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 thoughts on “The most ridiculous op-ed you will read this week

  1. “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?!

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  2. 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?

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

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  6. “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.

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  7. “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.

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  8. “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.

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  9. 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..?

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  10. 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.

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  11. 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.”

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

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  13. “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.

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  14. 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.

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  15. Hayden

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

    Please explain.

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  16. 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.

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  17. 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 🙂

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  18. 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!

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  19. 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.

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  20. 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.

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