Tom Lehrer and the Tories’ Political Use of Smut

Also in the news this week was a report in the I that about half of all children in Britain had seen porn on the internet. There was justifiable outrage that pornography should be so available to minors, and deep concern about the skewed ideas about sex, relationships and misogynistic attitudes towards women that could result. All this is entirely right, and I do share these concerns. What also concerns me is the cynical political use the Conservatives have made of decent people’s perfectly natural fears. Remember a few years ago when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition pushed through an act, which basically defined offensive materials in such a broad way, that it gave them carte blanche to ban and censor just about anything they didn’t like, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with sex or porn. Pagans and occultists got worried because it criminalised ‘the esoteric’, which for those, who put the law together probably just meant anything weird and bizarre that they couldn’t think of at the moment, but which was probably out there somewhere. However, ‘esotericism’ is also another term for the magic and the occult, and so a community that was already fixated on persecution and the witch hunts of the medieval and early modern period once again found themselves apparently facing renewed persecution.

This legislation could also extend to political discussion. Tom Pride found access to his site blocked, after one post was deemed too ‘adult’ for general viewing. Much of the material at Pride’s Purge is adult, in the sense that it deals with adult issues, by which is meant, issues that confront adults, such as politics, poverty, unemployment, economics, privatisation and social welfare, rather than porn.

I found this piece by the great satirist and musician, Tom Lehrer. It’s called ‘Smut’, and just about describes the way I feel about the hysteria about on-line porn. There are serious issues there, but they need very careful handling rather than handing the Tories another moral panic which they can exploit.

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