tag: Fiction

Jul 2013

A new age of censorship

David Cameron gave a speech today in which he called on British Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement filters on the internet in order to block pornographic content. Certain types of pornography would be banned entirely (obviously those that are already illegal, but also “simulated rape” imagery) while other legal forms of pornography would require a person to explicitly “opt in” with their ISP in order to be able to view it.

Now, this is obviously a sensitive subject (particularly when we’re talking about something like “simulated rape”) and it’s not something I want to spend a huge amount of time on – the blogosphere is full of commentary on the subject and I probably don’t have a great deal to contribute to the debate. However, I do want to add my voice to the calls for extreme caution with regards to this issue.

I’m not going to deal with the moral issues surrounding pornography. They are ably covered, from all sides, by a myriad different writers. However, I would like to request that those who are calling for filters and bans, define their terms. Because nobody seems very willing to do so. A ban on “simulated rape imagery” would obviously cover some deeply depraved stuff. The kind of stuff that would turn the stomachs of most of us.

SRIBut such a ban would also ensure that a whole host of films and TV shows are banned from our screens. Jodie Foster’s powerful Oscar-winning performance in The Accused would clearly never be permitted in Cameron’s Britain. If you claim the film does not contain “simulated rape imagery” then you have not seen it. The same is true of Platoon, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, The Outlaw Josey Wales and dozens of other excellent films (plus probably thousands of films that are less excellent but I’d argue are a long way from being worthy of a ban).

Hell, even Akira Kurosawa’s acknowledged masterpiece, Rashômon, while showing very little of the crime that forms the heart of the film, nonetheless contains what can only be described as “simulated rape imagery”. The entire film – as with The Accused – centres on the aftermath and consequences of a rape. Are we suggesting the subject is entirely off limits? Or that it can only be obliquely referred to as an off-screen event?

On the (very few) occasions that defenders of the proposed ban have tried to define exactly what it is they are banning, they fall back on the “intent” of the film or scene. If the simulated rape is intended to titillate or arouse a viewer, then it should be banned. Which means these people are willing to allow – nay demanding – the government be given the power to ban films based on their interpretation of the film-makers intent. If that’s not close to the definition of a slippery slope, then I don’t know what is.

I know, I know, there will be clear cases where a simulated rape scene is obvious pornography. But how do you write that into law in such a way as to ensure that the government cannot decide to use that same law to ban The Sopranos, Twin Peaks and Breaking Bad from our screens? And as someone has already pointed out on Twitter, David Cameron himself owns the TV series ‘24‘ on DVD. Yep, you guessed it, “simulated rape imagery”. Nobody is arguing that there aren’t deplorable things out there; things I don’t want to see and I suspect the vast majority of those reading this don’t want to see either. But I want to be able to draw that line for myself. I certainly don’t want David Cameron or Enda Kenny or any politician drawing it for me.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Aug 2007

A Knew Start

He’d seen the signs and portents. So he went to The Fat Lady for interpretation. Feeling faintly sceptical — despite her exemplary track record — he watched as she swirled the last of his tea around the cup before a practiced flick of her wrist expelled the remaining liquid onto the stained wooden floor leaving a kaleidoscope of dark tea-leaf at the bottom.

Her eyes narrowed. She glanced at him briefly then went back to studying the pattern. She glanced up again after a good three minutes of almost subaudible hmms, tuts and gasps. This was the only problem with The Fat Lady… her day-job as a forture-teller for pay. All that silly melodrama to impress the punters tended to leak into her real work, so you were never quite sure how many of the hmms, tuts or gasps to take seriously and how many were there to add atmosphere.

She was staring into his eyes with an intensity that only she could muster. “Your hand”. It was an order, and it was in her business, not her theatre, voice. He held out his right hand and she grasped it. Another couple of minutes passed and still she stared into his eyes, syphoning information through them directly from his brain. Finally she looked down at the palm of his hand and studied it.

This time there were no hmms, tuts or gasps. She was all business now, and that worried him a little. As frustrating as it was, the fake-gypsy act gave the whole affair a slightly unreal edge. Without it… well, without it, it was just him and The Fat Lady.

Finally she pulled a pin from somewhere in her burgundy housecoat. With a single deft movement she stabbed it into his thumb and squeezed a tiny droplet of blood into her own cup before draining the tea and releasing his hand. She sat back with a sigh and fished a half-smoked joint from one of the many pockets in that housecoat of hers. She lit it from the candle on the table and took a deep draw. Her eyes closed and she entered whatever trance it was that let her do her thing.

After about ten minutes of silence, her eyes opened. She relit the now cold joint. “So you’ve been dreaming of him?”

He nodded.

“And you found his initials carved on the tree outside your house?”

Again he nodded.

“Of course, they are pretty common initials…”

He shook his head. ‘They were in Cyrillic. And it’s not like I live in Little-Moscow.’

“True. But what with all the recent Eastern European immigrants…”

Again he shook his head. ‘Beneath the initials was the number 209’.

The Fat Lady nodded. “That was the number of his unit when he was in The Service of course. And when you add that to the black dog, the telephone call and the DVDs… well, you have more than just a few omens and portents. You’ve got a full blown prophecy.”

It was his turn to sigh. ‘That’s why I’m here. I need to know what it means… what did you see in the tea-leaves? In my palm? In my eyes?’

The Fat Lady offered him the joint. He thought about it, but realised he wanted to be completely straight when he heard what she had to say. Her eyes widened slightly at his refusal.

“Never thought I’d see the day when you turned down a toke. Right, let me put you out of your misery, ‘though I suspect you already know what I’m about to say…” There was a pause. Not for melodrama, for a toke. The Fat Lady exhaled and went on. “Here’s the thing… he’s coming back. He’ll be here within the month. He’ll arrive on a Saturday evening. He’ll be dressed as he always was. And he’s looking to finish what he started.”

His objection sounded hollow to his own ears. ‘But he’s dead. I know that better than anyone… it was me who had to identify his body for the police. And when the embassy staff questioned me, they had photographs of the autopsy with them.’

“Be that as it may. He’s coming back. I suggest you prepare a welcome. And maybe dig out the old notebooks, he’ll want to go through them.”

He looked faintly dazed. ‘You’re right, I knew you were going to say that. I just didn’t think I’d believe you. You’d better give me a hit on that thing after all’. She passed him the joint.

He smiled. ‘So Potemkin Smith is coming back… that should be fun.’

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Fiction