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…