The most ridiculous op-ed you will read this week

Society must, at some stage, accept that not only is there a widespread demand for pornography, but that it also has the potential, in the process of adhering to certain values, to aid healthy adolescent sexual development. It may seem ludicrous to envision government-funded pornography, but there is no reason why such an enlightened initiative would not be theoretically feasible. …

Such an alternative could take many forms. A government-funded website or periodical aimed at adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, for example, containing erotic and/or informative sexual content (written as well as visual); a high standard of journalism that is simultaneously accessible to the demographics in question; a feminist, but not misandrist, bent; a diverse, open-minded and celebratory view of sex; at least a small quota of queer material; healthy and realistic depictions of the human form, both male and female; opportunities for reader feedback; and rigorous production and employment standards that guard against exploitation.

- Monash University journalism student David Heslin, published this morning in The Age. He makes a sensible point that boys looking at pornography is no inherent cause for concern, but draws the ridiculous conclusion that government should pay for the kind of porn he prefers. There is no ‘market failure’ in the porn industry. And if people really want the nasty, non-NVE stuff a free alternative will not stop them.

75 Responses to “The most ridiculous op-ed you will read this week

  • 1
    M
    June 29th, 2010 07:49

    “healthy and realistic depictions of the human form, both male and female”

    Yep that’s where you lost of teenage audience. Teenage boys in particular are not interested in reality. Zoo knows its market.

  • 2
    Rajat Sood
    June 29th, 2010 08:41

    Yet the nine comments The Age has published to date are generally very complimentary. Are we sure this article isn’t a spoof (pun intended)?

  • 3
    Son of the Ratpack
    June 29th, 2010 09:53

    If the government is going to subsidise porn for teenage boys, it should subsidise tissue paper as well.

  • 4
    Sinclair Davidson
    June 29th, 2010 10:21

    The government is subsidising porn – it’s called the national broadband network.

  • 5
    Andrew Norton
    June 29th, 2010 10:34

    Sinc – Good point. And people used to say similar things about foreign films on late at night on SBS.

  • 6
    Son of the Ratpack
    June 29th, 2010 10:47

    People often say that porn sites are the most visited on the web, but is there any reliable evidence that that is true?

  • 7
    Peter Patton
    June 29th, 2010 11:42

    This whole Age article is just so wrong on so many levels.

    I always perceived young undergrads wanting to make a career in journalism as being very anti the state, or at least highly suspicious of it. Indeed, this fellow expresses disapproval at our “reactionary government.”

    And yet this fellow wants who – Kate Ellis? – to select “good” and “sanctioned” porn. Does the government replace the “reactionary” hat it wears when filtering the Net for porn, with a hat for the distribution – and presumably thus production – of “positive, respectful, non-sexist and healthy” pornographic depictions of sexual acts.

    It is so Orwellian. And so creepy to be coming from a young university student. Why do otherwise highly reputable universities justify awarding undergrad degrees in “journalism?”

    Clearly this kid’s father still hasn’t had “the talk” with him yet. “Respectful, non-sexist, and healthy” depictions of our bits pieces and well, er, rooting.

    Who would ever want to buy or consume such a contradiction in terms? Pornography’s chief attraction is precisely because it sexist and disrespectful.

    ?

  • 8
    Shem Bennett
    June 29th, 2010 12:14

    Wow…

    Why not subsidise brothel visits for 13-18 year olds while we’re at it.

    I’m all for teens looking at porn and I’m against the naive moralising that is often targeted at our youth. But teens are quite capable of taking care of their own sexual urges…

    I guess the angle he’s coming from is a feminist one. Some feminist theory claims “porn leads to sexual abuse because of the violent depictions of sexual acts and degradation of women” or whatever.

    But still, wow… What a weird article to have published when kids are being labelled sex offenders for sexting. Why not clear up stupid laws that punish teenage sexuality instead of talking about subsiding it.

  • 9
    caf
    June 29th, 2010 12:22

    Son of the Ratpack: At least according to Alexa, that doesn’t seem to be so (the first porn site listed is pornhub.com at #55).

  • 10
    Robert Wiblin
    June 29th, 2010 12:57

    There is some porn David Heslin would approve of out there, but it’s a minority. I wonder what is going on in his head – if few people are watching that stuff now, why would free government subsidised porn make any difference? It’s not as if porn is expensive for young people to access anyway (mostly free, surely).

    It would be good to get him to respond here to work out where he went wrong.

    By the way, am I the only one who doesn’t know what non-NVE is?

  • 11
    steve from brisbane
    June 29th, 2010 12:59

    It is a ridiculous idea. Instead, can’t we just rely on good quality teenage sex education material about masturbation, like this one I recently found via Scientific American:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQByoe0T68U

    (It shows how all good robot mothers should react to an embarrassing situation.)

  • 12
    Andrew Norton
    June 29th, 2010 13:09

    non-NVE = non-non-violent erotica. Apologies for the double negative.

  • 13
    Sinclair Davidson
    June 29th, 2010 13:17

    Thanks for that – I didn’t want to ask, nor google it (I’ve already googled bondi cigar today and learned far too much new information as it was). :)

  • 14
    jc
    June 29th, 2010 13:21

    Society must, at some stage, accept that not only is there a widespread demand for pornography, but that it also has the potential, in the process of adhering to certain values, to aid healthy adolescent sexual development. It may seem ludicrous to envision government-funded pornography, but there is no reason why such an enlightened initiative would not be theoretically feasible. …

    Ummm I’d say Clive Hamilton would have a few things to say about that after reading his “please think of the children” rant (despite looking to me suspiciously like at an attempt at writing a porn novella).

    here
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/australian-it/web-doesnt-belong-to-net-libertarians/story-e6frgakx-1111118869227

  • 15
    jc
    June 29th, 2010 13:23

    Steve says
    …material about masturbation, like this one I recently found via Scientific American:

    Steve, I’m sure you saw the educational side of that no doubt.

  • 16
    steve from brisbane
    June 29th, 2010 13:31

    Have u seen it, JC? It is bizarrely amusing.

  • 17
    steve from brisbane
    June 29th, 2010 13:32

    Or amusingly bizarre, perhaps that is what I meant.

  • 18
    BuckNaked
    June 29th, 2010 13:52

    The only thing sadder than that article would be the author’s sex life. I pity his girlfriend.

    I think David Heslin’s ideal pornography, i.e. pornography “that depicts sexual acts and the human form in a positive, respectful, non-sexist and healthy manner” has in fact been featured in an episode of Family Guy:

  • 19
    Charles Richardson
    June 29th, 2010 14:13

    Hi Andrew -
    I don’t see how you can categorically say “There is no ‘market failure’ in the porn industry.” It seems quite plausible to me that there is: that because of the social taboo & legal issues about porn, the sort of people who go into porn production are disproportionately likely to be anti-social jerks, and therefore they are likely to overproduce, relative to demand, the more nasty misogynistic sort of porn and underproduce the more egalitarian sort.
    I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s not unbelievable. Even if it is, though, trying to cure the problem by govt subsidies would almost certainly make things worse, and if this guy Heslin doesn’t realise that then he’s a fool. But he wouldn’t be the first one who’s made the inference from “market failure” to “govt action” without stopping to consider the possibility of govt failure.

  • 20
    Graeme
    June 29th, 2010 16:47

    I’m not sure you can just say ‘no market failure’ in erotica because tonnes of porn have flowed from California and parts of Europe in recent decades. There are a panoply of inhibitions and laws that shape keep the porn industry happily shady.

    Sexual desires and a need for intimacy are natural; its expression is socially constructed. To me it’s one area where conservatives and communitarians can agree, but liberals often flounder. Women blown up to caricatured proportions by cosmetic surgery and are a recent, industrial creation. Placed alongside ‘wooden’ men of rare proportion, they reduce erotica to a kind of super-hero cartoon.

    This student’s heart is probably in the right place. His naivety is not in his silly call for a kind of Radio National of porn, but that it would change much whilst the whole of the media is saturated with a page 3 kind of sexuality.

  • 21
    Jack Strocchi
    June 29th, 2010 17:14

    Its very rare that a young person has gained sufficient wisdom and experience to offer anything to public debate. This goes more so these days with adolescence extending out to middle-age.

    This article continues degeneration the Age’s op-ed pages into uncontrollable farce. Once upon a time it was a venue for high-minded coverage of current affairs. They might have been liberal, even Left-liberal, but they had standards.

    Nowadays the Age’s tone is invariably undergraduate, juvenile bitchin’ and snitchin’, woven together with post-modern liberalism that is a mixture of perversity and political correctness gone mad.

    I would exclude a few writers from this broad-side, Sheehan and Duffy of course. And Davidson and Gittins. Not exactly spring chickens.

    Also, the style of writing lacks all wit and charm. The Sun Herald, by contrast, contains a number of genuinely gifted writers such as Blair and Hildebrand.

    Graeme Perkins would be rolling in his grave.

  • 22
    Jeremy
    June 29th, 2010 17:35

    Without commenting on the substance of the article, I think this fellow’s timing is rather poor.

    If he had asked for funding a few years earlier, when John Howard was throwing taxpayer money at every interest group that moved, he might have been in with a chance.

  • 23
    Andrew Norton
    June 29th, 2010 17:57

    Charles – My comment this morning was based on theory: that where there are few barriers to entry and commercial incentives to satisfy as wide a range of tastes as possible it’s unlikely that the kind of material young Mr Heslin thinks necessary isn’t already available.

    I have done some empirical investigation this evening – though stopped short of actually watching any porn:)

    1) The existing legal porn industry selling X-rated material has legal reasons for not providing ‘nasty’ porn, since that category requires ‘No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed in the category. It does not allow sexually assaultive language. Nor does it allow consensual
    depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that activity for the enjoyment of viewers.’

    2) In the research for The Porn Report (MUP 2008) Catherine Lumby and her colleagues classified all 838 scenes in the 50 bestselling porn videos of 2003. Only 2% contained anything they classified as violence, and some of this was aimed at providing laughs (eg what happens to the man who pretends to be a born-again preacher so that he can sleep with lots of women). The researchers note that while 1970s porn was aimed almost entirely at men, much of it is now aimed at a couples market, suggesting unsurprisingly that the industry is responsive to what people want to watch.

  • 24
    Brendan
    June 29th, 2010 18:00

    Jack – I think you should be focussing on the argument and not the person making them.

    Graeme – The market for pornography is incredibly saturated and competitive. There’s no reason for any ‘overproduction’ persist in such a competitive market.

    SoR, caf – I’m not sure that’s the right question. What are we trying to measure here? Looking at Alexa top 500 global sites, it’s mainly facebook, youtube, and just different language versions of google yahoo and other portals. But what if people are using these search portal to look for pornography? I think a better question is what % of web traffic can be classified as pornography. That would not just include traditional web-browsing, but also video and audio streaming and untrackable peer-to-peer file-sharing made famous by Napster, which is equally able to distribute porn as it does with music and TV-shows. One study concluded that peer-to-peer traffic accounts anywhere between 43% and 70% depending on the geographical location (for 2008/2009).

  • 25
    Brendan
    June 29th, 2010 18:04

    “I have done some empirical investigation this evening – though stopped short of actually watching any porn:)”

    Why that’s just plain lazy!

  • 26
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 07:12

    Thanks for the feedback, Andrew.

    The government-funding concept, I agree, is somewhat utopian. It won’t happen in our lifetime – but then, we still have a government that doesn’t want to touch same-sex marriage. Progression is always a tortuously slow process.

    So, once the logistical problems are understood, what of the theoretical merits? It all comes down to whether or not you’re comfortable with the status quo. Some are, some aren’t; I fall into the latter category. So, this, as far as I can see, is something of a solution – a diversification of the market, whether that be through commercial or government-funded (no, not government-produced) means.

    I’m quite happy for this suggestion to be questioned or even mocked. The point is to add another perspective to the discussion.

  • 27
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 07:18

    Re: BuckNaked

    “The only thing sadder than that article would be the author’s sex life. I pity his girlfriend.”

    Lol!

  • 28
    Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2010 07:39

    David – I am not convinced that we have a problem with male sexual dysfunction that should or could be improved by government. Therefore from my perspective government funding for pornography is not ‘utopian’, it is not needed at all.

  • 29
    TimT
    June 30th, 2010 08:29

    Lefties want everything government funded. Mark Bahnisch – hi Mark! – was saying some time ago that we needed a government-funded networking site that would be the equivalent of facebook, presumably run by the ABC.
    .
    (Can’t see any problem with Conroy – or whoever replaces him – being in control of that at all…)

  • 30
    jtfsoon
    June 30th, 2010 08:31

    We already have government funded porn. It’s called SBS

  • 31
    jtfsoon
    June 30th, 2010 08:32

    oops I see Andrew has already beat me to the joke

  • 32
    Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2010 08:39

    Worth repeating:)

  • 33
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 08:51

    For me, it’s less about government funding than simply providing an alternative. The crux of the issue for me is that a huge percentage of teenage boys (and probably more than a few girls) are learning about the mechanics of sex through shoddy, sexist, artificial internet porn.

    You don’t have to be an adherent to radical feminism to realise that this sort of media has a significant effect on the way views on sex and gender are developing. As a self-described ‘liberal’, I would have thought you’d have some sympathy for the concept of market diversification being promoted over censorship (which is the typical catch-cry of Christians and feminists).

    Would people watch it? Maybe, maybe not. I reject the point that people are only interested in the mainstream stuff, because at the moment that is the only real widely available option. While there are a few supposedly ‘ethical’ commercial porn sites, they usually require subscription, and what 16 year old male is going to pay for porn?

    Anyway, thanks for actually discussing the points instead of engaging in ad hominem rhetoric.

  • 34
    Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2010 09:22

    David – I’m still not convinced of the problem. Video porn has been easily available since the 1980s yet I’d say on average the boys of that era have since had more egalitarian relations with women than their fathers did, who would mostly only have had tame stuff like Playboy. The book on porn I looked at last night suggests that it has improved (from a female point of view) over the years, in response to both legal requirements and a realisation by the industry that women watch it too.

  • 35
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 10:04

    Fair enough. Regulation of the industry probably has had a positive effect, although I wonder how much of it remains ‘underground’. I also wonder how much the dynamics have changed with the advent of the internet and shift away from video and adult cinemas.

    In any case, I think we both agree that a regulated industry working within a legal framework is better than most alternatives.

  • 36
    jc
    June 30th, 2010 10:30

    David:

    Can I understand something here. You want the government to subsidize your porn viewing. Is that right? If that’s the case, would it be a good idea if the government also bought you a 3D television .. all in the interests of making you into a more satisfied porn consumer.

  • 37
    Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2010 10:31

    Without having read recent research on this, I would have thought the big change since the 1980s is the ‘home sex video’ made possible by cheap cameras and the internet. I would expect that in general this was more ‘realistic’ than the commercially made material.

  • 38
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 11:48

    JC, I don’t watch porn. Never really have. If you actually take the time to read the article, you’ll see that this has precious little to do with me, and not all that much to do with government funding (although I have suggested it as one possible solution to the problem).

    Andrew’s perspective is that there’s no problem to begin with. Fair enough. Your perspective is… er… well, damned if I know.

  • 39
    jc
    June 30th, 2010 14:02

    Fair enough David, but I have a golden rule to never read an Age Op-ed for the obvious reason that the couple of minutes wasted will never be returned to me. However I will take the time to read yours.

    Having said that can I ask you…. we know how government funding of Australian films has gone over the past 20 years. They are so bad it’s no longer funny. No one wants to see them even for free.

    Why would you think government subsidy of porn would make it better? You could very well have people turned off sex if our film industry is any guide.

  • 40
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 14:30

    That’s a good point re the AFI. I think the main problem there is that there’s always been a pull between festival-oriented film-making and commercially profitable products. The fact that the vast majority of Australian films end up as mediocre efforts that fail both criteria could be put down to the AFI not knowing what they want.

    In one sense, they’ve recently taken a step in the right direction by deciding to solely fund genre film-making, which is somewhat ironic considering Australia had a rare arthouse breakthrough last year with Samson & Delilah. It’s a good commercial move, but it’s a bit of a death blow for artistic film in this country.

    Government funding isn’t all a disaster story, however. It’s the only reason we have the best channel on TV (the ABC), and shows like The Chaser’s War on Everything and Media Watch couldn’t have existed without it.

  • 41
    Luke
    June 30th, 2010 16:22

    The Wikipedia page for the Film Finance Corporation states that, “since its establishment the FFC has invested in 1,079 projects with a total production value of $2.58 billion”

    Though the July 2008 issue of the IPA Review notes that “Of the 1007 movies supported by the federal government’s Film Finance Corporation in the last 20 years, only 10 have recovered their initial investment.”

    The government never “invested” money in the film industry – they wasted it. This is not an unexpected conclusion for those who understand the differences between the market and the State.

    David – In a market economy, it is consumers who call the shots. Our buying behaviour ultimately determines what does and does not get produced and if a business sells a lousy product that no one wants they go broke. In a market economy, businesses have to cater to the tastes of us – the consumers – if they want to remain profitable. It’s no surprise that so many films funded by the government failed – the film-makers produced these films with the preferences of grant-giving officials of some government board in mind, not the preferences of the masses.

    The exact same thing would happen if the government decided to subsidise porn – millions of dollars would be forcibly taken from Australians and handed over to those few pornographers who decide to go through the process necessary to get gov’t approval and sanction.

    I find many of your statements curious and troubling. You say that the “law’s general failure to regulate [porn] means that there are few, if any, ethical or artistic standards involved in the production of internet pornography.” Is this what you see as the purpose of law? Do you honestly think that it is a legitimate activity of government to establish and enforce the “ethical or artistic standards involved in the production of internet pornography”? Can you not see all manner of possible problems with such a statement?

    In your article you lay out some possible alternatives of gov’t funded pornography but you say that “its key function would be to provide an alternative, and perhaps diversify the market.” But in post #38 you state that you “don’t watch porn. Never really have.” So on what grounds do you claim the authority to judge the market for pornography?

  • 42
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 17:17

    Admittedly, that last response was a little poorly phrased. I have never habitually watched pornography, primarily because I found mainstream porn (through my inevitable exposures to it as a teenager) unerotic and unappealing. Sure, I might not be the J. Rosenbaum of internet porn, but I’ve seen enough.

    Are you asking if I think there should be regulation of adult industries? Well, yes, I think that goes without saying. And yes, that should be enshrined in law. Whether we need MORE regulation than what we currently have is another question, but that’s not the point I was trying to make – I am simply noting that a lot of porn is likely still produced underground and consequentially sans restriction; hence the suggestion that unenforced regulation is one argument against maintaining the status quo.

    When you reference the “few pornographers who decide to go through the process necessary to get gov’t approval and sanction”, you misunderstand what I’m trying to suggest. When I float the idea of government-funded porn, I’m not talking about producing a toothless, sanitised manifestation of the garden-variety thing, but rather a completely revolutionised brand with positive and aggressively political goals (that understands the market it’s trying to appeal to).

    I understand that you’re all small government flag-wavers, but government funding is crucial to the production of art and high-quality entertainment. The BFI (as part of the UK Film Council) have been doing excellent things for British cinema over in the UK, and as I wrote above, the only television worth watching at the moment is partially government funded. The FFC’s mess is, I would suggest, the exception.

  • 43
    Luke
    June 30th, 2010 18:55

    **My post is awaiting moderation so I’ll repost it without the URLs in case Andrew doesn’t get to it tonight**

    Unfortunately I don’t have the slightest idea what you mean when referring to pornography that is “a completely revolutionised brand with positive and aggressively political goals (that understands the market it’s trying to appeal to).”

    The barriers to entry to produce and distribute porn today are so incredibly low – anyone can record a video or upload images and share them with the world if they so choose. In their book “Against Intellectual Monopoly,” Boldrin and Levine make the argument that the lack of enforcement of copyright has been a tremendous boon to the porn industry:

    If we compare the pornographic movie and entertainment industry to its “legitimate” counterpart, we find an industry that is more innovative, creates new products and adopts new technologies more quickly, and for which the reduction in distribution cost has resulted in more output at lower prices, and a more diverse product. We also find an industry that is in many ways a cottage industry, with many small producers, and no dominant large firms capable of manipulating the market either nation- or world-wide. (p. 25)
    It seems to me that if there really was a demand for “a completely revolutionised brand [of porn] with positive and aggressively political goals” (whatever that means) – we’d have it already. Entrepreneurs would have exploited the profit opportunities in bringing this porn to market.
    I am honestly confused, though, because it seems to me that, especially with the advent of the Internet, pornography is the one area where everybody’s desires are satisfied. Whatever your fetish, you can surely find it on the Internet. I suspect that, instead, the one desire that this explosion of online pornography has not satisfied is the desire by those who like to promulgate ‘appropriate’ sexual practices and dictate to others what they should or should not find desirable. While I can understand that some may have good intentions, I find it rather haughty to suggest that, “what turns you on is ‘wrong/incorrect/deviant’” and to suggest instead that what you find sexually appealing is what others should too. Providing someone is not forcing another to do something they do not wish – I don’t see the law as having anything to do with the matter.

    The argument that gov’t funding is crucial to the arts is completely fallacious. I’d suggest taking a look at Tyler Cowen’s book “In Praise of Commercial Culture” and/or listening to the (highly informative and entertaining!) 10 part lecture series by Paul Cantor, “Commerce and Culture.” Details about the seminar and free links to d/l can be found by Googling it. The series can also be d/l for free from iTunes.

  • 44
    Luke
    June 30th, 2010 19:22

    “..the only television worth watching at the moment is partially government funded.”
    Firstly, umm.. Foxtel? Secondly, that statement is completely subjective. The fact that millions of people tune in every day to watch TV shows like Neighbours and Home and Away, etc., demonstrates that, for these particular individuals, they are worth watching. You can have an opinion that they have poor taste but it’s a completely different matter when you believe the gov’t should become involved and should subsidise shows that you think are worth watching. The way that I read this statement and your one on porn seems, to me at least, like you essentially think ‘the uncivilised masses are too stupid to know what’s good and they should be forced to subsidise what I think is good.’

  • 45
    Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2010 19:35

    Luke’s links:

    The argument that gov’t funding is crucial to the arts is completely fallacious. I’d suggest taking a look at Tyler Cowen’s book “In Praise of Commercial Culture” and/or listening to the (highly informative and entertaining!) 10 part lecture series by Paul Cantor, “Commerce & Culture.” Details about the seminar can be found here: http://mises.org/events/84 and it’s available to d/l for free on iTunes or from here: http://mises.org/media.aspx?action=category&ID=91/

  • 46
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 19:42

    “It seems to me that if there really was a demand for “a completely revolutionised brand [of porn] with positive and aggressively political goals” (whatever that means) – we’d have it already. Entrepreneurs would have exploited the profit opportunities in bringing this porn to market.”

    We do, and they have. There are a number of companies out there already trying to realise what I’ve been suggesting here. Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa company has, I believe, been attempting to do something like this up in Scandinavia; closer to home, AbbyWinters (a company which has come under some deserved scrutiny for their practises in regards to employees) is aesthetically radically different to the bulk of what you would see on the internet, and certainly the kind of thing one would like to see more of. The trouble is that these are niche companies catering to niche markets. They cost money, and are aimed at people who can afford the expenses and know what they’re looking for.

    Most teenagers aren’t going to have access to that stuff. They’re not going to have the money, and even if they did the chances are that they would have seen 99 luridly flashing ‘horny sluts’ websites before chancing upon the better quality stuff.

    Government funding achieves two things: firstly, it would give a production company more clout than the relatively small-fish companies I mentioned above; secondly, it would be a safeguard against the commercial urge to mainstream. Those pesky employee rights and production standards cost money to maintain, and there’s always going to be that struggle to mainstream and degrade in order to earn more.

    Sorry, I might get around to the other points later, but hopefully this will help to explain the gist of my article a little better.

  • 47
    Peter Patton
    June 30th, 2010 20:00

    If your strategy is to use government to safeguard against going ‘mainstream’ doesn’t that frustrate your stated main goal, which is the mass-market provision of porn to Australian teenagers?

    Another question: Is your imagined market just teenagers?

  • 48
    jc
    June 30th, 2010 20:07

    I understand that you’re all small government flag-wavers, but government funding is crucial to the production of art and high-quality entertainment. The BFI (as part of the UK Film Council) have been doing excellent things for British cinema over in the UK, and as I wrote above, the only television worth watching at the moment is partially government funded.

    Is it, or are you simply ignorant of what is on offer, David? In fact I would argue that television would be a lot poorer if HBO and Cinemax didn’t exist: American cable channels with the best programming in the world.

  • 49
    Luke
    June 30th, 2010 20:08

    David,
    Again, when you reference, for example, those two companies and say that they’re “certainly the kind of thing one would like to see more of” and when you say that teenage boys will come across certain websites “before chancing upon the better quality stuff” you seem to be completely missing the point that these statements are subjective. Everyone’s preferences are different, you can use your argument and apply it just about anything. “If only the gov’t could subside rap music -then we’d get the really good stuff produced that would promote a positive message to the kids.”
    A statement such as “there’s always going to be that struggle to mainstream and degrade in order to earn more” is very telling. I’d politely suggest that you have a lot to learn if you think that’s how a market economy works. The budget for the 2008 film “Pirates II”, for example, was the most expensive porn film ever made ($8 million). The company who made that film spent so much money because they believed that, by increasing the production value, they could appeal to a wider audience and make even more money.

  • 50
    jc
    June 30th, 2010 20:10

    And in fact David I would argue that Australian film arts has never been stronger with our artists and various technical people moving around the world to ply their art.

    It’s just that the people left here are simply not very good at what they do and usually spend a lot of time whining and demanding more taxpayer funding for stuff no one likes.

  • 51
    Luke
    June 30th, 2010 20:15

    “Most teenagers aren’t going to have access to that stuff. They’re not going to have the money..”
    This isn’t the 1980s.. I think you could probably count on one hand the number of Australian teenagers who actually pay for porn in 2010. Also, their access is free.. It’s called the Internet?!

  • 52
    Peter Patton
    June 30th, 2010 20:36

    David

    So what this all about is advocating a role for government to engender three things:
    (i) positive effects on the attitudes of adolescents, particularly on
    (ii) sex
    (iii) women
    Thus your premise is that 21st adolescents have negative attitudes towards sex and women. Presumably, you mean only male adolescents? Further, you think adolescent attitudes towards men are fine; indeed “positive.”

    Without explictly saying so, you imply that the fact that 80-90% of 17 year olds have regualr access to sexually explicit material, is related to these males negative attitudes towards sex and women. In particular it is the dominance of pornography which in its depiction of sexual acts is ‘disrespectful’, ‘sexist’ and ‘unhealthy.’

    And you are proposing the taxpayer pony up so the government can non-artificial porn. Wouldn’t that mean real porn? Are you talking taxpayer-funded live sex shows produced by a government department?

    I’m also concerned by this presumption that sex can be “non-sexist.” If this is true, are you saying that current pornographic products eschews the mechanics of non-sexist sex? Why would this be? Are you suggesting it is a thus far a market segment existing operators have not discovered?

    If so, might not this be a quicker solution? To persuade the execs of porn-producing businesses they are neglecting a competitor free market, with a substantial customer base. Of course, you are going to have to substantiate this alleged market of teenage boys (and some girls) keen to substitute this new “non-sexist pornographic depiction of the mechanisms of sex.” I, myself, had no idea such a market existed. What led you to it? How large do you think it might be?

    I really must again. What uni influences have produced this disturbing proposal of yours?

  • 53
    lomlate
    June 30th, 2010 21:53

    Funnily enough I think this student is really complaining about a lack of censorship.

    The original article talks about how violent or aggressive porn is distorting young boys minds.

    Andrew has posted several sources indicating that the industry in Australia as it is regulated does not peddle such content.

    What are we left with? the unregulated internet is creating a product the OP does not like. But you don’t get put on fairfax’s oped page advocating net censorship, so this is the measly solution offered.

  • 54
    Peter Patton
    June 30th, 2010 22:20

    lomlate

    I think this student is not aware of just reactionary his views on this topic are. I suspect this very concerning attitude is a consequence of feeling obligated to be more politically correct than thou among his equally reactionary young peers.

    I really hope I am wrong.

  • 55
    Brendan
    June 30th, 2010 22:44

    David, if people really wanted and valued pornography with a “revolutionised brand with positive and aggressively political goals”, then they would pay for it themselves. If not then that’s their choice and they’d rather spend their money on other goods or services.

    To me your argument reads that if people don’t want what you think they ought to want, then you will essentially force them to buy it though government subsidisation.

  • 56
    Brendan
    June 30th, 2010 22:54

    “You don’t have to be an adherent to radical feminism to realise that this sort of media has a significant effect on the way views on sex and gender are developing.”

    This is not obvious at all. No credible empirical evidence has been provided to support this claim. Not to suggest that it doesn’t exist because I’ve certainly seen research trying to determine if there is any effect, but my point is that this is not obvious at all.

    Just the nature of the experiments that such a research question would involve would mean that ethics committees would be reluctant to approve such experiments, so the amount of empirical evidence would likely be limited.

  • 57
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 22:56

    “Is your imagined market just teenagers?”

    Primarily, but not exclusively.

    “I think you could probably count on one hand the number of Australian teenagers who actually pay for porn in 2010. Also, their access is free.. It’s called the Internet?!”

    My point exactly. Read it again.

    “Thus your premise is that 21st adolescents have negative attitudes towards sex and women. Presumably, you mean only male adolescents?”

    No, I think this can have tangible effects on female body image and views of sex as well. But, as we know, the viewing of pornography is a primarily male pursuit (particularly in that demographic), so yes, they are the primary targets here.

    “And you are proposing the taxpayer pony up so the government can non-artificial porn. Wouldn’t that mean real porn? Are you talking taxpayer-funded live sex shows produced by a government department?
    I’m also concerned by this presumption that sex can be “non-sexist.” If this is true, are you saying that current pornographic products eschews the mechanics of non-sexist sex? Why would this be? Are you suggesting it is a thus far a market segment existing operators have not discovered?”

    Government funded, not government produced. Huge difference.
    I would suggest the bulk of available pornographic material is strongly sexist and perpetuates sexist assumptions, yes. It’s like asking why so many people buy the Herald Sun and similar media products. Hegemony is the word that comes to mind in that case, and it probably applies here too.
    I apologise for returning to my tired analogy, but why couldn’t our wonderful free market have come up with an ABC or SBS without government intervention? Think about it.
    “Funnily enough I think this student is really complaining about a lack of censorship.”
    Funnily enough, I don’t think you read my article at all.

  • 58
    David Heslin
    June 30th, 2010 22:58

    “I think this student is not aware of just reactionary his views on this topic are. I suspect this very concerning attitude is a consequence of feeling obligated to be more politically correct than thou among his equally reactionary young peers.
    I really hope I am wrong.”

    Bugger, you got me.

  • 59
    Luke
    July 1st, 2010 01:09

    David,
    I can see how my reply that you’ve quoted me on above was misunderstood, I wasn’t very clear. You gave a couple of examples of the market already producing the kind of porn you think teenagers should be looking at but claimed that it was too expensive for teenagers to afford and that they don’t have access to it. My point was that there’s no way teenagers would pay for any kind of porn these days anyway when they can get it all for free on the Internet – which includes the examples you cited.
    If teenagers really did want to see the kind of porn that you believe is “aesthetically radically different to the bulk of what you would see on the internet, and certainly the kind of thing one would like to see more of” – the example you give is AbbyWinters – then they would not get on to the official site which, as I see, charges between $25-39/month and pay for a subscription. They would get that material just like they get all other media on the Internet – they’d pirate it. Do you honestly think the ‘net generation’ does not know how to use the Internet to get the kind of porn they’re into? For those in the dark, this involves the challenging procedure whereby you: 1) Go to Google, 2) Type in whatever you want and add the word “torrent”. 3) Download it.
    In one of the above posts I cited the Boldrin & Levine book that said the lack of IP protection for porn has made the industry very innovative and has led to low costs and wide distribution. Abby Winters for one seems to be doing OK – their site says that they have over 1,000 models, over 4,000 videos and over 350,000 images. This is just one website you mentioned which is, in your opinion producing more of the “better quality stuff.”
    Despite this, you’re arguing that Abby Winters is not producing enough porn? You do realise, don’t you, that the government has no money of its own; that every single dollar the government spends is a dollar less for those of us who foot the bill? So instead of us choosing for ourselves what we spend our money on in our own lives, you want the government to forcibly make this decision for us – and in your view, it’s more porn.
    Though I can see how you’d reach such a flawed conclusion when starting from such a flawed premise (that the gov’t has the right to take money from some people and give to others to produce things that are ‘good’), I can’t help but think this all comes down to a simple case, yet again, of:
    1) Condemning the preferences of others and demanding the gov’t do something about it, and
    2) Rent seeking. I wonder if your suggestion for a gov’t funded, ‘alternative’ smut magazine has anything to do with the fact that this would be an ideal employment opportunity for a journalism student who’d previously written about the desirability of such a gov’t funded, alternative smut magazine..?

  • 60
    Hayden
    July 1st, 2010 01:27

    Actually, most of the replies thus far have been infinitely less interesting than the piece concerned. For a minute there I thought I was in the late 40s, listening to a debate on which particular Utopian mode of distribution is most likely to lead us to the New Earth. The most sensible objection is Andrew Norton’s contention that there is no problem to fix, which nullifies the argument, but at the same time it is as unsatisfactory as David’s failure in the first instance to quantify the problem.

    In the real world, governments will continue to be elected and will continue adjudicate on matters deemed morally important. Markets are not considered the final word in many areas of society and this is unlikely to ever change. Ideology, and therefore politics, will continue to be relied upon for the majority who see sexuality, and even more so teenage sexuality, as an area requiring moral adjudication. Of course, the legislature and judiciary are already involved in teen sexuality, and, moreover, the public assumes that this involvement is proper.

    As David observes, young teenagers consume porn, and that porn has a POV. Now, David needs to furnish us with evidence as to what that POV is, but we cannot dismiss his argument on the basis that porn has no POV and no impact on teen sexuality, or that if it has a negative effect, the market has an acceptable solution at the ready. And we cannot substitute the lack of data provided with glib observations that women are treated better than they ever have been, as if that counts as serious argument, and that only x percent of porn has been found to be violent, as if that encapsulates all potentially negative elements of porn. Indeed, if as one poster claims the porn market is now far more mindful of its female clientele than it ever was, we do have to wonder why the porn market has taken so many decades to reach such an enlightened state. Of course we know why, and that’s because the market is part of a complex of forces which shape society, not some primary cosmic body around which lesser lights as ideology orbit.

    Let’s imagine for a moment certain studies demonstrate that there is a particular tendency in pornographic material, and that tendency is correlated with a certain impact on young people. According to one or another ideological position that impact may well be deemed “negative”. Consequently, certain groups will then believe authority, and ultimately the government, ought to intervene to produce “desirable” outcomes, as the government presently does in all manner of other areas in a host of distinctly non-Orwellian societies. And we don’t have to go that far; groups without data already have firm views on the matter and are already affecting political outcomes.

    So, in the spirit of David’s hypothetical, the primary question still remains: what would we do if the impact was found to be “negative”? That’s the challenge I took away from David’s article, and it is something which requires further research, despite it being dismissed out of hand by the ideologically stifled.

  • 61
    TimT
    July 1st, 2010 06:32

    I couldn’t help myself. Here’s my take. Thanks for the idea (David) and the tip off (Andrew).

  • 62
    Andrew Norton
    July 1st, 2010 06:51

    Tim – Very good. Only semi-work safe for those clicking through (no pics, but mock sexual content).

  • 63
    steve from brisbane
    July 1st, 2010 07:19

    I can’t quite believe this topic has 62 comments so far. Maybe readers of this blog need a better quality of porn to keep them away from silly topics like “the need for a better quality of porn.”

  • 64
    Russell
    July 1st, 2010 10:08

    I read somewhere that SBS stands for a summary of its programming: Soccer Before Sex

  • 65
    Peter Patton
    July 1st, 2010 12:37

    I had a nightmare last night. Quentin Bryce was presenting Catharine Lumby with a medal for Services to the Porn Industry!

  • 66
    Brendan
    July 1st, 2010 13:56

    “So, in the spirit of David’s hypothetical, the primary question still remains: what would we do if the impact was found to be “negative”?”

    What is the point of spending time trying to figure out “what would we do if the impact was found to be “negative”” if in actual fact the effect is zero or even positive?

    I think the primary question is still the effect, if any, of pornography on the consumer and third parties. Your question can not be meaningfully answered until the magnitude and sign (positive or negative) of this is determined. Also in terms of government intervention, only the third party effects would be relevant.

  • 67
    Hayden
    July 1st, 2010 15:15

    Brendan, I don’t technically disagree with that, but given most serious lines of inquiry come from motivated hypotheses, the writer’s contention is as good a place as any to start. It is standard fare for the range of possibilities to be canvassed long before the data arrives, and I did note that the matter “requires further research”. But we’re just as likely to be left without compelling data for decades, so intuitive thought will fill the void in the interim whether we like it or not.

    Reading through the comments, one wonders if people are so used to definitive opinion that they no longer recognise a thought exercise when they see it.

  • 68
    Peter Patton
    July 1st, 2010 18:40

    Hayden

    Are you saying you unerstand what David’s aims are, what he wants, and you endorse his way to get tjere?

    Please explain.

  • 69
    Hayden
    July 2nd, 2010 00:38

    Peter, I’d certainly hate to get into a debate about authorial intention (god help us!), but the article is clearly exploratory.

    The writer refers to studies which “are not entirely conclusive”, his central claims are hedged (“…this kind of material must surely play *some* role in the way their views of themselves, women and sex are formed”), and his solution to the perceived problem is hardly uttered with religious conviction: “Such an alternative could take many forms.”

    So there’s plenty of evidence we’re dealing with a thought exercise, which is exactly how I read it. As David argues, the contention that teenagers consume porn and porn presumably affects teenage perceptions of sexuality is hardly controversial. If we bridge that observation with another uncontroversial fact, namely that teenage sexuality, mental health and behavior are already subject to the adjudication of authority, the notion that the government might intervene in the matter is not something warranting scorn or hysteria. We can always debate the merits and form of intervention, but if the data turn out to support the hypothesis then intervention is likely to be viewed by many as both morally *and* legally required – libertarian dogma notwithstanding.

    Beyond that, I never once felt compelled to “endorse” anything on reading the article, though I did feel the need to consider and research the matter further, a response consistent with the contingent nature of the piece. As discussed above, the real challenge now is to see if we can get some serious data on what the effects actually are. Personally, I have ambivalence towards porn; my biology has no problem with it (!), but I have serious reservations about it being a site of exploitation. That’s a further hypothesis that needs looking into despite the industry’s protestations to the contrary. Moreover, it’s not hard to imagine such exploitation becoming encoded in the semiotics of the medium.

    Now, I don’t have the data or the answers, but there’s nothing wrong with thinking through these matters. As I mentioned in a post above, motivated hypotheses drive most of our intellectual advancement. And whether we admit it or not, we all hold tacit positions on porn that are likely to benefit from critical analysis.

  • 70
    Peter Patton
    July 2nd, 2010 18:43

    Hayden/David

    I will respond over the weekend, but I just want to make clear here that I think it is fantastic David was able to get an op-ed published in The Age, especially as an undergrad.

    As I know nothing about David, never heard of him, etc. I hope you can respect I am responding to what was written and its context – a university Journalism school student.

    So when I am critical, I hope you are able to read as though you are a 3rd person completely not involved. Probably an impossible ask, but at least you know where I’ll be coming from :)

  • 71
    Jeremy
    July 2nd, 2010 18:59

    Hayden,

    Your study has already been done. People have already thought about what explicit but ‘community approved’ sexual education, which is what David is endorsing, would look like.

    http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DQLKMQtfZLUw

    Let’s not waste any taxpayer money on it.

  • 72
    Hayden
    July 2nd, 2010 21:00

    Peter, I’ve failed to engage matters with a healthy curiosity many a time, so let me be the last to point the finger at you.

    Jeremy, that sketch is of course legendary :)

    Unfortunately, there’s not much more to say until we confirm or deny the problem and map its dynamics. It will be interesting to see what Peter comes up with. I’ll do my best to at least find one quality study on the subject, though I confess I was hoping someone else might have done so by now.

    David started this, so he at least owes us some more data!

  • 73
    David Heslin
    July 3rd, 2010 11:48

    Here you go Hayden.

    “Adolescence, Pornography and Harm” by Colleen Bryant
    Australian Government (Australian Institute of Criminology)

    This was the main source I consulted while writing the piece.

  • 74
    Yobbo
    July 6th, 2010 14:24

    I think if the student in question thinks that porn featuring lots of anal,submissive female behaviour and facial cumshots is unrealistic, then he is hanging around with the wrong type of chicks.

    Not all women are lefty arts students.

  • 75
    Andrew Norton
    July 6th, 2010 15:41

    Yobbo – Too much information.