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Friday, 6 January 2012

The XXX Factor


For everything that is undeniably shit about now, we still live in an incredible age. A hundred years ago, in polite company, it was considered lude for a woman to show her ankles. Fifty years ago, in the UK, two men could be prosecuted and imprisoned for having consensual sex. Less than ten years ago, three or more men still couldn’t fuck without risking jail time, which must have been terribly awkward when it came time to decide who got to go first and who had to wait their turn in the corridor. Today, we live in a world where thousands of sexual sub-cultures flourish. We’ve gone from the love that dare not speak its name to a Britain where, no matter how awesomely obscure your fetish is, you can share and celebrate your sex with likeminded people online. People don't need to be alone any more - even the most inventive pervert can find people to share support, advice and bodily fluids with. Which is why the trial R v Peacock was an obscene relic of a bygone age.

The act on trial wasn’t sex. It was the depiction of sex. Obscenity laws over half a century old were wielded against a man who had the temerity to sell DVDs of adults consensually doing things which were not, themselves, illegal. It would be wrong to say that nobody was getting hurt – in many cases the whole object was to inflict pain in a manner that, when coupled with a careful combination of theatre and trust, would transmute itself into ecstasy for all the parties involved. Or, to put it more bluntly, the men were shoving their hands up each others arses, pissing in each others mouths and using each others inflated balls as punching bags, and having a brilliant time doing it.

I’ll happily admit that the detailed descriptions of these acts, tweeted from the courtroom, made me feel squeamish on several occasions. But so what? Each time I so much as hear about X Factor I’m overcome with a deep, nauseous sense of despair, but for some reason I can’t fathom, nobody ever suggests banning it. Which is odd as, if you live in Britain with functioning eyes, you’re pretty much forced to know about X Factor, but anal fisting mostly keeps itself to itself. If men were having their urethras dilated on the cover of More magazine, or the screams of men having their bollocks electrocuted was Christmas number one, I might understand the prosecution. Instead, Simon Cowell’s abomination (the show’s pre-production title) assaults me at every turn, while my first knowledge of Michael Peacock’s sex life came from his trial.

That graphic depictions of extreme sex had to be shared in order to try a man for sharing graphic depictions of extreme sex is, to say the least, ironic. Perhaps, under the circumstances, everyone involved in the case, including Peacock himself, should be immediately arrested if a verdict of guilty is delivered. Of course, the graphic descriptions of graphic descriptions required to try this new batch of obscenators would themselves be obscene and the resulting cascade of larger and larger trials would grow like a judicial version of The Blob, till every man, woman and child in Britain is being tried for obscenity.

Thankfully, that now looks unlikely (even more so, I mean). In the last few minutes, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. This will be a blessed relief for all decent human beings, and a blood vessel bursting nightmare for Daily Mail readers. Win-win.

Still, despite his acquittal, Michael Peacock has been severely punished for not committing a crime. The vagaries of the process itself – the soul-churning moment of arrest, the months of worry that followed, the endless meetings with lawyers (though the firm that represented him, Hodge Jones and Allen, are as awesome a group of people as you could ever hope to meet, and have gotten me out of a tight spot on more than one occasion) are all deeply stressful and costly events. These are standard ways the process punishes people, but in Peacock’s case they were coupled with revelations about his private life which must have been excruciating. Even the most vanilla of you probably wouldn’t want your mum hearing every detail of what you do in bed, particularly not if you were telling her from the dock. This may be why Peacock was the first person to plead not guilty and opt for a trial by jury, an act of heroism for which he will be derided in the press as a pervert. Sensible folks (that’s us) should now turn the spotlight round and ask the perennial question: what the fuck were the police playing at?

I can understand why the obscenity law remains on the statute: when penned in 1959 it was actually a liberalizing bill, and reducing but not eliminating the scope for what could be considered obscene must have seemed like common sense in a UK that had yet to witness the 60s. It has not been politically expedient to repeal or reform the bill since because, while the bulk of politicians behavior is obscene, publically calling for more obscenity has rarely won anyone an election. However, lots of laws are rarely, if ever, enforced. Even if I walked into Scotland Yard and confessed that I’d never picked up a bow in my life, I’d be more likely to be charged with wasting police time than failing to keep up with my mandatory archery practice.

So why spend police resources on Michael Peacock? His prosecution was no accident, police did not discover the obscenity while investigating a more heinous crime. Instead, a squad that exists specifically to bother people about their private lives targeted him by sending an undercover cop to buy his DVDs. Yet the police’s story doesn’t quite add up – they claim they came across Peacock’s services via Craigslist and decided to look into them, but the prosecution, by way of suggesting he set out to corrupt people, described his ad as offering “innocent” porn. Where, then, did the police get the idea that they should be sending officers into the home of a young gay man and looking for reasons to arrest him?

The not guilty verdict will hopefully discourage the police and CPS from future shenanigans, but with a dedicated “extreme pornography” squad looking to justify their budget, and many previous defendants choosing to plead guilty rather than have their fetishes publicized in a court room, one has to suspect that the nonsense will continue. The verdict today suggests that many of those previously convicted were effectively blackmailed into a guilty plea. While we’ll never know exactly how the jury made their deliberations, the fact they took less than two hours to consider their verdict suggests they sat down, said “well, this is fucking silly” and sent for the clerk.

Unlike some people, I believe obscenity exists and I believe the crown’s definition of "that which corrupts and depraves” is actually a good one. Like anything pleasurable, pornography can be addictive, and addiction corrupts anyone afflicted by it. Depravity, to me, is treating people like objects, and pornography surely can do that too. Yet the law is obsessed with depravity only when it is also erotic, and seeks to protect only our sexual morals from corruption. When people bay for the blood of strangers, or debase themselves for a moment of fame, the state stays curiously silent.

In other words, if we're going to ban people from watching things that we think are weird and bad for them then, please, for the sake of my sanity, let's start with the fucking X Factor, and let people cum in peace.

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