Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pet Peeve: Defenders of Private Censorship

I've talked about this before, but it's something that comes up again and again, so I think I'm justified in complaining about it again. Let's start with this comic.

Now, I'm a huge fan of xkcd, but just because Randall Munroe made a comic about something doesn't mean that it's beyond criticism.

I consider myself a progressive. I also consider myself to be liberal - but in the sense of being in support of liberty, not in the sense of belonging to the liberal hivemind. There are a lot of things that mainstream political progressives have got wrong. One of those is their single-minded dedication to political correctness. It comes from a good place - compassion for one's fellow man, and a desire to oppose bigots and bullies. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and this approach all too frequently positions itself in opposition to the freedom of speech.

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I'm a pretty staunch defender of free speech. Now, it's a nice fantasy to believe that free speech can be absolute, but even I am willing to make certain concessions. But there's an important distinction here between singling out specific subjects of speech to be disallowed, and specific ways that speech can be used, almost like a weapon. The fact that you can't shout "fire!" in a crowded movie theater (unless there's really a fire) doesn't concern me - because the subject of fire is not being made into a taboo. You and I can still sit down in a movie theater and discuss fire, we just can't use our speech about fire to create unnecessary panic that could likely lead to distress or injury.

Similarly, I sympathize with the goal of progressives in stamping out hate speech, because when people talk shit about other kinds of people, it's pretty ugly. But the same principle applies. If two people want to get together on an internet forum and discuss the reasons white people should be exterminated, for example, I believe they should have that freedom. It's only when they start using that speech to harass other people, by bullying and directing slurs against specific individuals, that it reaches a point where the impact is wholly negative, and retaliation is deserved.

Now, you might have a hard time figuring the positive impact of letting people speak in support of prejudice (in a non-directly harassing context), but that's built into the very concept of free speech. Either you support that concept or you don't. And if you don't, that's okay - it's a perfectly valid opinion to have. But if that's the case, I would appreciate it if you didn't erode the very concept of free speech by claiming you believe in it when you clearly don't. It makes it harder for everyone else to understand just what constitutes free speech after all. If you support free speech, then you support the idea that people should be able to say things that are offensive. Not because you don't care about people's feelings getting hurt, but because you think the freedom of people to think and say things that might be unpopular is more valuable than creating a sanitized, baby-proof society in which nobody is allowed to do or say anything that carries the remote possibility of offending anyone else.

I know, it's hard to justify the merit of certain subjects like racism, and sexism. In my previous post on this topic, the issue was tumblr's exclusion of speech supporting self-harm and eating disorders. This time, the forum that brought the issue to my mind is reddit, and while I don't know the specific details, I think that it may be related to a similar subject - body shaming. Hell, I'm a staunch opponent of a similar form of hate speech - slut shaming - but I'm not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to vocalize sex negative opinions. I'm merely saying that I think people who do are misguided and insensitive. I may suggest they change their tune (because that's pretty much the whole point of debate), but you don't see me advocating for passing new laws to restrict that kind of speech. It's an important distinction.

In the end, the more exceptions we carve out from the carcass of free speech, the more legitimate the act of carving out exceptions appears to be. And the more exceptions there are, the greater the chilling effect that occurs, and the fewer daring thoughts that fewer daring rebels are willing to express. (Consider the vague and odious - yet nearly ubiquitous - restriction against the "sexualization of minors". It would seem that authorities want to restrict you from even suggesting the possibility that a 17 year old could be sexy, and that's not just ridiculous, it's terrifying! Like, fascist regime terrifying). This is dangerous, because it's exactly what free speech protections were designed to prevent. If you want to harass someone - for any reason, whether it's because of their body or their race or their sex or what have you - then I support you being punished for it. But making any of those subjects taboo means we can't even talk about these issues in anything but black or white terms. And that's completely in opposition to truth and reality. I believe in being free to talk about things as they are, even if sometimes the truth hurts people's feelings. You know, that's kind of a characteristic of truth - and I value truth more than I value people's feelings. That doesn't make me insensitive, because I'm actually a highly sensitive person, it just means I have priorities.

Getting back to the xkcd comic I linked. What's being described in that comic - being shown the door - is what I envision as being a reaction to harassment. Also, I agree with the part about the First Amendment not shielding you from criticism or consequences. But none of this is an excuse for making any topics taboo, which is exactly what these arguments are frequently used for. Also, there's this sticking point about state versus private censorship. Free speech detractors just love to harp on this point - if it's not the government, then it's not an infringement on your free speech. Like as if the government has a monopoly over censorship. The fact that free speech appears in the Constitution means that the government's not allowed to make laws promoting censorship (not that it's ever stopped them). But that doesn't mean that private companies can't have a commitment to free speech, nor that private citizens can't have the belief that a commitment to free speech entails private as well as public forums.

Now, this gets particularly muddy when we talk about semi-public forums - like popular internet forums (also, when private corporations become nearly as powerful as the state, but that's another discussion). If you own some obscure backweb discussion group - e.g., eating disorder haters united - then sure, you can practice a regime of censorship and silence anyone who speaks out in support of eating disorders (the law certainly doesn't prevent you from doing that). But when we're talking about massive, major public forums, like reddit, or tumblr, or YouTube, or what have you, then I think the fact that you're privately owned doesn't exclude you from having certain responsibilities to the public. And I guess we have different ideas of what those responsibilities are - I believe they include a defense of free speech, but the people in charge of these forums seem to have latched on to the progressive idea that sanitizing the public forum so as to avoid offending anybody is a greater priority.

Now, at the end of the day, they may have every right to make that decision themselves - and I will go on exercising my free speech right to criticize them - but the one thing that really sticks in my craw is how frequently these places pay lip service by including in their principles a support of free speech. You cannot support free speech by imposing a regime of censorship. If you don't believe in free speech - that's your right. But please, own up to that belief, and stop going around pretending otherwise. Because the result is just more and more confused people who don't understand what free speech is really about, and who start making a bunch of arguments like the one in that comic, and like the ones that are all over reddit right now.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Second Thoughts on Vice

I stand by what I said in my last post - I don't think the state has any business policing vice. But I was thinking about it, and I realized that I may be giving off the wrong impression. I don't live a life filled with vice - aside from the fact that there are naked pictures of me on the internet, otherwise I'm pretty much a real straight shooter. I don't ingest any illegal substances, I don't solicit prostitutes...I don't even indulge in the legal vices - I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't gamble, I don't even play the lottery. At the risk of sounding like an insensitive prick - and, as a disclaimer, I know decent people who indulge in many of those vices, so it's not as if there aren't exceptions - I think those activities are for the weak-willed and the weak-minded.

Now, I have some pretty liberal views on sex, but I'm not even promiscuous. I'm not a sexual anarchist, I just don't believe in hiding or being ashamed of our bodies or our sexual desires. My approach isn't so much free love as it is sexual innocence - not to be confused with ignorance or inexperience (requisite link). And I want people to know that - that if they get involved with me, whether personally or for business purposes, that's not what they're getting into. I'm not all about vice, I just want to elevate erotic beauty to a level of sophistication. And I don't mean to say that sharing naked pictures, for example, is a vice, but that it's okay, because vice is cool. Rather, I'd prefer to change people's perspective so that sharing naked pictures isn't even viewed as a vice, but a natural part of our social bonding conventions that is not uncommon, and ought to be free from any stigma.

If you ask me, activities like smoking and drinking and gambling - and, yes, even promiscuous sex - are dumb and self-destructive. Just because I think you ought to be comfortable posting naked pictures of yourself on the internet, doesn't mean I'm going to try to entice you into those other vices. The thing is, I don't want the naked pictures thing to be considered a vice in the first place, because frankly, I don't see why it should be. Smoking and drinking destroy your body, and because they're addictive, they should be avoided. Promiscuous sex is forgivable if you're safe and responsible, but it's perfectly possible (and less risky) to have a satisfying sex life while utilizing some discretion. But voyeurism and exhibitionism in the form of photography, or non-contact activities like nudism, is safe and enjoyable - and, if you ask me, wholesome - so long as you don't view the basic fact that human beings are sexual, sensual organisms as itself something to be ashamed of. That way, how you indulge your desires (i.e., whether responsibly or not) determines your moral value, and not the simple fact of having them.

I want people to view me as an example of a good role model. The fact that I embrace the sexual side of my existence is merely a demonstration that I accept myself wholly (instead of living in shame and repression - how is that a good example of living?), and the way that I do it is intended to demonstrate how that part of you can be a source of pride and pleasure. That's why I've always stood behind what I do, and took it seriously - instead of blurring my face out and tacitly acknowledging that I'm ashamed of what I'm doing (I'm not). At the same time, it keeps me from doing anything stupid, because I refuse to do anything that I don't have a convincing justification for. That's why you'll never see me hang my head and apologize just because the wrong person found out what I was doing. I hope that's something that people get from me through my photography and my writing. At the risk of sounding like a lunatic (though it probably won't be the first time), we have a long way to go yet before this kind of lifestyle is free from stigma, but it is my goal to serve the role of a sort of wholesome, family-friendly sex icon.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Separation of Vice & Crime

"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." - Matthew 22:21

Now, I'm not religious - in fact, I'm a pretty passionate atheist - but I was raised Christian, and there are a lot of Christians in a lot of positions of power in this country, and it helps to know your enemy. Intriguingly, this oft-ignored passage is evidence that no less than Jesus Christ himself was a proponent of the separation of church and state. (But no less than the Mahatma Ghandi has pointed out the difference between Jesus Christ and modern Christians - here, also, is an excellent comic on that same subject).

Another way I like to interpret this passage is as a criticism of the common trend in America towards legislating morality. If you engage in immoral acts, that's something you should have to take up with your God. The state has no business punishing you for it. So when, for example, you rape, murder, or steal from someone, you are infringing on another person's basic rights, and that's where the police and the justice system should step in. But if you choose to watch porn, hire a prostitute, smoke dope, or anything like that, where the only "crime" is against the purity of your immortal "soul", then that's between you and God or your pastor. None of that stuff belongs on the law books.

Monday, July 13, 2015

I Know What You Did With My Photo Last Night

And I don't mind.

I am an erotic artist. You could also call me a pornographer - you wouldn't be wrong; I just don't like to define myself by the pornography I produce, because it's simply not my central focus. It's something I occasionally do on the side, for fun. But erotic art is my passion. Even so, I am not naive about the ways that my audience (at least the part that appreciates what I do) is bound to respond to my work. That's kind of partly the point. A proper appreciation of my work encompasses more than merely a sexual response, but I do not disparage the part that includes that sexual response.

In my time on photo-sharing sites, seeking out other model photographers, I've come across a certain subsection of self-portrait photographers like myself - frequently, for some reason or another, teenage girls, often with quite a bit of talent. Their approach to their work (which does not always include nude or erotic portraits), and their perspective on the accepted range of responses to their work, varies. Many of them, denying their fundamental nature as socio-sexual organisms, do not like the idea of people viewing images of them in a sexual light. Very few, in my experience, are as open as I am (here is a recent, refreshing example).

Some of them occupy a middle ground, however, where they accept the reality of people having a sexual reaction to their work, but simply draw the line at these people communicating their reaction. A sort of "out of sight, out of mind" approach. "You can think it, you can do it, but just don't tell me about it, 'cause I don't wanna know." My own personal approach is informed by the sense of being shamed for being attracted to those who I am attracted to - which has inspired the reactionary attitude that is encapsulated in the ethos of this blog; that is, being truthful about where you find beauty in the world. As a result, I want no part in the machinery of making anyone else feel ashamed for the sexual response they have when (at the very least) privately observing images of the bodies of others.

At first, it was awkward for me, being the subject of sexual comments from anonymous strangers - almost exclusively from people I have no attraction to. (I didn't realize at the time how true it is that men are far more predominantly the consumers of visual sexual material than women, regardless of whether that material features men or women). I've pretty much gotten used to it by now, although depending on the level of explicitness, it may sometimes make me feel a little uncomfortable. But I still don't disparage my fans for that. And the easiest way for me to do that is simply to turn the situation around. I hate the inequality between the sexes as much as anyone, but I'm not sure to what extent women can ever understand what the male condition is like (in terms of sex).

But I can. Whatever my gender might be, and even if I have a low sex drive, I know what male sexual desire feels like. And I know how insistent it can be, and how fantastic it feels to indulge it. I would probably never actually make the sorts of explicit comments I'm talking about, mainly because I know that most women wouldn't appreciate them, and I don't want to make them uncomfortable (and if there are a few who like that sort of thing - which I have encountered - I don't really feel free to jeopardize my reputation in front of a global audience that might be judging me on my overall treatment of women). But when I get a comment like that, all I have to do is imagine that it's me reacting to some internet model that I think is insanely attractive.

And even if, in that case, the model wouldn't be nearly as accepting, I know where that feeling is coming from, I know how powerful and yet harmless it is (by itself), and I would be a hypocrite to criticize it. It's true that you don't necessarily need to vocalize those kinds of things, but I know what it can mean to do so, and especially when the one you are vocalizing it to acknowledges it. So while I'm not going to go out on a limb and feign interest where it's not forthcoming, I will permit such comments to be made, all in the name of being open and supportive of the myriad wondrous ways that human sexuality manifests itself.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Pornographer's Stigma

I find it so incredible that something can be considered so vulgar and disgusting and shameful, and yet give people (not necessarily the same people, but in some cases it is) such pleasure that they actively seek it out.

I'm very liberated, and I'm pretty desensitized to materials of a sexually explicit nature, but I'm not completely alien to the basic foundation of mainstream thought. I think sexually explicit materials can be very appealing, but at the same time, they do probably have a time and a place. Aesthetic beauty is a completely different matter, but I usually have to be in the right mood to appreciate the really vulgar stuff, and even then, my tastes are very particular - so the same kind of behavior engaged in by different people can mean the difference between what I find attractive and what I find disgusting.

Yes, it is true that I am an exhibitionist, but I like it when people get enjoyment from looking at me - I have no desire, and derive no pleasure from, exposing myself to people who are bound to react with displeasure and disgust. I don't see any appeal in that. So, on the one hand, I have no problem exposing certain intimate parts of my body and sexual behavior to complete strangers, in a context where they can seek it out if they are interested, but at the same time I'm not asking for permission to masturbate openly at my next family reunion.

What gets me is the way that people will think less of you if you participate in those activities, even if you keep them confined to their appropriate spaces. And I don't mean the bedroom. Everybody uses the bathroom, and that is generally considered a vulgar and disgusting act, but it is a necessity, and there is no shame in engaging in it. We typically keep it behind closed doors because, barring a minority of perverts, there is no pleasure to be derived from sharing that experience with others. Human sexuality is decidedly different, though - and for a majority of the population (however reluctant they may be to admit it).

If posting a video of myself masturbating on the internet draws in people who derive great pleasure from viewing it, then where is the shame in providing that public service? Does it make me a bad person? You don't have to like it. Not everybody has to like it. But the point is that some people do like it, and it's those people - the people who like it - those are the ones I'm doing it for, not you. So why can't you just let that be? Let those people get their pleasure from my act of public service, and if you don't like thinking about it, then just avoid interfering in that part of my life. Why should that impugn my reputation? I'm not even necessarily saying that I think the same way as the people I'm serving - that I'm the same level of pervert, or that I like the same kind of things - I'm just being kind enough to care enough to throw them a bone. And that makes me worse of a human being? I don't get it.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Two Sides

I get self-conscious sometimes about the clutter that so frequently litters the backgrounds of my images. Since the beginning, I've maintained that I like pictures that look like they were taken in spaces that occupy the real world, and not abstract studios. And I genuinely do feel that way, but in the back of my mind I worry if that's not just an excuse for me not having more professional habits.

The clutter is distracting at times, and not always aesthetically pleasing, but I don't have the patience to clear out a work space every time I take a picture, considering that this is the home that I inhabit - it's bound to look lived in. I don't really have enough space to set aside an empty corner to use as a photo studio. And besides, the construction of this building is atrocious, and I find that when I do clear the clutter away, the emptiness just emphasizes how crooked the doors and walls and floors and ceilings are, and that's frustrating in a completely different way.

On the other hand, I want to improve my photography, and produce images that are more flawless, so that more people can admire them and recognize me as a serious photographer. To that end, I'd also love to buy some nicer lenses, and maybe some lighting equipment that I could learn to use, but I'm poor, and photography is not a cheap hobby.

I know what they say - and I'll be the first person to agree - that the talent exists in the photographer, and not the equipment he's using. The same is true of musicians. And I think I've taken enough remarkable pictures with the cheap equipment I own to prove that. But I wonder if there isn't a point at which it's like you're filtering your talent through a cheap lens, and it would just be represented that much better if you had a clearer one.

But equipment is only one of many improvements I suppose I could make. Still, it's one that's pretty straightforward. It's times like these that I resent being self-taught. Which is another thing. I feel so disconnected from any kind of photographic (or modeling) community. Communication with fans on photo sharing sites rarely goes beyond the superficial level, and all the other photographers seem like isolated pockets, absorbed in their own work, with no talk of craft - not boring stuff like what gear they have or what filters they use in Photoshop, but things like how do you find your models, what's it like working with them, where do you scout locations, etc.

I imagine it's even worse being a nude/erotic photographer, because everybody just assumes you're a pervert who shoots porn. Without disparaging the human sexual impulse, I want to be taken seriously, to the point that people want to join me and help me and work together with me to create beautiful art - but not people who are simply perverts looking for ways to get around the normal social prohibitions against promiscuity. "Oh, it's art, so it's okay". I mean the people who share a genuine interest in art with me, even if it's of the erotic variety. Maybe another big problem I have is that I live in the middle of nowhere. But it's not a simple matter for me (mainly due to my anxiety) to just pull up my roots and move to New York or L.A., or what have you. As much as I might dream about it...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Trouble In Paradise

I've been waiting to take this photo for over a year. I scouted this location last summer, just days before the parks department came in and razed everything to the ground (I have no idea why they would do such a thing). It didn't grow in fast enough to appear lush again - like the Garden of Eden - by the end of the summer. So I had to wait the winter out. Ever since this spring, I've been keeping my eye on it, waiting for it to grow sufficiently full, all the while worrying that any day the parks department might come in and raze it all to the ground again.

It's also located in a relatively populated area, so finding it empty enough to go about my business was another challenge (though I was not "illegally" exposed at any time during this shoot, I really didn't want to deal with the stress and the distraction of having spectators). As is always the case when shooting outdoors, the lighting and the weather was another factor. I had to go and do the shoot when the right opportunity came up, not necessarily when every condition was perfect. And I couldn't take a lot of time to tweak every little detail, since every minute I spent there was another minute somebody might walk around the corner and spot me.

All that having been said, the opportunity I had worked out pretty well. I'm not sure I'm 100% happy with the result, but at least I can say that I did the best I could under the circumstances. And it certainly doesn't look bad. I really wanted to emphasize the dual nature of my gender, with a focus on my more masculine front, and my more feminine back (more or less). And what more famous minimally dressed male/female couple is there than Adam and Eve? And though I'm not religious, I like the symbolism of the Garden of Eden, as a Paradise on Earth, where I like to imagine that people (if they ever make it back there) can live in sexual innocence (not to be confused with ignorance) once more.