Posted at 23:23 on 6 Jan 2012 by Pandora Blake
For the past few days I've been watching the development of #ObscenityTrial, a landmark case in which Michael Peacock (AKA Sleazy Michael) was tried for distributing "obscene" DVDs showing gay fisting, watersports, CP and BDSM. Today the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty on all counts. It's been a fascinating case, particularly the live tweets from the courtroom by @ObscenityLawyer, @LexingtonDymock and @NichiHodgson.
Plus there's been all those opportunities for fisting puns. I mean, without first hand experience of the acts depicted it was all quite a lot to take in, so we should give the jury a hand for knuckling down and returning a sensible judgement.
If you've not been following, here's a quick roundup to bring you up to date.
The Obscene Publications Act 1959 features the contentious and ambiguous deprave and corrupt test, whereby an article (for example a DVD) is obscene if it tends to deprave and corrupt the reader, viewer or listener.
ObscenityLawyer: Obscenity Trial of the Decade
Greek references take us to the world of staged performances whereby depictions of extreme emotion were considered unseemly and therefore done off-stage (hence ob skene). There's a lovely article here on the pleasures of staged violence. The idea of the obscene being that which is unseen or unknown first hand lends another interesting slant to everything going on in the courtroom. The audience of judiciary and jurors are not kinky, to them, this is another country, and consequently they are having an entire lexicon of BDSM explained to them. That's a lot to take in, as it were.
Post-Modern Sleaze: The law is an ass
Consider this scenario for a few moments:
Eight fit young men, all 18 years of age. A venue with seats for spectators.
The young men engage in a physical activity in pairs, they are stripped almost naked save for a pair of trunks and a singlet. There is sweat, blood and tears. Some of the young men are hurt and one is permanently scarred.
Would you watch this? Participate?
I describe a boxing tournament held in 1973.
The Blog of Fred: Let's talk obscene!
But the notions that led to this trial even happening are part of a line of thinking that is all too pervasive when it comes to sex. The sexualisation debate for example is entirely built on the erroneous assumption that if suggestive material wasn't available, young people would never become curious about sex. The idea that sex (and especially sex where commerce is involved) is unique, and uniquely corrupting, is an unfortunate leitmotif in public discourse. [...]
The history of pornography is littered with such divides between who is corruptible and who is not. Private galleries of Pompeiian icons of Priapus and his giant penis were once fine for men of a certain class, but not suitable to be seen by the general adult public.
The Sex Myth: Obscenity Trial ends
Obscenity law posits that boundaries of decency must be drawn somewhere. Obscenity is culturally relative. It is about moral judgment. It has to be in order to protect the moral fibre of the society it is serving. It just so happens that this frequently means castigating sexual subcultures by labelling their activities as debased, often with little attempt to understand practices which are outside the average person's experience. [...]
In its bid to establish moral standards, Obscenity law robs us of agency. And it tells us that we are depraved merely because we have thoughts about the acts designated as depraved; thoughts other than revulsion.
Does obscenity law even have any place in 21st century English law then? Should it perhaps not be abolished, as blasphemy law was in 2008, and treated as a similar cultural and legal anachronism? Surely yes.
Nichi Hodgson: It's time to abolish the obscenity law
The OPA [Obscene Publications Act] has become an anachronism in the internet age. While previous cases speaks in terms of pornography being covertly accessed by men in "rugby clubs" and at stag parties; now it is readily available to people of all genders, orientations and social classes. Hence this jury's verdict - in the first contested obscenity trial in the digital age - which seems to suggest "normal" members of the public accept that consensual adult pornography is an unremarkable facet of daily life.
Myles Jackman: Obscenity trial: the law is not suitable for a digital age
However, opponents of censorship need to be very cautious indeed: what comes next is likely to be a thoroughgoing review of obscenity and, in the current climate, my expectation is that that will see a widening and toughening of existing restrictive laws such as the Criminal Justice Act (2008) more colloquially known as the extreme porn law.
Jane Fae: News Feed: An end to Obscenity Law?