It’s been a very fraught couple of months for genre fans. I’m sure I need not go into precisely why, nor bother arguing against Alton’s amendment to the Criminal Justice Act. [If you need any convincing, then kindly return this magazine. You won’t like the rest of it] However, instead of preaching to the converted, I thought it might be nice to cover my encounters with some other “nasties” – namely, the inhabitants of the Palace of Westminster…
Alton’s bill wasn’t all that unexpected. I’d heard various rumours of ‘something’ in the wind after the Jamie Bulger and Susan Capper murder trials, but the first confirmed sighting of a torpedo approaching the good ship S.S. Video Tape came via ‘Time Out’, saying that Liberal MP David Alton had proposed legislation to create a new certificate for cinema releases, “Unsuitable for Home Viewing”.
Before long, Alton and the tabloids were feeding off each other like sharks in a frenzy. The best example of gutter-speak appeared in the Daily Star at the end of January. Under the banner headline of “Snuff Out These Sick Cartoons” was a classic of exaggeration, misrepresentation and down-right inaccuracy. No prizes for guessing it was about Manga Video, who must have been delighted to read things like “many show vicious gang warfare among teenagers in a futuristic society”, a description that only fits ‘Akira’ – unless the definitions of ‘vicious gang warfare’ includes supercharged schoolgirls battling for the attention of an alien princess. This climaxed in a description of them as “snuff cartoons”, which I assume means real hand-painted animation characters getting killed…
All this fuss was strange, given that the horror genre is at its lowest ebb for years – when was the last film you saw that could compare with ‘Videodrome’, ‘Re-Animator’, ‘The Thing’ or ‘Hellraiser’? But what this article had in common with virtually all other such pieces, was quotes from David Alton, saying he was outraged/disgusted/sickened/whatever, and was going to do something about it. After reading and seeing this man spew out totally nonsense, time and time again, finally it was too much for even this apolitical animal to take. Something had to be done. And it was: I sent a letter to Mr. Alton, politely pointing out the errors in his logic and suggesting he do something to attack the real causes of crime. In due course, a reply arrived.
The words “form” and “letter” spring to mind. Any connection to my original communication was purely coincidental; I suspect exactly the same letter would have been sent to someone writing to tell Mr. Alton what a wonderful person he was for saving us from filth like “Heathers”. He also enclosed an article. written for Catholic magazine ‘The Tablet’ – which says a lot about where Alton is coming from. Is he the nearest Britain has to someone like Pat Robertson, with this combination of politics and religion?
This mass-market reply was annoying. Had he ignored me, I would have accepted it as typical politico behaviour. Had he sent a defence of his views, I would have been impressed. But to be…fobbed off in such a manner was enough to get my ire well and truly riled.
Phase two. Attempt to arrange an interview with Mr. Alton – as you can see, the headed notepaper gave his telephone number (I’m sure he’d welcome more calls). At the first attempt there was no reply: this seemed innocent enough at the time but conspiracy theorists may like to note this was the very afternoon before Stephen Milligan was found dead in stockings and suspenders, with a plastic bag over his head and an orange in his mouth. Where was Mr. Alton? Enquiring Paranoiacs Want to Know! [There’s a film in there somewhere, about a serial killer MP, except it would undoubtedly be banned as providing “inappropriate role models” – though I’d argue MP’s were just as inappropriate as serial killers].
I tried again later, and eventually spoke to his personal assistant, who offered to give me some background before fixing details. I accepted. A mistake. As soon as it became apparent that I was intending neither brown-nose powder-puff nor piece of tabloid hysteria, the atmosphere grew chilly – I could hear nitrogen condensing with a crackle onto the telephone line. In short, no dice. It appeared that while Mr. Alton was readily available to give quotes to the liars who write for our tabloid newspapers, he is less willing to defend his views to anyone more critical.
However, it wasn’t an entirely useless conversation. I discovered the terms they were seeking to use to define “unsuitable for home viewing”. Afterwards, I skimmed through my top 20 all-time favourite films: fourteen were plausible candidates for termination. The imminent prospect of 70% of my video collection going onto the nasties list concentrated my mind somewhat.
By coincidence, parliament was debating proposals to cut the age of homosexual consent with, of all people, Edwina Currie in the forefront of the gay lobby. During the debate, she said that governments shouldn’t interfere in people’s private lives. This got a hearty “Hear, hear” from me; surely a woman in favour of “the sodomy of adolescent males” (© Tory Rent-A-Quote P.L.C.) would support my right to watch “Deathstalker II”. Off went the letter… In due course, back came the reply:
Say what you like about Mr. Alton, at least he made a vague attempt to create the impression that he gave a damn (even if the execution was utterly screwed up). As for Ms.Currie, seems that she doesn’t care a toss about freedom, save the freedom to have anal sex with 16-year olds. Though given the rumours about certain of her fellow Conservative MP’s, this should perhaps not be too surprising.
After this, I drifted into cynical mode. Restrictions on the films I could rent were brought into sharp perspective when I realised it’s been three years since I last rented a film. So who cares? At least on a totally selfish level, life would go on, with the habitual methods of bypassing censorship merely becoming more frequently used. There were other important fish to fry, such as Guinness deciding to drop Rutger Hauer from their advertising campaign.
So I gave up my short, glorious life of political activism. I’m probably on the computers of MI5 as a result, but then, if I wasn’t there already, I’d be slightly disappointed – and also rather worried about the security of this country…
Politicians are pond scum. The lowest of the low. Somewhere beneath estate agents, and even rating below financial advisers in my humble opinion. This had always been my opinion, though I hadn’t exactly had much contact with them (or pond scum, come to think of it). My views, if anything, had not been improved, but at least now I am able to state them from a position of personal experience.
For some time I’ve known that this country is not a democracy. However, the Alton affair convinced me this view should be supplemented with “…and a bloody good job too”. David Alton came close to punching through a law, which I suspect he only suggested as a starting point from which to bargain down. But after he deftly mugged the moral high ground, there was a stampede of MP’s rushing to join him, and before you could say “lynch-mob”, it was a 200-strong posse, bearing a rope with the video industry’s name on it. It’d have been very interesting to see what would have happened had it come to a vote. How many normally spineless Tory MP’s would actually have had sufficient balls to disobey a three-line whip?
The press coverage was generally about as grim as you’d expect. The only bright spot was an editorial in the Evening Standard, the day before the debate was due to take place. Now, the ES is not a paper noted for libertarian tendencies, so reading it was sort of like discovering your school headmistress moonlighted as a hooker. Below are reprinted both it, and ‘highlights’ from the Daily Mail editorial from April 13th, which represents the far more common viewpoint seen depressingly often in the press:
The worst was the ‘Daily Mirror’, which trumpeted “BANNED!” on the front over a ‘Child’s Play 3’ cover, completely ignoring the fact that there was no way it could be un-certificated. But this didn’t stop them – hell, when do tabloids let facts get in the way? Their story started “Horror videos like Child’s Play 3 are to be banned – thanks to the Daily Mirror”. Wrong again. The Mirror also published a hit list of the films they most wanted to see pulled, thereby guaranteeing they flew off video shelves in following weeks – albeit to customers, rather than Trading Standards officers. See if you can work out what titles they listed, given their synopses for the titles in question; answers are at the bottom of the page:
- a) Homicidal doll Chucky possessed by the spirit of a mass murderer
- b) Four youths turn to violent crime to win respect in the ghetto
- c) Mad professor experiments on neighbours. A husband is attacked by his wife’s placenta
- d) Killer’s butchery is filmed so he can watch it later
- e) Zombie heroine eats her boyfriend
- f) Woman bitten by monkey develops a taste for raw meat
- g) Non-stop violence that ends in a 30-minute shootout
- h) Horror genetics in tale of gore and revenge
- i) Prostitutes lure victims to chainsaw death
- j) Savage cannibal punks
The subject of video nasties has had it’s day, as far as the media is concerned, and is now as dead as all their other hyped-up out of nowhere problems: remember pit-bulls and flesh-eating bacteria? I predict that at some point soon, they’re going to discover the Internet, and when they do, watch out for more banner headlines – kiddie porn and bomb-making information will undoubtedly be mentioned.
So what’s been the actual effect of the new legislation? The refusal of video certificates is well documented, but so far, the titles affected have almost all been urban thrillers like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ or ‘Menace II Society’; movies with more fantastic elements seem to have been scarcely touched. What it has done, of course, is to hand the video pirates a gift: I’m willing to bet there are more copies of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ in circulation, than you could shake a Harvey Keitel at.
It has also been interesting to note the fragmentation of protest against Alton’s amendment and the other proposals put forward in the Criminal Justice Bill. The rave crowd have been opposed to a measure that would stop them dancing all night in fields (personally, I feel they should thank Michael Howard), but were not present when my rights were threatened. This “someone else’s problem” reaction is understandable in some ways, but is also worrying. ‘Divide and conquer’ seems to be the order of the day, with our freedoms being carved away in such thin slices that there are never sufficient people opposed to any one restriction.
“…and when they came for me, there was no-one left to speak out…”
a) Child’s Play 3 b) Juice c) Body Melt d) Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer e) Return of the Living Dead 3 f) Braindead g) Hard Boiled h) Death Warmed Up i) Hollywood Hookers j) The Hills Have Eyes