Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blogger Redeems Itself

In light of the recent news that Google is acknowledging their serious misstep in attempting to crack down on sexually-oriented speech, and is rescinding their previous decision to censor relevant blogs on their Blogger platform (of which you are currently reading one), I figure it's as good a time as any to celebrate in the way that we erotophiles do best - through the sharing of pornography! I, of course, will remain cautious, as every freedom we have today is at risk of being taken away from us tomorrow. But for the time being, Google is saying porn is still ok on Blogger, and you can bet I'll toast to that.

In the 1973 case Miller v. California, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in what is now known as the "Miller test" for obscenity, that sexually-oriented speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (the one that guarantees, unconditionally, the freedom of speech) only if it contains socially redeeming value, described as serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Despite the very concept of obscenity being unequivocally unconstitutional (and doubly so, since it's largely inspired and defended by religious interests, which is forbidden by a different part of the First Amendment), this rule still, to this day, reflects the law of the land.

In its now aborted decision to crack down on blogs featuring "sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video", Google followed in the misguided footsteps of those judges, vowing to make exceptions only for "nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public." The only kind of speech that requires suitable justification for conditional First Amendment protection is that which involves a "prurient" (i.e., inclined toward sex) interest. This is in actual violation of the First Amendment, which is supposed to circumvent having anyone make a value judgment before determining whether an article of speech is deserving of protection. That goes against the whole principle of free speech.

And why is sex singled out? Obviously, it is a uniquely sensitive topic, on a cultural scale. But why should this be the case? I suspect that pious religious devotion has a lot to do with it, as the most powerful and influential church in the United States (the Christian church, or rather, churches), is based upon the principle that God is a perfectly sexless being (although still male, because patriarchy), who manifested himself in human form by being born to a virgin mother, and that considers chastity a heavenly virtue (rather than an inhumane burden), its opposite a grievous, deadly sin. What of the alternative, pagan religions, who believe in sexual divinity, and practice ritual sexual intercourse?

Free speech is supposed to guarantee that opposing viewpoints have equal footing in the marketplace of ideas, but a prophet advertising divine sex will have a much harder time getting his voice heard over the din of ordained priests preaching the virtue of chastity (while hypocritically practicing something else entirely in the privacy of their own altars). It's one thing if the one idea is just less popular than the other, but because the government has chosen to get involved, the "smut peddler" could wind up in jail while the evangelist earns tax breaks and receives direct representation in Congress. This is exactly what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

In essence, the Miller test is a slap in the face, and doesn't deserve to be honored. But say we were being particularly accommodating one day. Even were it reasonable to expect sexually-oriented speech to be held to a higher standard than any other speech (as anyone believes who has ever complained that a sex scene in a movie wasn't "necessary") - and it's not - but even if it were, the way we treat sexual speech betrays an enormous prejudice against it. Even taking the Miller test into account, people are extremely reluctant to award anything remotely resembling "pornography" with the legitimacy of "socially redeeming value". Get a trained artist to depict sexual intercourse with technical perfection, and people will still label it "smut", because they simply can't see past the sex.

Contrary to this bull-headed view, I've long been of the opinion that sexual speech (even the "pornographic" variety) is a lot more socially valuable than we usually give it credit for. Considering the dire state of sexual knowledge and education in the modern world, I can't believe we don't recognize that any and all depictions and discussions of sex can only help to improve our understanding of human sexuality (and even to the extent that porn is an unrealistic fantasy, it still teaches us about human sexual imagination). Not every piece of pornography is artistic, but most if not all of them can be considered educational, or even scientific, given the right perspective.

What does a dull diagram in your health textbook teach you that you can't learn from watching two people have sex? More importantly, what is that textbook diagram not teaching you? Particularly about pleasure? And is that kind of ignorance really so valuable that it warrants government sanction? Perhaps most importantly of all, who gets to make that decision for you? Plus, given all the heated debate about depictions of human sexuality, and especially considering my discussion of the First Amendment above, it seems to me that any and every piece of pornography has enormous political value. And as a bonus, how many political scandals have you heard of involve sex in some way?

Porn is simply the expression of a perspective that the United States government doesn't want you to be exposed to (mostly because it offends the wealthy and powerful benefactors who keep the machinery of the state well oiled). How, then, is suppressing that speech anything other than hugely undermining to the very principles that this free country was built on? There's no question that pornography contains a whole lot of value. The issue is whether that value is something that benefits society or, on the other hand, contributes to its moral decay. And that determination is, conveniently, governed largely by the opinions of moral conservatives.

I think I've said enough. Now it's time for pictures. I'm in the midst of a project that I'll be presenting here on this blog within the next few days that I hope will demonstrate just what kind of value "sexually explicit or graphic nude images" can hold. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rationalizing

My enthusiasm for making this post is considerably dampened by the recent news that puts the very future existence of this blog in serious question, but, the simple fact is, this blog is an important avenue for me, a place where I feel like I can make my voice heard (and if you knew me - the quiet, socially awkward loner who rarely ever speaks up in the presence of company - you'd know how important that is to me). So even in the face of potential exile, I choose to keep on doing what I've been doing all along, for at least as long as I can get away with it. From here on out, every post I make could be the last.

A while back I was thinking about the rationalizations that the anti-sex crowd uses to support public policies like abstinence-only education, discouraging use of contraception, and demonizing abortion, and I was trying to think of a concise and pithy way to emphasize the inconsistency and, frankly, inhumanity of their positions. I didn't come up with anything thoroughly satisfactory at the time, but just today, the concept came back to me and I thought up a graphical way to demonstrate it. So I made this comic:


My stick figure skills notwithstanding, my roommate informs me that I don't have a very effective sense of humor, even though I thought the comic was very witty. But perhaps it's also a little dense. I was merely trying to point out, in a humorously ironic way, the inconsistency of the rationalizations this anti-sex crowd makes. Instead of just admitting that they don't like sex and don't want you to have it (which would, admittedly, not be a very compelling argument), they look for ways to justify their positions. Sex is dangerous - it can lead, primarily, to unplanned pregnancies and disease.

Now, if they were actually concerned for the people involved, you'd think they'd support tools to reduce the risks of sex - i.e., contraception, or things like the HPV vaccine, which is vigorously opposed by the Catholic church. But no, that's not how it works. Making sex safer is just going to make people more likely to have it, and that's not what they want. They don't actually come out and say, "sex needs to be riskier" (at least not in those words - they do sometimes cite "increased promiscuity" as a negative) - instead they come up with bogus explanations like, it goes against god's plan, or condoms don't work - but you know that's what they're thinking.

And frankly, that's more than a little scary. The anti-sex crowd would rather you be punished with an unwanted child (to say nothing of how the child may suffer - but their suffering is inconsequential next to the suffering of premature fetuses aborted before they've even had the chance to rue the day they were born) or venereal disease, than to let you enjoy safe sex, because perverts need to be punished for their sins. Hell, AIDS is a godsend when viewed from this perspective. It's exactly the same justification people use when they tell women they deserve to be raped because they wore a skirt that's too short, or acted too flirty at the bar. These people want sex to be dangerous, because they want to be justified in telling you not to have it. That's their prerogative, but the rest of us need to realize how truly fucked up and dangerous that viewpoint is.

"Sex has consequences. If you don't believe us, go ahead and try it, and we'll do whatever it takes to make you suffer, just to prove ourselves right." It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. In closing, imagine the following conversation between a moral pundit and a libertine:

"Don't have sex!"
"Why not?"
"Because it's immoral."
"I don't care."
"Well, it's also dangerous."
"But we have tools to make it safer."
"Then they should be outlawed."
"Why? Do you want people to suffer?"
"Only those stained with sin."
"Whatever, dude."
"Wait! You know that contraception doesn't work, right?"
"If that were true, then shouldn't you be supporting it?"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blogger Pursues Censorship Regime

I've just received a disturbing letter in my email inbox:

"Dear Blogger User,

We're writing to tell you about an upcoming change to the Blogger Content Policy that may affect your account.

In the coming weeks, we'll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video. We'll still allow nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action on the content.

The new policy will go into effect on the 23rd of March 2015. After this policy goes into effect, Google will restrict access to any blog identified as being in violation of our revised policy. No content will be deleted, but only blog authors and those with whom they have expressly shared the blog will be able to see the content we've made private.


...

Sincerely,
The Blogger Team
"

Here's a link to more information about the policy change: https://support.google.com/blogger/answer/6170671?p=policy_update&rd=1

And an article discussing the repercussions of this egregious infringement of the freedom of speech: http://www.zdnet.com/article/google-bans-explicit-adult-content-from-blogger-blogs/

What does this mean? Well, if my blog suddenly disappears from the internet in a month from now, it's because Google decided that the world can't handle what I'm laying down. It's hard to predict which side of the line my blog is going to fall on - but that's kinda the point, because from here on out, Blogger is going to be making arbitrary distinctions between protected speech and restricted speech. It's exactly the same kind of discrimination that the federal government employs in singling out sexual speech as uniquely devoid of first amendment protections, simply in light of generations of religious moralism that idolizes sexual purity (a strategy that is itself in violation of the Constitution's separation of church and state).

If your speech involves sex, then it has to be benign enough (not too explicit), and has to carry some socially redeeming value, otherwise the governing body (whether that's Google Inc., or the United States Government - can anyone even tell the difference in this corporatocracy anymore?) has the authority to tell you you're not allowed to say it (and others aren't allowed to hear it), first amendment be damned. No other category of speech has those requirements. And you know why? Because it violates the whole principle of freedom of speech. But where sex is involved, the normal rules don't apply. Not even those of the United States Constitution.

Maybe I'll get lucky, and my blog will have enough "redeeming value" (so Google employees are sociologists and anthropologists, now?). But the best case scenario is that I'll be more wary of what I post from here on out, lest I lose the privilege of hosting a blog on Blogger (one of the biggest blogging platforms on the internet). This is called a Chilling Effect. It inspires self-censorship via a regime of fear. It's the kind of strategy employed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And where sexual speech is involved, it's fast becoming the norm here in what we thought was supposed to be the free world.

Seriously, I'm terrified of the trend I'm seeing towards censorship of the internet, where speech is supposed to reign free. We take it for granted that sex is singularly damaging to the human psyche (despite the fact that it is entirely natural, much less harmful than violence, and that crippling people with sexual shame is unhealthy and inhumane), because that's just the way we've always known it to be. But the free-thinkers, the sex-positives who would suggest an alternate strategy, have as much right to express their opinions in public as anyone else. Except they're rarely given the opportunity. You're allowed to praise dogma, but dissent will be silenced. Is this how we do it in America? Is this how we do it on the world wild web?

Increasingly, the answer is becoming yes.

God, I'm just shaking with the rage and frustration of this decision. Please, tell me what I can do to protest.

Update (2/27/15): It appears that Google is backing down on this policy change in an unprecedented move that actually takes into account user feedback, and can be considered a rare victory for free speech.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pervasive Power

"I think that women seldom appreciate the pervasive power of the male sex drive, so are constantly caught unaware. They choose to think that men look at pinups, sexy movies, and women in general just to annoy women."
- Piers Anthony, from the Author's Note to Firefly

I hate to make generalizations based on sex, but this is a heavily gendered issue. I feel this quote gets to the heart of a matter that is often brought up in certain types of popular feminist discourse. Women of this persuasion tend to see all the myriad ways that men are obsessed with sex (and, since the majority of men are straight, this is mainly directed towards women's bodies), and, for some reason, this makes them uncomfortable, so they choose to consider it an attack by one sex on the other.

But the truth is, in most cases, men are not "sexualizing" and sexually "objectifying" women because they are misogynists, because they hate women and enjoy humiliating them, or because they think women are weak, and ought to be submissive, or that the only thing they are good for is sex (pick your reason). The simple fact is that men are obsessed with sex, so if they drag it out of proportion to everything else in life, it's not because they don't think the other things (like who the woman is he's lusting after, and what her feelings are) are important, it's simply because he's really just that into sex.

Some men do treat women poorly, and this is a concerning issue that deserves attention. But too easily the difference between abuse and mere titillation is confused, and too frequently the former is used to demonize the latter, so that every time an attractive woman appears in skimpy clothing on the cover of a magazine, it's propped up as evidence of the institutionalized oppression of women by the male patriarchy (think about it, have you ever felt that way, or read about someone's opinions who did?). And every man with a social conscience - the ones who actually care about women, mind you - is encouraged to feel like a villain just because he gets excited when a woman takes her clothes off.

Which is complete, utter bullshit, and demonstrates how out of touch with the reality of male existence (and objective reality in general) this particular (and alarmingly popular) strain of feminism really is. I know that feminism is about recognizing and prioritizing the female perspective, but I do not support a feminism that promotes war between the sexes, much less a war on sex itself. I support a feminism that pursues amnesty between the sexes, and that, in true equalist fashion, values both male and female perspectives, and thus does not attempt to suppress or demonize the very normal, completely natural, and in most cases harmless, expression of the male sex drive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Collegiate Privilege and Censorship

Plymouth student photographer's nude shots challenge gender stereotypes

This is an interesting idea, and I actually think it's really well-done (although I'd like to see it developed in more depth). Of course, I've been challenging gender stereotypes in my photography for years, and I have yet to be the subject of even an internet news article (which, admittedly, doesn't carry much weight). This girl gets recognition because she's a college student? Her work is part of an accepted tradition of art study, and I'm just an independent loner? Undoubtedly, my work challenges a lot more than gender stereotypes - enough that most normal people would be intimidated by it, but you could certainly select a cross-section of my photography that shows the gender aspects without getting too freaky on the sex end of the spectrum.

The other comment I have about this article is the censorship of the images. I think it's terrible. Censorship is not healthy to anyone - by catering to gymnophobic sentimentalities, we're actually encouraging people's mental illness (gymnophobia), while robbing everyone else of the healthy opportunity to see a person's nude body in a non-fetishized manner (the censor bars fetishize specific parts of the body). But the absolute bottom line is that, even if it were justified to censor the images to preserve certain people's sensibilities, you should provide a link to the uncensored images for the benefit of non-neurotic readers.

The only semi-justifiable use of censorship is to keep people from inadvertently stumbling onto something they'd prefer not to see (indeed, that's the reasoning behind safety filters). That would explain using the censored image(s) in the article proper. It's by not providing an alternate source for the uncensored images that you've gone beyond merely protecting people's sensibilities, and have risen to the level of actually deleting information from an artist's work, and preventing the public from accessing certain kinds of information because you've decided what someone else is or isn't allowed to see. And that's the worst aspect of censorship - one that can't simply be explained away by claiming, "oh, we just don't want to offend anyone".

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Getting Revenge on Revenge Porn

This is a reply to the following news article:

Danish Activist Emma Holten Is Sharing Nude Photos To Combat Revenge Porn

I actually think this is a great idea, and I'm really surprised to find someone willing to make the distinction between bad "sex" and good "sex" (by "sex" here I mean any erotic or sexually motivated activity or behavior). So many people are willing to use any evidence of bad sex in the world to criticize all sex, as if to demonstrate that sex is inherently evil, instead of pointing out the fact that some people use sex for good purposes, and others for bad. Like radfems who prop up anecdotal evidence of women being mistreated in porn or prostitution, and use it to paint entire professions as exploitative and abusive.

I can just imagine a woman being the unfortunate victim of "revenge porn", and using that evidence of the way men treat her and her images and her body as proof that men are pigs and their sexual desires predispose them to be abusive towards women (basically, your typical sex-negative feminist's point of view). But this woman recognizes that there are good and positive ways for one to display their body to others (namely, those ways that involve consent), and for men to relate sexually to women, and is willing to go to lengths to point that out instead of publicly demonizing sex because she had a bad experience with it.

Obviously, I don't want women to feel compelled to have to post naked pictures on their own terms just to combat having unscrupulous men stealing or tricking them into revealing parts of themselves they'd rather keep private. But on the other hand, there is a great demand for naked and sexy pictures of women - there's nothing wrong with that, it's just how men (if not humans in general) function. So the more women there are who are willing to put these pictures out there on their own terms, the less I think the women who'd prefer not to will have to endure the pressure to give in.

That, I think, is one of the big sex-related problems in our society. Obviously, sex is popular, and gets a lot of attention. But we're also neurotic about it, and are taught to be ashamed of it. Anyone who does "act out" sexually is going to receive negative attention (think about how the press treats Miley Cyrus). This is proportionately more true for women than it is for men. As a result, there's actually less supply of sexual expression in the world (in spite of anyone who lectures you about the "pornification" of society) than there is demand for it. The result is lots of sexual frustration, and, since people are only human (and men are statistically more aggressive than women), more men pressuring women than there should be.

Yet women who give in are shamed as sluts (by both women and men alike). For women, it's a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Many of them err on the side of "don't", which is reinforced by the fact that I imagine in a lot of cases women's ability to enjoy sex is sabotaged by all these negative attitudes, and the fact that when they do it, more often than not they're doing it because a man is pressuring them, and not because they're the ones who are interested and have initiated it (and nobody's really making female pleasure a priority). So it's this huge spiral that feeds into itself and leaves us all worse off. The solution is not more pressure on unwilling women but rather less condemnation of the women who choose to participate in the game of sex on their own terms. Which, you might notice, is also a true feminist goal.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Strings Attached

Happy Valentine's Day!

The advertising and greeting card industries want you to believe that Valentine's Day is for lovers. But don't be fooled. You don't have to be romantically involved to enjoy Valentine's Day. This day is a celebration of all things erotic. And what's more life-affirming than that? So if you can't be with someone you love, love yourself instead. There's a worldwide web of porn out there just waiting to be discovered. -_^


(I'd just like to say, whoever decided that string could be worn as clothing was a genius!)