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Parliament Versus Porn

CC Will Lion

Mark Gordon - published on 06/21/13 - updated on 06/08/17

Conservative Party Member of Parliament Maria Miller is leading the way to make it easier to block Internet porn in the UK

During the so-called “Golden Age” of pornography – roughly the late 1960s to the mid-1980s – what had been a marginal fascination in Western culture burst into mainstream consciousness. Magazines like Playboy and Penthouse appeared on newsstands and in suburban mailboxes. Films like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door garnered national attention. The Ivory Snow girl, Marilyn Chambers, became the first crossover sensation, moving from traditional advertising and film into porn. In many cities here and elsewhere, whole blocks were transformed by the appearance of pornographic emporiums: peep shows, dirty movie theaters, adult novelty stores, and so on. Boston’s “Combat Zone” hummed with activity. In New York City’s Times Square, the porn business literally never slept. From coast to coast and around the world, pornography became a big business and an even bigger public eyesore.

Then three revolutions transformed the industry. First, the introduction of home videotape players made porn portable. Adults who wished to consume smut were able to purchase videos in stores or through mail order and take it home. Second, the explosive growth of the cable television industry was fueled in part by “pay to watch” channels that included sports, traditional movies, and porn. Last, the Internet universalized access to porn, especially via complicated or expensive online “combat zones” like Usenet “newsgroups” and subscription-based specialty websites. In a matter of a few short years, the peep show parlors and adult movie theaters disappeared. Boston’s Chinatown absorbed the former Combat Zone, and Disney bought up much of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan.

Today, pornography is not just mainstream; it is mainlined into every home and bedroom through computers, cell phones, and handheld devices. And it is not just consumed by adults who have to negotiate complicated download schemes or expensive paywalls. The worst perversion is readily visible to anyone, including children and teenagers, through a simple Internet search, executed directly from any browser. The corrosive psychological and moral effects of such ubiquitous access to filth are only now being gauged, and the research suggests that regular access to pornography among young people has contributed to rising rates of teen pregnancy, sexual harassment and assault, and younger first-time sexual experimentation. A 2008 University of Amsterdam study of Dutch teenagers demonstrated that exposure to Internet porn had resulted in a significantly greater involvement in casual “hook-ups” (the old term “one-night stand” is apparently passé, implying as it does a more lengthy commitment).  The loss of innocence is more difficult to quantify, but most of us know from our own experience that a certain kind of sexual jadedness is prevalent today, even among very young children.

In the United Kingdom, someone is finally pushing back. Since late 2010, The Sunday Times newspaper, a News Corporation holding, has been lobbying the British government and major Internet services providers (ISP) like Google and AOL to find or create mechanisms that will block smut on home computers. Specifically, the newspaper has been proposing a system in which porn is blocked by default unless adults choose to “opt in.” The Sunday Times is currently promoting an online petition, Generation Porn, designed to build pressure for a remedy. The government was initially cool to the idea, choosing to focus on child pornography instead. But the notion of a default porn block has been revived thanks to Maria Miller, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament representing Basingstoke. Miller serves in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and as Minister for Women and Equalities. Miller recently summoned Google and others to begin talks designed to make the “opt-in” approach the standard by next year. She explained her own passion for the subject in an op-ed that appeared last week in the Daily Mail.

“I want to know,” Miller wrote, “as every parent does, that when my child is online they are safe – whether they are five years old or 15. I want to know this in the same way that I want to know they are safe in the park or at Brownies. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.” Miller identified porn as a major culprit in risking the safety of Britain’s young people. “One of the most concerning issues is the enormous amount of pornography on the internet,” she wrote, “apparently easy to access and with much of it undoubtedly illegal. It’s hugely upsetting to think that young people can accidentally stumble upon this kind of material online.” Looking forward to the summit meeting she held with online services providers this week, Miller promised to “throw down the gauntlet to companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. … These firms have an enormous responsibility to make sure that our children are protected in the best way possible.”

Miller’s summit meeting with the major providers did take place, but a gentleman’s agreement isn’t sufficient for some. Baroness Elspeth Howe of Idlicote, a member of the House of Lords, has introduced legislation designed to “require internet service providers and mobile phone operators to provide a service that excludes pornographic images; and to require electronic device manufacturers to provide a means of filtering content.” While Baroness Howe praises Secretary Miller’s summit as a helpful carrot, she has proposed the stick, noting that her bill “introduces the missing element of legislative compulsion.  While the government expends its energies encouraging the industry to choose voluntarily to get its house in order, children are suffering.  This won’t do.”

Baroness Howe’s approach finds resonance in Catholic teaching, which views the government as a natural institution ordered toward protecting families and promoting the common good. By its very nature, pornography is an assault on the dignity of the human person. In addition to being a personal sin, it is a social evil that transforms people – including children – into commodities and, according to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons of the Institute for Marital Healing, leads to a “disordered view of beauty, goodness, the human person and sexuality.” It is for this reason that the Church has long called on civil authorities to “prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. (CCC #2354). If one member of the House of Lords has her way, Britain may soon be halfway there. 

Tags:
ParentingPornographyUnited Kingdom
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