more extreme hardcore violations. In the pecking order of the porn world, some women are proud of the choices they make and resentful of those who see them as part of a homogenous victimised mass.

Activists put forward hypotheticals in an effort to explain why women participate in violent and degrading porn. For example, they claim they are frequently women who were sexually abused as children. They are women who have developed high levels of tolerance for abuse, and have “abnormal” attitudes that permit them to accept degradation and violence others would find abhorrent. They are women who can’t or believe they can’t obtain employment in any other field. They are poor women, uneducated women, ignorant women. They are women who have sustained such damage that the question of choice doesn’t even arise: they don’t know that they are suffering because they have lost or never had the ability to recognise abuse.

There is little research available to confirm or deny these assumptions. The hypotheticals originate from middle-class sexual morality and values, and/or religious beliefs about women and sexuality. There is often little attention paid to the social and political contexts in which the alleged early life abuses take place, or the economic systems that cause female poverty. This lack of analysis could lead to accusations of attempting to treat the symptoms while ignoring the cause, always an exercise in futility.

Assumptions about women who perform in porn need to be investigated through empirical research before they can be evaluated, rather than accepting classist, moralistic and religious prejudices as a basis for public policy. As things stand, a deviant underclass is constructed by anti-porn activists, against which the moral values of middle classes voices raised in protestations of “isn’t it awful” and “what about our children” can be reassuringly measured. This is not helpful.

Very little hardcore porn is currently produced in Australia. There is not much home-grown activists can do to rescue women in sovereign nations that do produce it, and many of those countries already have legislation against some if not all the violence that is acted out.

However, activists are concerned that hardcore porn is easily accessed on the internet and is inserting itself into everyday Australian life. It’s claimed that a degradation of sexual values inevitably occurs, particularly amongst young people, many of whom are allegedly taking their sexual education from sites such as those described by Dr Bray, and enacting loveless, violent and genital-focused sex that uses women as objects for male gratification, and not as equal participants in a mutually satisfying act.

Anti-porn activist and academic Gail Dines claims that 11-year-old boys are viewing violent porn that “deforms their minds,” though she offers no research to substantiate this claim. If 11-year-old boys are accessing hardcore internet porn, the responsibility for that must rest with their parents, who also bear the responsibility for offering their children intelligent sex education. Presumably middle-class parents are considered more likely to do this, so are Dines and her followers referring to lower status families who apparently can’t be trusted to do the right thing? Where do Dines’ porn-consuming 11-year-olds come from? She doesn’t reveal the demographic.

Many activists such as Clive Hamilton see the problems presented by the internet as a matter for the state. They want internet censorship. In other words, the state must assume the role of disseminator of middle-class religious and ideological sexual values, by imposing a ban on anything that class considers deviant and polluting. The activists apparently do not trust parents, or at least parents of a lower socio-economic class to monitor their children’s internet adventures, for example with software that will filter content on the home computer. They argue that this responsibility belongs with government, and they seem to be entirely oblivious to the dangers of giving any government control over what its citizens may and may not view in the privacy of their own homes.

An Australian internet filter will do nothing to assist women who are unwillingly enslaved by pornography producers. It quite likely will exclude innocent sites, or be easily bypassed. The proposed list of banned sites is itself banned from public scrutiny, and that restriction alone should give us serious cause for alarm. As the link also reveals, there are already strict if somewhat mysterious classification laws in place in Australia.

But activists need to justify their existence, to show effectiveness, and to win respect from their peers. In this situation, the only possible measure of their “success” will be an internet filter. Their message is: you can have a sexual life like ours if you follow our sexual rules, (though we have yet to be told what they are) and our Government will help you do that by forbidding you access to anything else. This places the Government’s authority above God’s: at least God apparently permits free will, and the right to go to hell any way one chooses.

As the late Susan Sontag, American author, feminist, literary theorist and political activist, put it in her 1967 essay The Pornographic Imagination:

If so many are teetering on the verge of murder, dehumanisation, sexual deformity and despair, and we were to act on that thought, then censorship much more radical than the indignant foes of pornography ever envisage seems in order. For if that’s the case, not only pornography but all forms of serious art and knowledge – in other words, all forms of truth – are suspect and dangerous.

This is not about Chrissie Swan it is about Lauren Rosewarne’s use of language as a weapon of division

7 Feb

In her piece on ABC’s The Drum this morning, academic Lauren Rosewarne takes to task a group of women who apparently have done their best to metaphorically lynch TV personality Chrissie Swan for smoking while pregnant.

I am not interested in having a smoking while pregnant debate, and Ms Swan’s perceived moral failings. Neither am I a fan of vicious pile-ons. What does interest me is the language Rosewarne uses to describe those criticising Swan, whilst simultaneously calling for us to cease “scrutinising and loathing” other women.

Swan’s critics are, according to Rosewarne, members of the “militant mummy mafia” and “holier than thou über mums.” Rosewarne claims she feels it is “…verboten to question the lactaters, or the baby-carriers, or the gluten-free vegan wholefood earthmothers.”

She continues, in an outstandingly anti feminist and alarmingly patriarchal-like complaint:  “As a feminist, apparently, I should know better than to ever dare take on any woman who has ever Created Life” (note Dr Rosewarne’s use of capitals here).

Well, I’m a woman who has Created Life, lactated and been a baby-carrier and I have no objection at all to being questioned (“taken on?”) about that or anything else. I do, however, wish to note my objection to being cast into the inexplicable abyss of Rosewarne’s only too-evident prejudices against women, all women, who give birth.

I have no idea of Dr Rosewarne’s personal circumstances, and I support the right of any woman to choose to remain child free. Indeed, there have been occasions on which I have cursed myself for refusing that option, and instead, sticking with dogs.

Be that as it may, I do not expect a public feminist to speak of me and women like me with such contempt and disdain, simply because we’ve given birth to future generations. It’s a dark and lonely job, but someone has to do it.

Mothers, like any other human category, do good things and not so good things to ourselves, our offspring and other women. We are not always nice to one anther, and neither should anyone expect us to be. However, for a feminist with a public platform to publish a wholesale denigration of women who are mothers is absolutely unacceptable, particularly when it’s done under the guise of appealing for women to stop judging and criticising one another.

This false division between mothers and women who are not mothers, for whatever reason, is sickening to me. I believe it is destructive to us as individuals, and as a species. There is no great kudos in either state: they are, in the best of circumstances, choices and should be respected as such.

If Dr Rosewarne really feels she cannot “take on any woman who has Created Life” she  is seriously restricting her life experience, and that, I respectfully suggest, is a problem for her rather than the rest of us.

Real or hyperreal: can we still distinguish?

7 Dec

There’s a piece in The Drum this week by Clementine Ford titled “We’re all real women…” My first thought was, is that like in the “real” Julia Gillard, or what? Since the PM adopted that manner of self-description the word “real” appears to have entered a state of extreme fluidity, and I don’t really know what it means anymore.

This is disconcerting because “real” was one of the words in our language that one used to be able to rely on through consensus. The term “unreal”is also clear when used as praise, and we can’t really apply it to describe what women are when they aren’t “real.”

I almost wrote “being real” just then. But I don’t think we should go there this morning. One step at a time.

There are millions of words that are totally unreliable and change meaning at the drop of a hat, often appropriated by politicians to obscure rather than reveal. “Real” was not, until the PM co-opted it, one of those words, at least not in the sense of being used to reassure the populace that the subject of enunciation was now entering a novel phase of authenticity.

No politician in my living memory has ever risked admitting they’d previously been false, before Julia Gillard did it.

What her claim to have suddenly become “real” signified was that prior to her announcement, the PM had apparently been inhabiting a hyperreal universe in which, according to French theorist Jean Baudrillard, human consciousness is tricked into detaching from real emotional engagement, opting instead for simulation and endless reproduction of fundamentally empty experience from which it is compelled to continually move forward.

This is the equivalent of emotionally experiencing theme parks such as Disneyland as real suburban living, and  Las Vegas casinos such as the Paris and the Venetian as real cities. That is, reality has been replaced with signs and symbols, making it ultimately irrelevant. I can testify to this. I haven’t been to Venice, but I have been to the Venetian in Las Vegas. Watching a program on television filmed in Venice I found myself thinking, that’s just like the Venetian in Vegas. This is but a small example of Baudrillard’s theory, and I am appalled at myself.

However, in comparison with the Las Vegas Venetian and Disneyland other places seem very real, and this is the purpose of it all. The hyperreal conceals the fact that the real is no longer real, by making the no-longer-real look real when one leaves the hyperreal and re-enters the “real” world.

Who is responsible for this mind-fucking post modern conspiracy I cannot say, except to suggest that the media and capitalism play a pivotal role.

Then there is the question of what value one attaches to the “real.” In the case of women, if anti pornography campaigner Gail Dines and her ilk are to be believed, the hyperreal destroys all value in the real, and men who inhabit the hyperrealistic world of pornography either attempt to persuade “real” women into imitating the simulacra (now there’s a mind-boggling concept), or they become incapable of interaction with the “real” because she isn’t exciting enough.

In the case of Ford’s article, I think “real” signifies women who feel themselves to be whole without the trappings of fashion, considerations of weight and size, and male approval. Whereas in Ms Gillard’s case I believe she was referring to a political presentation that apparently went from not real to real in a nano second, though given the magazine cover above, I’m inclined to think there was also a physical dimension to her claims.

I myself personally have never seen much difference between what the PM considered not real about herself, and what is apparently the genuine article. This is almost certainly my own fault, an unfortunate inability to detect subtle nuance for which I should be punished.

So, if both the PM and Ms Ford find it necessary to assert the “realness” of women, albeit in differing ways, is this an attempt to reclaim us from a hyperreal existence in which we cannot  distinguish reality from fantasy? A frantic effort to rescue us from the consequences of struggling to maintain our sanity in a world teeming with simulacra?

The news in Jezebel today that Swedish fashion house  H&M have stopped airbrushing human beings and instead have replaced them with computer-generated virtual bodies with “real” female human heads digitally imposed, would suggest this is the case.  Such a move does confirm that as Baudrillard suggested, simulacra work to obliterate the notion that reality is in any way relevant to our understanding of our lives. If Jezebel hadn’t outed them, we  would have assumed we were looking at human beings (albeit enhanced) rather than cyborg hybrids.

The question is, what does all that mean?

Well, absolutely sod all according to Baudrillard, who claims that all meaning is rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Which brings me back to the meaning of “real.” Along with Clementine Ford and the PM I was labouring under the illusion that “real” meant something. It doesn’t. It’s a crock. It’s as mutable as any other word. There is nothing to hold on to, we are drowning in fluidity, and this is not a pipe.

Sarah Palin on Qanda. Hazaras in boats. End live exports of all sentient beings. Now.

31 May

At the beginning of Q&A last night a startled tweet manifested on screen. “Eeeek!” the tweeter wrote. “Is that Sarah Palin?”

Kate Lundy (???)

The tweet referred to Kate Lundy, Parliamentary Secretary for  Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, and I had the same sense of dislocation when I saw her. Having just returned from the US where Palin was pretty much unavoidable if you ever turned on the television, I thought I was still in that country, and hadn’t  endured that fourteen hour flight home after all. A quick self-inflicted slap to the upside of my head brought me back to the present.  It wasn’t Sarah Palin on Q&A but dear God, it was too close for comfort.

I have no idea if Ms Lundy is deliberately cultivating the Palin look, and to some degree, the Palin style. She might want to think about what she’s doing or else like Tony Abbott‘s anti carbon tax rally, she might attract groups she’d rather not be associated with. We all know how shallow the punters can be, and appearance can count for much more than it should.

Over at the Drum yesterday I discovered an excellent piece by Deakin University researcher Vince Scappatura,in which he analyses the mainstream media interpretation of a report commissioned by the Gillard government on the push and pull factors thought to influence the decision of Afghanistan’s Hazara population to attempt to seek asylum in Australia.

The report reveals that dire economic circumstances, ethno-political disturbances, mistreatment and discrimination by the Taliban, killings, kidnappings, arrests and subsequent disappearances, and the complete inability of the government to protect Hazaras in remote villages are all compelling push factors in decisions to flee. The research concludes that these factors are of more significance than any pull factors endemic to Australia.

However. Andrew Probyn and Nick Butterfly in the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald, claimed the report showed that the main reason Hazaras flee in boats to Australia is for a better life. Their actions are a livelihood strategy, they aren’t fleeing bullets, says Andrew Bolt. It’s a lifestyle choice, dammit!

No mention at all of the multitude of factors in play, including persecution and death, that provoke Hazara people to sell up everything, pay people smugglers, and embark on a journey that 80% of them fear they may not survive, but even so, it’s a better bet than staying where they are. They are also aware that they might spend years in vile detention centres being sent mad with grief and uncertainty. Even this, they consider, is better than staying where they are.

Now the Gillard government intends to export Hazaras to Malaysian refugee camps, where they will be further mistreated, badly fed and physically abused. Mother of God, what kind of people are we?

by Jeff Cavins

Over at On Line Opinion today you’ll find an article by me on pornography, the media and Gail Dines. Dines received wide coverage during her anti pornography campaign here , especially from the ABC. However, there has been comparatively little researched response  published on the ABC to the claims Dines makes about the effects of porn, it’s availability, and the media’s responsibility for the ruination of the sexual lives of men. I have no idea why this is so. Thank you OLO for picking up the slack and widening a very necessary debate.

Finally , I cannot bring myself to speak much of the hideous treatment of cattle exported live to Indonesia, as revealed on Four Corners last night. There is no need for a lengthy inquiry into this trade, an inquiry that will only  delay its termination, and prolong the unspeakable suffering of these animals. Alternatives must be found and found immediately.

This is just one more example of a government that lacks any real connection with human beings and other species, not to mention the planet, who are in dire and extreme situations. A government that lacks imagination, and is bereft of decency, morality and ethics. Unfortunately, the opposition is no better.

Peddling fiction as fact: whose nightmare is it really?

5 Mar

Don't tell me I'm gonna be a monster, lady.


“Expect to hear boys singing along to it soon. This is the message they are imbibing: Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption.”

This is an extract from Melinda Tankard Reist’s Drum article on the controversial KanYe West 30 second video clip.

I’m not going to discuss the clip, that’s been done to death, except to say I don’t agree that is the message of the clip. And this is part of the point – we don’t all see through the same lens, so it becomes very important to know just what lens public opinion makers are looking through, and that ought to be disclosed.

Reist expresses great fear that all boys will like the song, and all boys will sing along to it. She then claims that as a consequence of this, all boys will “imbibe” the perception of all women as “slaves and bitches,” all boys will think that all men “are brutal and dominant, have no empathy for women, and enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment.” All boys will think that all female bodies are to be devoured like meat. And so on.

This is the message Reist imagines all boys are imbibing.

But this message comes entirely from Reist’s own mind.

In psychological terms, the messages she claims all boys are imbibing are entirely Reist’s projections.

She hasn’t consulted with KanYe West about what his vision and intentions are. She hasn’t done any  research to ascertain other interpretations of the clip, or if she has, she’s not talking about it in this article. She has no evidence at all of how boys respond to the clip, or if she has she’s keeping to herself.

She’s made it all up.

In other words she hasn’t taken a reality check. She’s constructed a fictional narrative founded on personal fears that she then peddles across the media as truth.

The logical conclusion of Reist’s made up truth: all boys and all men are monsters or are in the process of becoming monsters.

Truth claims such as these need to be taken out of the sphere of personal projections and imaginings, and backed up with evidence.

If there is no evidence they should not be made because they are dehumanizing claims, and in this case, they are dehumanizing all boys and all men.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

Reist does not allow that boys have agency. She portrays them as passive and indiscriminate receptors that can only be acted upon. (Just as she portrays “sexified” women.)

She does not allow that boys experience any other influences, such as parent, schools, extended family, ethical and moral systems.

Reist’s perception of boys and men as revealed in her imaginings is more terrifying than KanYe West’s video clip could ever be, because in her imagination, they are robotic, without human feeling, and murderous.

If she expressed these same perceptions and imaginings about others, say Muslims, a group currently subjected to discrimination and irrational public fear, she wouldn’t be published.

If she claimed that Muslims were “imbibing” information that would inevitably lead to them engaging in necrophilia and all the rest of her floridly imagined consequences there’d be an uproar. If she implied that Muslims have no agency and are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the most vile knowledge she can imagine, that they might then act upon, would the ABC publish that?

But she can do this with impunity to all men and boys?

Hell, imagine if some man made all that conjecture about women?

%d bloggers like this: