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fighting for freedom

Posted at 15:30 on 16 Jul 2008 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Extreme porn legislation, Gender politics, in the news, making a scene, Politics, rant, Sex worker rights

A few months ago, when the Max Mosley case first went to press, I (along with a handful of other bloggers) received a polite request from Lucy McLean, owner of Northern Spanking, asking us to please not blog about the case. The "hookers" mentioned in the original News of the World piece were spanking professionals she knew personally, and if their identities were revealed they were at risk of losing their jobs - or even guardianship of their children. Lucy hoped that without the viral publicity of the internet, the case would die down with no further harm done.

Firstly, this should give you some idea of quite how protective, loyal, caring a person Lucy is, and quite how much the scene depends on people like her. Secondly, this is why I haven't written about the case before. This week, however, stories of how Max Mosley is sueing the News of the World have flooded in, and several spanko bloggers have picked up the thread. Amy Hunter kicked it off with a sharply worded satire of the pathetic desperation of the News of the World to find something - anything - even vaguely Nazi-related in the private play party they spied on, to add extra spice to their story. Not that doing Nazi scenes are illegal, of course - their justification for their shocking invasion of privacy is that the caning apparently drew blood, which is illegal. But Nazi roleplay is a convenient hot button. People get very upset by anything that looks even slightly like exploitation of the Holocaust for personal ends.

This is a very complex, messy moral grey area and I'm not sure I feel comfortable making definitive statements about it. In general, while there are some fantasies which make me very uncomfortable, I don't feel that I or anyone else is in a position to label them "immoral" or otherwise; it's up to the individual. I also feel that while certain scenes, particularly ones set in the context of actual current or historical oppression, are likely to be offensive and the individual should be sensitive to that, legislating private sexual behaviour is never the answer. I'm not saying all sex acts ever are necessarily okay; I'm saying that proscriptive legislation and censorship are definitely the greater evil. As far as I'm concerned, whether or not it's acceptable to eroticise historical suffering is pretty much up to the conscience of the individual, and as long as it stays private there's no harm done.

The reason this scene didn't stay private is the fault of neither Max Mosley, nor the spanking professionals who were involved in the roleplay. The reason the scene didn't stay private is that the News of the World paid someone to sneak a camera in; and because the News of the World then wrote sensationalistic, screechingly judgmental articles about someone's private sex life as if this "news" was worthy of public attention; and because the News of the World have continued to exploit everyone they possibly can in order to sell as many papers as possible. Forgive me for being cynical about their actual interest in the sociopolitical ethics of using war imagery for entertainment purposes. In slapping the word "Nazi" over every single story that's gone to press, regardless of the complete lack of evidence of Nazi or Holocaust imagery in the actual video, the News of the World are the ones who have exploited the historical suffering of Holocaust victims for their own ends. Not Max Mosley.

I'd prefer to avoid an argument about whether it would have been immoral if Mosley had been playing a Nazi scene; the question seems irrelevant, because the fact is that he wasn't. The video and the testimony of those involved are quite clear on this. That element was completely invented by the News of the World to make the story more shocking. Any offense caused to Jewish groups or anyone else is, in my opinion, entirely the responsibility of the News of the World. The plain fact of it is that a private spanking party really isn't news unless you sprinkle it with a generous helping of fiction.

In Mosley's case, his father's political involvement with the British fascist party provided an easy target, and the German language of the roleplay not only served as "evidence", but conveniently prevented the majority of the British public from understanding what had actually taken place. Because of course any film or TV scene featuring generic military-looking outfits and German language must be Nazi. And because eroticising something automatically makes it more immoral. Never mind that people watch prisoner of war and torture scenes in films all the time! If they're only enjoying it in their hearts, minds and souls, and not in their genitals, of course it's perfectly edifying.

(Is it worth my pointing out at this point that, if Mosley ever did have Nazi fantasies, it's quite possibly the healthiest way for him to deal with the family legacy he grew up with? Is it also worth pointing out that identifying with the victim - as Mosley clearly was, playing a sub role in a substantial part of the scene - is perceived as sympathetic and human most of the time, and is only viewed as exploitative or objectifying when it involves sex? Could this, in fact, be less about the ethics of exploitation and more about the destructive prudery, and fear of healthy sexuality, which permeates our culture?)

In response to Amy's article, Niki Flynn posted an equally righteous article about the devastating effect this "scandal" has had on completely innocent people within the scene. People, in fact, like Lucy McLean and her husband Paul Kennedy. Despite not being involved in the scene at all, they were dragged into the shit-storm because of a misunderstanding that the informant was one of the models listed at Northern Spanking. The resulting crossfire has, as Lucy describes in detail in a comment further down the thread, cost Paul his job and the couple a substantial portion of their stability and income, not to mention months of stress and hassle.

Niki, noble soul that she is, implored the spanko community to show their support to Lucy and Paul by subscribing to Northern Spanking for one month. If any of you haven't yet, please let me persuade you to do so. Just as Lucy and Paul are exactly the kind of thoughtful, decent people who are a credit to the scene, so their site is pretty much exactly the opposite of the accusations the gutter press are making. The site is a labour of love, with profits covering costs but not generating any income for the owners. Every model hired by the site is kinky, genuine, and making spanking films because she loves it - and the site lets the personalities of the girls shine through, rather than using their images anonymously, or for any purpose the model herself wouldn't enjoy. The films themselves are a delightful mixture of sensual and edgy, all of them heartfelt and good-humoured. The site also has the highest proportion of comedy of any spanking site I've seen online, including regular film out-takes and a long-standing tradition of improvised wit and slapstick, with brilliant one-liners appearing even in the more serious films. This good humour is a testament to the affirming, frank positivity of the owners. Our kink is healthy, it's fun, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, and Northern Spanking communicates that message more effectively than any other site I know. If you can spare $25 this month, spend it on supporting the people that make this scene worth being in. (And if you still aren't convinced, head over to The Spanking Spot for a glowing review and some tantalising preview images.)

I'm not the first blogger to pick up on this - Prefectdt, Bonnie and Natty have all added their voices to the cause in the last couple of days. And every post so far has linked to new newspaper articles on Max Mosley's stand as a "freedom fighter". I've been surprised and pleased by the positive and neutral tone of these articles, which offer a stark contrast to the moralising, invasive tone of the News of the World. A First Post opinion piece offered a defence of Mosley's character and describes the News of the World's recent publications as "one of the biggest editorial blunders in British popular journalism in recent years." A Guardian article questioned whether the invasions of privacy perpetrated by the News of the World is in the public interest at all - surely there are countless news items more worthy of the News of the World's time and money. The Evening Standard added its support to Mosley's stance, while BBC Magazine published a balanced, if basic, report describing how common BDSM practices are in the UK, and arguing that for the most part they are completely harmless. We all know this already, of course, but it's the first time I've seen it said in as many words by the BBC. And an opinion piece in the Independent put it even more forcefully: "Sexual dreams alone, if we believe the barrister representing the News of the World, can be 'a form of corruption of the personality' leading to 'true depravity'. When thought is being policed by anyone, let alone tabloid journalists we are in trouble."

More and more papers are adding their voices to the consensus that spanking play is normal, common, and harmless. More articles on spanking have been posted in the last week than ever before. The Daily Record recently ran an advice column on how to seek out introducing healthy spanking play, and yesterday's Metro ran a story on Peter Jones, author of Confessions of a London Spank Daddy, which surely was only published because of the kink-curious climate provoked by the Mosley case, for all that it studiously avoids mentioning it. Spanking has never been so fascinating to the UK press.

The Mosley case was hugely depressing to me at the time, not least because I was busy stressing about the new violent porn legislation which was passed a few weeks ago, and which groups all over the UK fought for years to prevent, criminalising possession of images which appear to depict serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals. I didn't write about this legislation, either, because when it was passed I felt so disaffected, so disenfranchised, that I just didn't know what to say. We'd campaigned and protested for months, and they'd passed it anyway.

The actual wording of the legislation is dangerously vague. Spanking and CP material isn't necessarily illegal, but given an unsympathetic judge armed with waffly, imprecise language, it could be. As a result, most of the individuals I know who own spanking porn haven't changed their habits since the law was passed; but the film producers are getting increasingly antsy. Several times this year, ideas I've had for shoots which would have been perfectly fine a few months previously were vetoed by nervous site owners who didn't want to risk it. Any caning on the breasts, for example, was deemed off-limits by one site owner unless it was so light as to be laughable. Face slapping was another no-no, although quite why when faces aren't a part of the body listed in the new legislation, I have no idea.

So the new law hasn't affected me directly, mostly because I haven't let it. Fuck it, I say; I don't think I'm at risk of the police getting a warrant to search my computer, and I refuse to live in fear. If I'm arrested then I'll defend my sexuality in court. But it has indirectly affected me because a lot of people in the industry have made changes to their professional decisions on the basis of the new legislation. As people who make a profit off this material, they feel they have a lot more to lose. I can't help thinking of the response to terrorism in recent years, and the eloquent speeches from people who felt that privacy and personal liberty was more important than public safety at any cost. Doesn't the same apply here?

Since then, I've thought of quite a few things I want to say about the new violent porn legislation, but given the length of this post I'll save most of them for another day. (In the meantime, have a read of my friend Mark's blog, who passionately protested the violent porn legislation since the initial consultation, and says it all far better than I could.) I mention it now because it seems relevant to the Max Mosley case in three ways.

First, Mosley's position of privilege and his strength of character have prompted a victim of tabloid gutter-reporting to defend themselves in a BDSM-related case. This doesn't happen often; the scandal and misinformation, as well as the consequences to the victims of making more of a fuss, normally allow the bullies to win. Not only has Mosley's defence prompted the most widespread, honest discussion of BDSM I've ever seen in the UK press - which has got to be a good thing - but he hopefully will set a precedent, making the tabloids less inclined to go down this route in future, and making it easier for any future victims to fight back.

Secondly, the very real consequences of this case have highlighed in a new and clear way the prejudice and discrimination faced by people of unusual sexual orientation in this country. It's illegal to fire someone for being homosexual - but not illegal to fire them for practicing BDSM. Kinky people have been protesting this discrimination for ages, but this case, and its appalling consequences for people who weren't even involved, makes it impossible to ignore. In a culture which recently made owning certain kinky pictures, even if they're of your own partner, illegal, this publicity is much-needed, and I'm heartened by the positive or neutral stance adopted by most of the press.

Thirdly, if any spanking or CP porn is criminalised under the new legislation, surely canings that draw blood are more at risk than the majority of what we look at? In which case, isn't the Max Mosley video bought by the News of the World illegal under the new law? And if it isn't, surely we as a community can stop fretting, and express our sexualities without fear?

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