Against the censorship of pornography

Hardcore pornography is a very controversial phenomenon. Since the beginning of its production there has been debate whether it should be restricted or whether the choice to produce or view it should be left to the individual. In this essay, I will show that hardcore pornography should not be censored because, although some may find it offensive, the placement of registrations on its production and distribution has an ultimately more harmful effect on society than the alternative. I will do so, first, by reviewing John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, showing that because hardcore pornography does not have a harmful effect upon people; it should not be restricted by the state. Second, following the work of Aristotle, I will show that hardcore pornography is a form of art that only serves to relieve tensions rather than incite them, making it an ultimately beneficial form of social media. Thirdly, I will show how the restrictions upon an individual’s freedom of expression and choice that come with censoring hardcore pornography are harmful to society as a whole. Finally, I will explain how censoring mixed violence, domination and sexuality do not improve societal conditions.

John Stuart Mill’s harm principle states that the “only purpose for which [the State’s] power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others” (Mill, 1859, 21-22). According to Mill, the state should only have the ability to restrict individuals’ liberties for the greater protection of its citizens. The Canadian government has designed censorship campaigns to prevent the public from viewing things that may be disturbing to them. The government puts warning ads on the cigarette packages to show the harms of smoking. However, in similar fashion, hardcore pornography does not actually cause harm, whereas cigarettes do. Hardcore pornography is confined to the private location, neither the viewers nor the producers of hardcore pornography do what they do in public; it is done at home or at an adult cinema. Additionally, no difference has been found between the behaviour of those who watch pornography and those who do not (Copp, 1985, 34-35). A study conducted by Diana Russel concluded that there is no correlation between watching hardcore pornography and sexual violence (Copp, 1985,34). Men who watch hardcore pornography are actually more likely to assist a woman on the street if they need help (Strossen, 1996,261). Many have argued that children, who watch violent television shows, mimic what they see and as a result engage in violent acts. However, various studies indicate that there is no factual evidence to support this claim (Carol, 1995,21). Berger, 1983 argues that pornography is not “a significant factor in the behaviour of sex offenders” (96). For instance the case of Ted Bundy, the notorious Washington serial killer was depicted by the American government as a hardcore porn addict (Carol, 1995, 80-81). However, his actions were not a direct consequence from a “hardcore porn addiction,” but rather as a result of a psychological and social circumstance. As Strossen points out, there is no credible evidence that supports the claim that “exposure to sexist, violent imagery leads to sexist, violent behavior” (Strossen, 1996, 248). Strossen was led to this decision due to laboratory experiences which were reported by Marcia Pally, 1994 in Sex and Sensibility: Reflections on Forbidden Mirrors and the Will to Censor. It was reported “that there was no credible evidenceaˆ¦between any type of sexually explicit materials and any sexist or violent behaviour” (Strossen, 1996,250-251). Thus to draw such a causal connection is largely mistaken. Individuals, such as MacKinnon, who advocate for the censorship of pornography, have argued that “there is no evidence that pornography does no harm” (Strossen,1996,248). However, one must beware of this double negative argument because if this were the type of burden of proof required for all of our rights, then we would be left without any freedoms (Strossen, 1996,248). One cannot make the claim that just because there is no evidence that a certain act does not provide benefits, does not justify that it be restricted.

Pornography is merely a form of art, because it is a form of expression. Whether this form of expression is a painting, movie or picture, it is capable of benefitting society through catharsis. Aristotle argues that good art is cathartic, as it allows for a release of emotions (Gallop, 1999,87). Essentially, audiences of art “sympathize” with the characters when they express emotions, without the audience having to express the emotions themselves (Ibid.). This type of art serves as an outlet for the emotions of the audience. People are able to better exercise their judgment because their personal emotions are absent (Gallop, 1999,88). Pornography can also be deemed as cathartic because it diverts passions away from individuals so that they do not commit sex acts. Instead, these individuals are able to sexually release themselves through the viewing of pornography (art). Aristotle also mentions that even art that is deemed bad can be beneficial to society (Gallop, 1999,89). In this sense, bad art allows individuals to objectively and rationally decide why such art is negative and should be continued to be viewed in such a light. Therefore, for those critics who claim pornography is a form of bad art, it still should not be censored because it teaches society why such actions, depicted within art, are bad.

“Marcuse felt that great art, the best art, is negative, destructive and irrational and therefore a valuable element in our society” (Smith, 98). Just like hardcore pornography is at times treated as “negative, destructive and irrational” within society, it is also at the same time valuable for society. Hardcore pornography is a depiction of a story line, with characters that convey expressions. This conveyance of expressions is common among all forms of art. Goodman claimed that the arousal of sexual passions is a legitimate artistic aim (Wolff, 2006,337). Hardcore pornography arouses members of society sexually and is a legitimate form of art because it shows the human body in a state that words cannot describe. Thus the censorship of hardcore pornography is detrimental to society because in the end we are left with a “passionless and conformist community” (Wolff, 2006,339). When individuals conform to mainstream society’s perspectives on topics, such as hardcore pornography, their thoughts are limited and their opinions hindered.

The censorship of pornography is actually harmful to society. Nadine Strossen argues that censorship deeply affects individuals’ rights to freely choose their occupation and that it affects their right to the freedom of expression (Strossen, 1996,191-192). The freedom that one ought to have in making their own choices in terms of engaging in sexual activity, with the inclusion of watching hardcore pornography, is vital to a person’s human condition. Moreover, pornography also serves as an educational tool, where it provides information about human bodies and techniques for “facilitatingaˆ¦sexual pleasure” and arousal (Strossen, 1996,166). Similarly, Kamasutra is accepted within society and made available to the public sold at local book stores, yet this educational tool teaches individuals various hardcore sexual positions. However, hardcore pornographic movies are restricted to an adult-only audience. Thus one must ask the question, how can society accept Kamasutra but try to deny the right to viewing hardcore pornography? The difference between these two is that the former depicts hardcore sexual positions through illustrations, meanwhile the latter uses real people. However, if the individuals within the hardcore pornographic movie are willing to have such an occupation, then society cannot restrict their freedom of choice, especially if no harm is being caused.

Furthermore, pornography can in fact reduce danger because it depicts situations for women that they may find “thrilling,” rather than placing themselves into dangerous situations, where they may want to fulfill their fantasies (Strossen, 1996,175). A female who fantasizes about having rough sex can fulfill her sexual fantasy through viewing hardcore pornography, rather than actually placing herself in the hands of a male. Although Strossen relates this fact only to women, the same can be applied to men. Rather than men harming women, like raping them in a back alley, they can release themselves through a pornographic video, without having to engage in a criminal sex act.

There have been numerous outcries world-wide for the censorship of hardcore pornography. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and West Germany censored hardcore pornography from 1964 to 1984, during the censorship years they noticed that sexual violence and rape remained constant. It was not until they lifted the ban on censorship of hardcore pornography that sexual violence against women actually dropped from 30 per 100,000 to 5 per 100,000 (Strossen, 1996,256).

Claims are made that hard core pornography causes much harm to society. Some of these claims are that hard core pornography shows mix violence, domination and sexuality and in fact none of these accusations are true. There have been numerous claims in society and especially from philosopher Dr. McKinnon that those who view hardcore pornography will become violent and release their anger on society, which include sexual abuse and violent actions such as rape (Strossen, 2007,99). This idea is very vague, where its argument is that individuals mimic what they see. This does not mean that the viewers of these hardcore pornographic movies will release their imagination on society. In fact “pornography can reduce aggressive responses in people who are predisposed to aggress” (Strossen, 1996,261). Advocates of censorship try pursued society that the root of all sexual crimes are related to pornography but sexual violence in society is a much deeper issue which require us to avoid blaming others for our own mistakes. The same situation occurred during Prohibition when the government outlawed all selling and manufacturing of alcohol because of social problems that were on the rise. Consequently, there was an increase in use of cocaine, heroin and marijuana to replace alcohol. Immediately, the government blamed organized crime for this rise. However, it was the government’s fault because they were depriving society of what they wanted (Thornton, 1991). These activists are trying to use correlation data, saying that hardcore pornography leads us to rape and other sexual crimes. Then can I not say that men who live in homes are more likely to murder someone because male murders live in homes? These are absurd claims which no one can believe.

Secondly, Mckinnon and Dworking try to insist that hard core pornography depicts male domination and sexuality over women. When a man is receiving fellatio from a woman, some argue that this is a form of domination (Soble, 1986,109). However, this is not the case. We can also interpret this that only a woman is able to give this type of pleasure, which gives the woman the dominant role (Ibid). Activists argue that hardcore pornography is a humiliation to females. The argument is that when two people make a hard core pornography and they share it with their friends, it is not the tape itself that disgraces one party, but that someone is exposed to another (Parent, 1995,67). Carol Kraftka discovered in her research that women “who were exposed to sexually degrading materials did not engage in more sex-role stereotyping; nor did they experience lower self esteem” (Strossen, 1996,252-253).

In conclusion society should not censor hardcore pornography because by doing so society will actually be at a greater harm. We will be depriving ourselves from one of the most beautiful arts, and it will be restricting our freedom of expression and choice. A society that wants to censor hardcore pornography does not have any valid grounds. Rather than blaming hardcore pornography we should be looking at the root of the problems. Pierre Trudeau once said that the “government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” and more individuals should have this sort of mentality (O’Malley, 2008)


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