opinion

(Self) Censorship

Tom Hymes
Just because pornography is the first stop on the censorship express doesn't mean the industry should be jumping aboard of its own free will, or worse, handing over members of its own community for forced transport to gulags of silence. But that is exactly what we are starting to hear from some quarters, and it is very unsettling to those who believe that free speech is meaningless if dispensed with the second the going gets rough.

The voices call for an end to support for people and content deemed unacceptable by … well, exactly who is left unclear. But they want to draw some sort of line in the sand, the goal of which is apparently to send a message of responsibility to the world at large that not everyone in adult is bad, and the industry will prove it by "self-censoring" the extreme stuff. In other words, there is no need to muzzle us; we will muzzle ourselves.

How such a process would work is left unclear, but .XXX has been whispered as one solution that might prevent official intervention, even though the government has hardly agreed to stay its regulatory hand. Others propose an outright industry ban on certain content, as well as a virtual blacklist of producers who refuse to comply, but there has as yet no coherent plan for instituting such a program.

The problem is, there is no unified industry, just the globalization of porn as a fact of life. Combined with the ability for anyone to make and distribute adult content, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which political leaders and established adult companies share a concern about who will ultimately control sexual speech, albeit for different reasons. The politicos will worry about public consequences (i.e. re-election), while company owners will focus on market share; left unchecked, both could share more than just concern and end up conspiring to set limitations upon expression that serve their own ends while leaving the less powerful disenfranchised and vulnerable.

This sort of marriage of convenience is all but inevitable, at least as far as intention and planning are concerned. Fear and loathing in Pornland — fueled by obscenity indictments, dramatic pronouncements of addiction by rightwing zealots and increasingly punitive bills introduced by federal legislators of both parties — is happening at such a furious pace that rational pleas for calm are met with stony silence. In such an atmosphere, one can easily understand our enemies trying to create a firestorm of outrage over the decline of civilization as a result of the availability of pornography, but where is the incentive for the industry to join the chorus, or hop on the train?

In fact, there is no reason other than greed for anyone in adult to betray the sanctity of the First Amendment. And those who damn certain people for making content they don't like need to realize that it is more than principle that obliges us to defend even the most disgusting content, no matter how unpleasant it may be to do so.

So let's agree to self-censor — which is the editing of oneself — all we want, but leave the censorship to our enemies. No need to incite a civil war when we are already at war.

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