Monday 20 May 2019

Ban lifted on smut mags -- but hasn't the horse bolted?

We are exposed daily to images of sex -- so the new influx of smut won't raise many eyebrows, says Eamon Delaney

Eamon Delaney

You might, or might not be interested, to know that as of last week the following publications are freely and legally available in Ireland: Razzle, Mayfair, Men Only, Escort and Club International.

Unless you are completely innocent, you will recognise at least some of these titles as mainstream porn magazines, or girlie mags, or skinrags.

In fact, they are now described as 'glamour' publications, which suggests Kate Moss wearing Dolce & Gabbana, whereas in fact they are more likely to feature some other Kate, from Essex, wearing nothing at all, and smiling wantonly from the kitchen table. In fairness, some of the publications, as the posh title Mayfair suggests, strive for a certain Helmut Newton sophistication (hotel balconies, four-poster beds) but many of the others are just upfront North of England smut, with all the grace of a DIY gynaecology manual. Or, as the trade parlance goes, 'the butcher's window'.

You may have assumed that such publications are already available in Ireland, since the general lifting of the ban on high-street pornography in the mid-Nineties. However, these have all been hit with specific bans going right back to 1935 when Razzle first started publishing. I knew Razzle was an old publication, as I remember it being one of the journals often cited by Philip Larkin in his infamous letters, the publication of which, a few years back, somewhat tarnished the image of one of England's greatest poets. I don't know what people were expecting: the grumpy, repressed Larkin actually seemed like the classic purveyor of secret and saucy porn.

Anyway, as of last week, these publications will be available here. They may have been sold anyway, but the publishers decided to regularise the whole thing and appealed to the Censorship of Publications Appeals Board (CPAB). This is a five-person State body, chaired by solicitor Paula Mullooly, and whose members (four women and one man) go unpaid for their curious task.

however, this is the first time the CPAB has met since 2005 -- an amazing inactivity compared to the Ireland of McQuaid and De Valera when the censor authorities must have been working overtime to ban everything from the novels of John Steinbeck to the bikini-clad tourist brochures of Mediterranean hot spots. Not as fanciful as you think. Even in the still-banning Ireland of the Eighties, it was said that there was always a huge run on the annual sun-drenched brochures of Budget Travel and Hickson's holidays!

However, things have changed, and the fact that we have such a censorship appeals board at all is strange. Especially when you can buy similar, and more hardcore, material in many city newsagents -- with DVD included. Nor is the law applied evenly, with some newsagents displaying, or concealing, such material not on the top shelf, as expected, but loosely in among lads' mags some of which, admittedly, have blurred the lines between soft porn, lads' mags, and harder porn material.

And one has to say that it is sometimes a bit 'in your face' to be confronted by all these covers as you root for Mojo, or Newsweek. And if I feel this, then how more disquieting it must be for many women, coming in to buy the Herald. Almost all newsagents or convenience stores now stock Playboy and Penthouse, but while the latter is now almost traditional in its cheesy, American nudity, the latter is a more explicit affair.

However, apart from making our newsagents less sleazy, does the question of wider and legal access really matter when all kinds of material are available by post, and under wrapper? Or more importantly via the internet, which, during its much-heralded arrival, was almost a by-word for porn. The amount of porn on the internet is still staggering, and this is where new and proper censorship laws must apply. I have managed to avoid the porn spam which others have got in their email, but recent tweets from seemingly innocent Twitter followers have opened to reveal unwanted porn and pay rates.

The priority here should be the protection of children, and those too young to have an adult understanding of such material, and here the authorities, and more especially family responsibility, come into play. But on the broader issue of the sexualisation of our culture, and dubious role models like Britney Spears and Rihanna, performing and setting standards for tweenies, or early female teens, one wonders if the horse hasn't bolted.

For almost 20 years now we have been hearing this debate and still we get the likes of Rihanna doing a simulated stripper routine at the MTV awards. Put simply: parents shouldn't expose their kids to this. Because, quite frankly, the producers and marketeers don't care.

Still, for adult society, it is as well not to be too censorious or judgemental and no one wants to go back to the old days of snooping prudes and things getting banned by those who felt they knew what was best for us.

I may not be a fan of modern lad culture, but I remember when it emerged in the late Nineties, and bled into the mainstream, that there was a terrible fretting by concerned liberals, who are often the least liberal on these matters. Yes, sex sells, that's the reality, but the selling of depictions of sex, or its suggestion, is quite a different story and is something that should be kept on the top shelf.

If it is another five or six years before the Censorship Appeals Board has to convene, that will be no bad thing. And I'm sure they'd be the first to agree with that.

Sunday Independent

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