Against Democracy

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
— Winston Churchill

It’s Election Day in the United States. Watching this election unfold with all the intellect and decorum of a Jerry Springer episode [and not even one of the good ones, about homewrecking lesbian strippers], I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that democracy – as it stands in 21st-century America, largely defined by this once every four years dog-and-pony show – is a failed institution.
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Hitman: Absolution, and The Boy Who Cried “Rape!”

Oh, boy. Here we go again. Another day, another moral guardian pops up to condemn a game. Except, here, we’re not even talking about an actual game – just a trailer for one. I heard about this through a Google News alert, which brought me to this article on Forbes.

The blogosphere has tried the Hitman: Absolution trailer and it has been found guilty. In it, a group of female assassin’s dressed as hyper-sexualized nuns are brutally murdered by the ultra-masculine 47. It’s juvenile, brutal, an affirmation of every problem that video games have with women and an affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture.

I’ve never played Hitman – I saw the movie, which largely sucked, and think I spent a post-Thanksgiving sloth watching our son try to get through a mission.I seem to recall falling asleep, though that may have been as much the turkey overdose  as the game.  But, ooh! “An affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture”! I wanna see! Oh, dammit: I’m on my lunch-break. Better wait till I get home.

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Anders Behring Breivik: Norwegian Would

When word of the two attacks carried out by Anders Behring Breivik came from Oslo on Friday, then on through Saturday, my  first thoughts were, “Another Euro-loony with a gun. Wonder how long it’ll be before they announce he liked KMFDM?” [Apparently the favoured soundtrack for psychos. See also Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who shot eight people in Finland, and originator Columbine killer Eric Harris] But the more that came out about Breivik, the more it seems that he was not a psychopath with a large collection of guns. Or, at least, not just a psychopath with a large collection of guns. Then details of the staggering death toll came out: eight in the Oslo bomb blast, and at least 68 in the mass-shooting at Utøya.

Really, the only thing I could think was: “Well done!”

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Ten Years in the USA

This week marks the tenth anniversary of my permanent arrival in the United States of America. What a long, strange journey it has been: like all of life, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, and moments to remember in both directions. After the jump, you’ll find ten such memories, some personal and others global, to mark my decade as an American citizen…
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The Days of Swine(Flu) and Roses

swinefluThere’s nothing the media likes more than a good pandemic panic. I recall the one that swept Britain back in 1994, about necrotising fasciitis – the ‘flesh-eating bug’ that was going to make the legs of everyone in the United Kingdom fall off. Needless to say, I type this with a count of fully-functioning limbs that does not stop at three, and that’s pretty much the way these panics work. A disease gets its 15 minutes of fame, far out of proportion to the threat it poses to the general population, and then fades back to the obscurity from which it came. See also SARS, which reached Illness of the Month status in early 2003, but worldwide killed under 800 people. To put that number into perspective, that’s rather less than die each year from being struck by lightning. Anyone remember West Nile Virus? Thought not.

And so we turn to the latest candidate: swine flu, which at the start of the week, was being promoted like with all the fervour befitting the viral equivalent of Susan Boyle [who is also viral in her own way, I suppose]. Here in Arizona, we are in a state of near-panic, being on the front-lines, and right next door to the epicenter in Mexico City. Er, ok: so Mexico City is actually over 1,250 miles away from Phoenix, and we are in fact closer to Medicine Hat in Canada. But Mexico is just over the border. And all those illegals who sneak over the fence at night, as well as bringing in crime, anchor babies and leafblowers, are now also infected with something that borders on Ebola? Little wonder the talk-radio attack-dogs on the right-wing are frothing. Witness this quote, from probably the worst of them, Michael Savage, on April 24:

Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico. If we lived in saner times, the borders would be closed immediately… Could our dear friends in the radical Islamic countries have concocted this virus and planted it in Mexico knowing that you, [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, would do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic from Mexico?

Now, even as someone who favours immigration controls [dammit, I went through the proper channels to get my Green Card, so have little tolerance for those who opt to ignore the law], that’s pure bullshit, and is just being used by rabble-rousers like Savage to whip up xenophobia. There are many things for which illegal immigrants can be blamed [the inability to scan FM radio without hearing mariachi music, for one], but swine flu is not one of them. It’s reminiscent of the way, in medieval Europe, Jews were blamed for the Black Death – with the resulting pogroms also conveniently canceling the money owed to them. What brought swine flu to the US was tourism, not immigration: the infected aren’t thinking about starting a new life, they would be quite happy just to hang on to the one they’ve got, thank you very much.

There is, admittedly, a good deal of truth to the idea that immigrants carry diseases, and potentially lethal ones at that. Just ask the Native Americans: a decade after Hernán Cortez arrived in Mexico, some sources estimate that the native population had been reduced, mostly through smallpox, by almost three-quarters, from 25 million to 6.5. Things were little better further North, with smallpox – whether deliberately or unconsciously – a major factor in clearing large tracts of land for colonization. Frankly, in the unlikely event that Jose and Raul are responsible for the ‘flu, it’d hardly register a tick on the Karmic Payback scale. Thus far, Montezuma’s Revenge it ain’t.

swineflu2Yes, technically, swine flu is a pandemic – since that just means an infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region. Basically, in the modern world, just about any infectious disease will qualify, since with modern travel, the chances of any kind of quarantine being successful are slim to note. As a result, what was lurking in Kowloon Harbor on Sunday afternoon can be getting coughed up in your local pub 24 hours later. However, modern technology has also brought us much better weapons with which to fight such diseases: anti-virals such as Tamiflu and, of course, a vaccine can also be developed against the particular strain. That’s where catching this in its early stages is very helpful.

On the other hand, Vice-president Joe Biden…not so much. Here’s his quotes from the Today show on Thursday: “I would tell members of my family – and I have – I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now. It’s not going to Mexico, it’s you’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway… If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, it’s a different thing.” Way to maintain a sense of proportion, Biden – it’s almost enough to make you wish Sarah Palin was the Veep instead. The truth is, “deadly” and “easily transmittable” tend to be mutually exclusive, for good evolutionary reasons. It’s just not in the virus’s interest to kill the host, or do anything that stops them from being mobile and capable of spreading the disease.

Despite the basically trivial nature of the ‘pandemic’ to date, the media has been all over it, because there’s nothing they like more than generating hysteria and fear in the population. Something like, “After the break: it’s coming from Mexico, and it can kill you. We’ll be right back,” keeps people watching, in an increasingly-fragmented media world, where there is more competition for eyeballs than ever before. But, let’s be honest: what kills people in Mexico is not what kills people in the United States. Studies have conclusively shown that, there, it’s spiders, drug cartels and breathing air with the consistency and organic content of chunky salsa. Here, it’s obesity, spree killers and NASCAR accidents. And if you go into an American hospital with the belief you have swine flu, you may well die – but it’s more likely to be medical malpractice that’s to blame, rather than the virus.

Look, folks. I am a card-carrying hypochondriac. Even though I haven’t visited a doctor since graduating college in 1987, save required medicals for mortgage and Green Card purposes, I have at varying times convinced myself I am suffering from: multiple sclerosis, AIDS, diabetes, and three different kinds of cancer (skin, colon and lymph node). And I still don’t find myself in the slightest bit concerned about swine flu. Really. You people…

The Death of Laserdisc

discIt came quietly at the start of the year – not with a bang, followed by weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Just a two-line notice in the Akihabara Times, quoting a press release on the Pioneer website [I presume, anyway – the second link is in Japanese, so I’m going on faith with that one]:

This is a sad day for all LD (Laser Disc) fans… Pioneer is stopping the production of their three latest LD players, the DVL-919, DVK-900 and DVL-K88… For your information, Pioneer sold over 3.6 Million LD players in Japan from 1981 to 2002.

I must confess, my first thought on this was not dissimilar to my first thought on hearing about The Wrestler: “I didn’t know he was still alive.” If asked, I’d probably have said that the last player rolled off the production lines in Japan at least five years ago, probably longer. But no: though the release of software pretty much petered out not long after the new millennium, laserdisc lasted for over three decades, with more than 360 million units sold. Do you think we’ll still be watching DVDs thirty years after their arrival? I sincerely doubt it.

LDs were for the truly hardcore cinephile. Hell, I started buying discs before I even owned a player: I think the first one I got was Cat People, and had to get Lino to dupe it down to tape for me. Even though it was widescreen, this did somewhat negate the point. The 420 lines of resolution they offered may seem weak now, compared to Blu-Ray’s 720, but they kicked the arse of VHS’s 250. However, there was a price to pay for this, and it came in the form of cold, hard cash. Very few laserdiscs were made in Britain, so you almost inevitably had to rely on imports, mostly from the US, but occasionally from Hong Kong or Japan. Those movie fairs held at places like the Electric Ballroom in Camden, were goldmines for these, but some of the shops on Tottenham Court Road had a few, and there were also the Cinema Store, Psychotronic Video and Eastern Heroes, who all had their moments.

These were of extremely dubious legality, since none of the imports had been passed by the BBFC; even if there were no cuts, the higher frame-rate for NTSC made the running-time different, ergo they were uncertificated. Most stores got around this by slapping stickers on them, though I vaguely recall the late, unlamented [due to their horrific over-pricing] Tower Records getting into trouble for adopting this technique. And, like most things illegal, they weren’t cheap: the most I recall paying for a single disk, was 65 quid for a copy of Flying Daggers, though there may have been a Yellow Magic Orchestra LD – from Tower, natch – that was a little higher. If you paid less than twenty pounds for a movie in Great Britain, you were doing really well.

The player will show in this paragraph
A promo film Devo did for laserdiscs

As a result of these cost and availability issues, there were overseas buying trips – most commonly to the USA, but I also recall trips to Paris, and raiding stores such as FNAC. Back in 1998, on the final leg in New York, I spent an entire afternoon in the Virgin Megastore, going through their complete stock. I ended up with so many discs, that I had to take a taxi back to the hotel. No matter the haul, all these shopping-sprees ended in basically the same way. Who can forget the ripple of fear as you approached HM Customs at Gatwick, staggering under the weight of uncertificated material? Or the thrill as you exited the ‘Nothing to Declare’ channel to freedom, intent on subverting the very fabric of British civilization with your uncut copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Of course, you could order discs by mail, and enjoy the delightful game of Postal Roulette that followed. Would they arrive intact? Would they arrive at all? To this day, one of the highlights of my life remains getting HM C+E to cough up compensation, after they badly scratched a disc during one of their Naziesque inspections.

Laserdiscs were simply so much cooler than videotapes, coming as they did with extra features – again, this is now something we take for granted with DVD [“No in-depth interview with the costume designer? Wot kind of ‘special edition’ is this?”], but it opened up a whole glorious vista of experience, since VHS rarely had anything apart from the movie. The director’s commentaries were the bomb: a good one would be like having the people concerned sitting beside you, drinking a beer and telling you about the movie. Escape From New York, with Kurt Russell and John Carpenter pointing out each other’s ex-wives, would be a classic example. And much as I hate Quentin Tarantino, his and Robert Rodriguez’s chat on From Dusk Till Dawn, with input from Greg Nicotero, is another that highlights the possibilities offered by the medium.

I still watch my discs occasionally – most recently, Basic Instinct, only a couple of weeks back [Paul Verhoeven is another commentary master]. I have to admit, the video quality does look a bit dodgy, especially on a large screen, which are much more common now than they were at the time. But there’s something about a laserdisc which is more physical than a DVD, in much the same way that a vinyl LP offers more scope for design than a CD. Some of the box-sets that were released were simply phenomenal: Toy Story and Hellraiser are the first couple that come to mind, and occupy an honoured spot on the bookshelves in TC Towers. Criterion also did some impressive work, but their sets always seemed over-priced, even by the standards of the medium; I think the only one of theirs I ever got was Hard Boiled.

Laserdisc never became more than a fringe market in the West; in echoes of the VHS/Betamax battle, the technically-inferior videotape won. Though to be honest, it was never much of a battle, LD failing to capture more than a couple of percent of the market, due to various criticisms, valid or otherwise. “You can’t record on it.” “What? Turn the disc over in the middle?” “They keep falling off my record-player.” And when DVD arrived – much though I tried to deny it – I knew in my heart that it sounded the death-knell for laserdisc. However, with two bookcases, still stacked more or less floor to ceiling with the damn things, they may be gone but certainly aren’t forgotten, at least hear in TC Towers. Let’s just hope our player soldiers on for the next thirty years.

[Thanks to Alex M for being the bearer of these sad tidings!]

How I managed to piss off Jimmy Saville…or possibly Paul Merton

Devil: My job is to ensure standards of television programmes continue to spiral downwards. Chat-shows, game-shows, soap-operas — anything I can do to guarantee their continual awfulness.
[SIGNS PAPER]
Condemned Soul: What was that?
Devil: Just commissioned another 25 years of Jim’ll Fix It.
Condemned Soul: Oh, good. I like Jimmy Saville – he’s very good with children.

TV Hell introduction, 31st August 1992

The significance of the above will become clear in due course. But first, let me take you on a journey, which began one Friday evening when the very site you are reading, ceased to exist. Permission denied, it said. This being my own site, it seemed a little strange, to say the least. But logging in, I found the following email had been sent to postmaster:

From: _____@demon.net
Cc: legalnotice@demon.net
Subject: www.trshcity.demon.co.uk…
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000

Please note: The contents of this email may be legally privileged. They should not be copied or disseminated within or outside Thus Plc without prior authorisation from Legal Services. The recipient of this email may reply to Legal Services but should not cc other addressees.
___________________________________________________
Dear sir,

We have received an allegation that you have material on your website
http://www.trshcity.demon.co.uk/ARTICLES/NEWSFORU.HTM
which our external solicitors believe to bear defamatory meaning and as such we have had to suspend access to your webpages.

The part in question is the transcript.

We cannot and do not make any judgement as to whether such material is defensible. However, the state of the law at the moment means that if we are put on notice that defamatory material is being published through our systems, Thus plc may be liable for damages, along with you, if it does not take action to prevent that material being published. Those damages could be substantial and we could both incur heavy legal expenses.

In addition, the current state of the law could leave Thus plc liable if it failed to take action and you disseminated any further material through our systems which was later found to be defamatory. While we do not necessarily agree with the current legal position we must accept it, and have therefore suspended access to your website.

Please reply to this email acknowledging that you understand the problem, that you have removed the material from your website and that you will not, in future, publish further material which could be considered defamatory of various (named) celebrities through Demon’s systems.

We attach below a suggested form of acknowledgement for your convenience.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF RECEIPT

I acknowledge receipt of your email and confirm that I understand your explanation of the legal situation regarding material which is considered defamatory.

I confirm that I have removed the material from my website. I will not publish such material in future using my Demon service, and will not publish further material which could be considered defamatory of the celebrities which have been named on the site.

I look forward to hearing from you.
_______________
Paralegal
Thus Plc

The piece in question was a transcript of alleged outtakes from an edition of Have I Got News For You featuring Paul Merton and Jimmy Saville. This had been sent to me by a friend, and I’d posted it on the site, simply because I’d thought it was funny. I even added a disclaimer saying that I had no idea whether it was accurate, but this was no defence in the eyes of Demon.

To get my web-site restored, I removed the piece, and sent the form they requested back, and in due course, www.trshcity.demon.co.uk returned to service. However, I remained a more than a little peeved that Demon would pull the site and, in effect, pronounce me guilty, not only until proven innocent, but without even giving me any chance to prove my innocence. I wrote, pointing this out. Their reply follows.

Currently the situation regarding defamation in the UK is such that ISPs are liable for content held on its servers as soon as it is put on notice of such content and failure to remove that material could end up with us being sued as well as you.

As an ISP, the Defamation Act requires us to act responsibly by (a) removing the material from our servers and (b) making sure that similar material cannot not be published in the future. This requires us, in your case (having received a complaint), to notify you of this situation and seek some kind of acknowledgement regarding future
material, and also to remove the material from our servers, which is achieved by temporarily suspending your web site.

We do not take these decisions lightly and refer all cases to external solicitors (at cost to us) for a decision about whether the material bears a defamatory meaning.

We do not wish to make any judgement as to whether the material in question is indeed defamatory. We are in no position to make this decision ourselves, this is up to a Court to decide.

You may have heard of the Godfrey -v- Demon Internet case where Demon Internet were taken court over defamatory material held on its servers.

> We would also like to have more information as to the precise nature of the
> alleged defamation. It is clearly wrong to claim that every single word
> in the transcript is defamatory, and without full details of the
> accusations being made against us, we are unable to accept that they are
> justified. We thus request details of the specific complaints received by
> you.

Our solicitors felt that most of the web page could be considered to bear defamatory meaning. Specifically, they felt that it was defamatory of Phil Hall, David Yelland, Jimmy Saville, Paul Merton and possibly Angus Deayton and Ian Hislop too.<

> With regard to the article, we would still like to publish it, and want to
> work with you in order to achieve this. We therefore offer the following
> possibilities for discussion, with the aim of hopefully reaching agreement
> on the matter.
>
> 1) The article already contains a disclaimer which states that we “make
> absolutely no claims as to the validity of the following”. This could be
> made more prominent and/or reworded.

I do not believe that this would make any difference if the material was found by a court to be defamatory. You should seek further legal advice regarding this.

> 2) If we are given details of the parts found offensive, they could be > removed from the piece.

We would suggest that you seek legal advice based on my comments above.

> 3) We can move the transcript from Demon to another server, and make the link on our site point to it there.

Unfortunately, this could also be considered defamatory as it still causes in effect, the publication of the defamatory material through your Demon service, even if it is hosted elsewhere.

But when looked into further, this seemed very debatable to me. The interconnectedness of the Net means that, if linking to a defamatory site is itself just as defamatory, then any one defamation renders virtually the entire Internet guilty! This is clearly nonsense, and indeed, Section 1(3) of the 1996 Defamation Act states that, “a person shall not be considered the author, editor or publisher of a statement if he is only involved…(e) as the operator of or provider of access to a communications system by means of which the statement is transmitted, or made available, by a person over whom he has no effective control.

As a result, in the case of Godfrey vs. Demon to which they referred, Justice Morland said “In my judgment the defendants were clearly not the publisher of the posting and incontrovertibly can avail themselves of Section 1(1)(a)”, relieving Demon of liability. As far as I could see, what caused Justice Morland to find against Demon, was their failure to take action after being notified of the alleged defamation. If the material in question hadn’t been held on their servers at all, it was hard to see how Demon could have been found liable for it.

So, while I could conceivably be sued, Demon would be perfectly safe. However, the chances of any suit were, I reckon, very slim: I doubt the people who read the piece here numbered more than a few hundred at most, as opposed to the millions who would find out about it during a court case. Far better just to send out some threatening letters, try and suppress it all quietly, and hope it goes away. In this light, it’s also interesting to note Demon’s unwillingness to tell me who had complained – I have a pretty good idea though, and I doubt very much it was Angus Deayton.

In this case, however, it backfired – their actions fired up my interest in a piece I’d otherwise have quickly forgotten about, and I started looking on the Net. First thing I found was, that if someone had been trying to suppress it, they’d been doing a pretty poor job. My very first search engine query, the very first page, and I was there, staring at the whole thing. Not just once, but five separate copies of it. They used to say that the Internet treats censorship as damage, and routes around it – I was beginning to understand the truth of that statement.

Picking around the sides of these, I did find a couple of interesting sites. One site said responsibility had been claimed by Some of the Corpses are Amusing, but I could find no actual evidence thereof. There was one piece in the Guardian about the transcript, citing un-named “sources” as saying it was a hoax – un-named equals no reliance in my book (the Guardian also had a very interesting interview with Saville). But there was absolutely no trace of, for example, Paul Merton saying, “it’s a hoax”, which would have nailed things shut, once and for all.

All the while, I continued, sporadically, to debate the possibilities with Demon, and work towards an edited version of the transcript. I can feel some sympathy for them, and I have to say they were friendly and polite, explaining the reasons for their qualms. But they were obviously erring strongly on the side of caution and even wanted material removed that was part of the broadcast! We finally came to an agreement, and the edited version may be found here. It’s not very funny though…

It’s hard to come to a compromise when they keep saying “Nyet”: if I’m not allowed to link to it, can I perhaps give people instructions on how they can find it? No, because of Hird v Wood in 1894 – the relevance of that in the Internet era is somewhat arguable. There was something deeply ironic about Demon defending the honour of TV presenters against totally unwarranted accusations of paedophilia, while their servers carried the likes of alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.children.

Almost as interesting as the veracity or otherwise of the transcript, is looking into who would be behind a hoax, if such it actually is. A leading suspect must be Chris Morris, of Brass Eye fame – he announced Saville’s death on his radio show once, and got into a bit of bother for it. I’ve no idea whether the resulting law-suit was ever settled, but it does at least give Morris a motive, and his surreally excessive style of comedy would fit the transcript.

But there are perhaps two other candidates: the people in the sketch at the top of this piece, which I stumbled across in my tape collection only a few months ago. Who were these reprobates, expressing such a clear dislike for Jimmy Saville, seven years before all this allegedly happened? None other than Angus Deayton and Paul Merton…

[Here is the Demon approved, expurgated version]

Porn Free

The BBFC have had a busy couple of weeks; not only have they released their new guidelines for R18 videos – which basically legalise hard-core pornography in this country – they announced changes to the way all films would be classified, as a result of consultation and research. The basic summary is fewer restrictions on films for adults i.e. with an ’18’ certificate, but tighter regulation on those available to be seen by children. These two combine to make what is perhaps the biggest shake-up in British censorship since the Video Recordings Act and could usher in a new, glorious dawn of freedom…

Or maybe not… It will be interesting to see how this works in practice. For example, although ’18’-rated films are now expected to be “only rarely” cut, the policy on video is still dictated to by the notion that videos may be seen by younger viewers. So we are still likely to have atrocities like Eraser imposed on us, where responsible adults, and those living in homes without children have to suffer cuts because of the failures of a small group of parents.

The full details of the research carried out by the BBFC are available through their web-site: they combined a national survey with smaller “juries” who were asked for their views in more details. I’ve picked out a few elements of particular note:

  • “About half the national sample agreed that violence in films might make people behave more violently in real life… The same statement was put to participants before and after the jury. As part of the process, they heard from witnesses involved in researching the effects of screen violence, and this seems to have made them much more doubtful about the simple cause and effect proposition. Agreement fell from half the jury beforehand to less than one in five afterwards.” The implication is that the “gut-feeling” people have that media violence leads to real violence, doesn’t stand up in the face of the actual facts.
  • “Almost half the national and postal samples agreed with the statement that people over 18 have a right to see graphic, real sex in films and videos. Internet respondents were much more strongly behind the proposition.” Indeed, 89% of us agreed, probably because we can see graphic, real sex on the Internet any time we want. But generally, Net respondents were much more liberal — only 7%, as opposed to 46% gave credence to the “imitative violence” statement. Some might say this is due to the fact that the technical feat of getting onto the Net filters out the dumber members of society…
  • “Approaching half of all three survey samples agreed that violence becomes more acceptable if it is humorous or in a historic/fantastic setting.” Actually, this is something that has always bothered me a bit; A-Team style violence without consequences would seem to me to be potentially more damaging, since it could cause people to downplay the real effects of violence. Obviously, there’s a point beyond which it becomes gloriously Tom & Jerry, but it’s always the nasty, brutal, realistic violence which the BBFC seems to cut.
  • “Respondents were asked to think of the different categories of film…and indicate for each level how offensive they found specific elements… Drug portrayal consistently [caused] the most offence and nudity the least.” As a result of this, there is the perhaps surprising recommendation that “natural nudity, providing there is no sexual context or sub-text, is acceptable at all classification levels.” A return to the days of naturists playing volleyball may be expected as a result…
  • “The BBFC recognises that audiences pay to see horror films because they like being frightened. The board does not cut films simply because they alarm or shock. Instead, it classifies them to ensure the young and vulnerable are protected.” Those are my italics – it’s good to see that the culture of doublethink promoted under Ferman, including the name change from “…Film Censors” to “…Film Classification”, is still alive and well. Try telling that to the distributors of Last House on the Left, recently refused any kind of certificate.

The BBFC attempt to portray the changes to the R18 category as a small loop-hole, since they are a tiny fraction of the tapes certified, and are “only” available through licenced sex-shops. However, what they forgot to mention – accidentally I’m sure – is that HM Customs and Excise have now been ordered to follow the same guidelines and so anyone with a credit card can import, not just the films which have been R18-passed here, but any of similar content. Previous attempt at liberalisation have been foiled by Customs bleating to Jack Straw that the BBFC were passing stuff which they would seize on import. No more, as the following news-group post shows:

Today I received a package from Customs HQ containing a DVD. The DVD contains graphic scenes of sex, including erections, masturbation, intercourse, group sex, oral sex, anal sex, double penetration, ejaculations on the body and in the mouth. Here is an extract from the covering letter:

‘I refer to our various conversations following your letter to Customs at Dover Postal Depot concerning the seizure of a DVD entitled “Pyramid”… The case was referred to me to enable you to view the DVD… However, after considering the impact of recent developments concerning the domestic distribution of material depicting consensual sexual activity between adults we have now revised our guidelines for the assessment of such material. We no longer consider material depicting consensual sexual activity between adults to fall within the scope of the import prohibition on obscene articles. I am therefore releasing the DVD to you…’

Hang out the bunting, pop the champagne, and get your credit cards ready for action. Britain has finally hit the 20th century. It’s still bizarre that sex shops are not allowed to supply R18 videos by mail-order, but you can buy and import them perfectly legally from the comfort of your own home, if you do it from abroad. I suspect that this prohibition will not remain in force for long — I think the first challenge to it as an unreasonable restraint of trade, giving foreign suppliers an unfair advantage over British ones, and it’ll come tumbling down too. Will the last remnant of the Empire collapse into anarchy and chaos as a result? Who cares – I won’t be around to see it!

For it is, of course, deeply ironic that all this happens two months before I leave the country for good, particularly since likely Presidential coupling Gore and Lieberman have made complaining about media violence a plank of their campaign platform — but what else would you expect from the husband of the notorious Tipper Gore? So I wonder how long it’ll be before I’ll need to start importing uncut versions of films from Britain into America…