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Focal Plane

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Focal Plane: Nocturnal transmissions

This is the eighth instalment of the GoobNet Focal Plane, an occasional series wherein we highlight an unimportant social problem, trying to make you care about it. Previous edition: Footy Indifference.

Isabella Junpilil is not a nymphomaniac. She takes care to stress that point with us. But she does admit to occasional fits of overwhelming desire, when, as she says, "I simply have to drop everything and do something. If it's during work or when I'm out, I just duck into a lavatory somewhere."

Junpilil supports the broadcasting of pornography on television, for a simple reason: She can turn it on when the need strikes.

However, there are those who would deny her the right to turn on. In her France, for instance, lawmakers want to ban X rated programming from broadcast stations and cable channels alike. A politician in Sweden is risking eviction from her party for the mere suggestion that porn should be on television. How is it that such an image conscious society can place so much importance on the restriction of the very same images that it considers so important?

Non-compassionate conservatives

The pornographic industry was heartened this week by the news from Sweden that parliamentary candidate Teres Kirpikli is advocating pornography broadcasts every Saturday. One major problem facing Sweden today is the falling birth rate - in fact, for the past several years, deaths have outnumbered births. Kirpikli's suggestion makes the implicit assumption that Swedes have forgotten how to have sex, or that they just aren't in the mood. The response of one leading woman in her party seems to confirm this.

The BBC reports that the leader of the Kristdemokraterna [Christian Democrats] women's association, Ulla-Britt Hagstroem, intends to ask Kirpikli to withdraw from the election. Kirpikli's idea, unsurprisingly, contradicts quite bluntly the ultraconservative Kristdemokraterna's party line, which calls for wholesale bans of all pornographic material.

Jan-Albert Magnavsson, cochair of the pornography advocacy group SvenskPorn, says that the best part of Kirpikli's sudden support is the party from which she is breaking. "The Christian Democrats have been vehement opponents of erotic media for some time, and it was so refreshing to hear one of their own come out with such strong words in our favour. This is a clear sign that the Christian Democrats are fighting an unwinnable battle."

He also notes that the Turkish-born Kirpikli is likely to be booted from the Christian Democrats, in which case the situation will revert to the traditional left v right format that we know so well. "The Christian Democrats really need to change their views on pornography, but the conservative parties always have so much trouble adapting to changing times. Whenever they hear suggestions about things they should do differently, their impulse is to kick the person out, not to consider it rationally and logically."

Battle over young minds

Meanwhile, in France, ammunition was added to the antiporn lobby in the form of a poll conducted by the Le Parisien newspaper, in which 64% of respondents supported banning pornography from television. The debate is primarily a response to a recent spate of sexual assault cases amongst French schoolchildren.

Nobody, however, is suggesting banning schools, even in light of the oft recounted joke about three French children, aged six, seven, and eight years, looking into a bedroom window.

"Look, those two people are fighting!" says the youngest.

"No they are not!" says the next. "They are making love!"

The eight year old responds, "Yeah, but they are doing it all wrong."

The silent assumption is that pornography can help young people make sense of the world, transmitting knowledge that will help them in later years. But the same argument is made about violent films and television, which are frequently blamed for school shootings.

Unsurprisingly, many who make pornographic films see a flaw in this argument. Jean Juggernaut, Belgian erotic filmmaker and actor, asks, "When a student walks into his school hall with a shotgun, why do we first look at what kinds of games he played and what movies he watched? Should we not look first at what kind of home he lived in and what kind of relationship he had with his family?"

View from the red light district

In a famous letter to French newspaper Libération on MON 29 JUL 2002, French pornographic film director John B Root offered his rebuttal to the antiporn movement, suggesting that "We would not be having this debate if porn was what it should be - joyous, well-made, aphrodisiac art."

Root's view, shared by many in the industry, is that the restrictions imposed in nearly all nations prevent pornographers from accumulating the resources necessary to make films that fully convey their vision, turning the typical erotic film into a loosely bound series of poorly photographed scenes of interaction between bodies.

"Just to give you an idea what we're up against," says Canadian pornographer Brittany Lemmon, "the film Clerks was nearly given an NC-17 rating - modern equivalent of an X rating - because it contained references to blowjobs. No pornography at all! Just people talking about sex, and they still had to petition to have the rating reduced to R. So we're talking about an extremely conservative establishment here."

Lemmon and Juggernaut both say that they have had trouble distributing their films to their target audiences. "Usually only art houses are willing to show my works," Juggernaut says. "But not a lot of places have art houses, which means that a lot of people are missing out on the chance to see what I'm creating."

"In my films I always have something to say about the reality in which we find ourselves," says Lemmon. "I'm working now on a film about the wife of a New York firefighter, which is a story that many of us seem to be forgetting. We think about the families of the deceased, and about those who survived, but what about the families of those who survived? But already I'm finding that theatres won't want to show the film, even though I'm trying to promote awareness of someone we're forgetting about now."

Lonely nights

It is frequently argued that pornography contributes to sexual assault, though studies often indicate the reverse. The American Civil Liberties Union's Nadine Strossen, in her book Defending Pornography, cites studies of individuals who have been convicted of sexual crimes. Strossen reports, "In general, these studies show that sex offenders had less exposure to sexually explicit materials than most men..."

Isabella Junpilil, the occasionally imbalanced accounts manager in Lens, can relate to this viewpoint. "I slip an issue of Silly Sex or Erotickle into my briefcase in case I need it at some point during the day," she admits. And if she forgets to bring such literature? "I did forget once. I had to get ... well, let's just say, now I always check my briefcase before I leave in the morning."

People such as Junpilil are the target audience of most pornographers, which is why Teres Kirpikli has proposed pornography to increase the Swedish birth rate. Probably the best way to ensure the safety of your pornography is to be a good parent, so that your child doesn't become a sex offender at school.