A reasoned attack on censorship

July 24, 1996

In Defence of Pornography
By Paul Wilson
UNSW Press Ltd, 1995. $5
Reviewed by Patricia Brien

In Defence of Pornography deals with the issues surrounding censorship in relation to pornography.

Paul Wilson discusses the difficulties inherent in defining pornography and how this reflects upon the problems and contradictions in censoring material of this nature. According to Wilson, the Australian censorship system "rate(s) sex as worse than violence".

The X category as defined by the Office of Film and Literature Classification Board applies to "explicit depictions of sexual acts between consenting adults and mild non-consent of any kind". However, R-rated films, while not permitted to show explicit material, are allowed implied or simulated erotic behaviour and explicit violence, even violence with non-censual sex.

Wilson sees this as "... hypocrisy at its worst. By banning the sale of totally non-violent videos and films (the X category) but by allowing the purchase of extremely violent and sexually violent material (R-rated), state governments have caved into the sexual wowsers — most of whom are more concerned with banning sex rather than violence."

Wilson considers the need to address the issue of consensual sadomasochism, gay and lesbian pornography and fetish pornographies and what it means to censor these groups. Wilson also cites examples of two artists from marginal groups whose works were censored because their art did not coincide with what is considered "normal" representation of human sexuality, or what is considered "decent" by the moral majority.

Wilson discusses the issue of linking pornography with violent crime, especially rape. He suggests that while the two have been inextricably bound and judged as "fact" by many, there has never been any proof of a connection. Indeed, Wilson thinks that sexual violence is more likely to be learned in the home.

The cyber-sex debate and the difficulties facing the censorship process are also investigated. "Those who want to make bombs just have to go to a good library; the child pornographers can send letters and their favourite picture through the post..." Videos, in Wilson's opinion, have probably had the greatest impact on the pornography industry: their circulation is now larger than that of magazines.

With the advent of the internet and bulletin boards, censorship would be almost impossible to enforce except on paper, and Wilson argues that this type of legislation is merely a "cosmetic politic ploy to answer potential critics with 'Well, we've done something about it'." Wilson sees no real danger in this kind of technological interchange, because "... fantasy is all that electronic communication allows the user to indulge in".

In Defence of Pornography gives a concise and accessible account of the issues. It is a small book, an informative and useful introduction for anyone keen to grapple with the issue of pornography or censorship in general. However, at times Wilson tends to "clump" all feminists into the one anti-pornography group, which does not reflect the diversity of opinion within feminism. Much of his discussion is based on defending an anti-censorship perspective rather than discussing pornography itself, and as such it could just as easily have been titled Against Censorship.