Pornography should be an irrelevant peripheral

Saturday, 9 September 1995

Why is it that people who are against pornography claim to speak for all women, asks Kanthan Pillay

I WAS a guest on Radio Lotus' Talking Point this week. The subject was pornography, and I spent an hour sparring with Horace van Rensburg, co-founder of a Johannesburg-based anti-pornography group.

My position was not pro-pornography, it was anti-censorship. A necessary result of being anti-censorship is that one has to be prepared to accept that pornography has a right to exist - along with Mein Kampf, Oh You Hindu Awake, The Satanic Verses, and any other document that some person somewhere in the world may find offensive.

Like the abortion issue, this position is obscured by emotionalism. When arguments are reduced to statements like "this is degrading to all women and children", or "I speak for all decent upright people in this country", there is little hope of rational discussion since I speak for no person but myself.

Horace van Rensburg and his pro-censorship colleagues claim to speak for all women. Here's one woman he does not speak for.

The only unarguable basis for pornography seems to be that it inspires lust of a sort, writes Kate Madden Pillay

And so, we must accept that the concept of pornography is purely subjective. What may be to you a disgusting full frontal of a nude might be to me a pleasant portrayal of a person with interesting stomach muscles. What might be to me a cute polaroid memory of kids wallowing in a paddling pool, might be an arousing depiction of prurient interest to you.

Now, lust is considered to be many things. My system dictionary defines it as craving, desire, urge, appetite and so on. Websters 9th Collegiate Dictionary is somewhat more generous, describing lust as an intense or unbridled (sexual) desire, or an intense longing. By this definition, what comprises pornography is purely subjective. As a colleague said recently, "Hey, whatever peels your bananas."

By this token, there is nothing inherently wrong with pornography, or it's use in spicing up one's sex life. Where the problem, the criminality, the evil, lies, is in the abuse of pornography.

Erotic media has been with us for centuries. It is a utility, in much the same way that horror novels or Barbara Cartland drivel or knitting or becoming a genius with a weed-whacker or the matter of simple survival has occupied the "spare" time of people for decades.

Reading Playboy does not lead one to go out and rape - I should know, I've been reading it for years with nary a complaint from the people I've accompanied home. Driving a Ferrari does not lead one to go out and perpetrate hit and run assaults on pedestrians.

Pornography is a twofold entity. One, it is what you perceive to be erotic and/or sexually arousing. Two, it is what the so-called pornographic media tells you is erotic by example. Neither of these requires nor compels you to act without consent upon any fantasies that may arise from your perusal of these media.

While I am fully and painfully cognisant of the abuses suffered by women and children, I am hesitant to adopt the scapegoat of pornography as an excuse for these outrages. Am I to blame the man who invented petrol for the increasing number of hit and runs on our roads? I'd bet that in the days of the hansom, beggars and other "lesser beings" were clipped a sharp and fatal one on the forehead by a horse's hoof without a by-your-leave or an apology.

Which leads to my main point - that it is the concept of the so-called "lesser beings" that we need to be addressing. Pornography is an easy excuse for the powers that be to latch on to; a simple explanation for the abuse of certain members of society without said powers actually having to get off their "spotty, purulent knees" and actually do something about it.

People have rights. And as far as the concept of any form of sexual behavior is concerned there is one incontrovertible bottom line - that of consent. Those who commit crimes in the name of pornography have simply latched on to a convenient rationale, one that is all too quickly accepted by our sex-shy and sex-squicked society.

The really unfortunate thing is that until we manage to rid ourselves of this Victorian sense of quasi-decency, we have no chance of rehabilitating these criminals, let alone bringing up our children in a society where pornography is an irrelevant peripheral and an awareness of individual rights is as fundamental as a...b...c.