But should we close down the shop?

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Por­tia Lind­say

a pa­thetic sense of the ridicu­lous, mak­ing them al­most comedic in their mar­keted con­struc­tions of sex.

Sparrow ex­am­ines the prob­lem­atic porn in­dus­try and the equally prob­lem­atic ob­jec­tive of im­pos­ing censorship on it. He meets Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids, Fiona Pat­ten of the Aus­tralian Sex Party and a host of oth­ers as­so­ci­ated with the porn in­dus­try, from will­ing par­tic­i­pants to staunch crit­ics.

As Sparrow’s jour­ney pro­gresses, the vic­tims of the porn in­dus­try widen: it’s not just women who in­habit a so­ci­ety shaped by vi­ciously misog­y­nis­tic de­pic­tions of sex but also the porn shop owner pros­e­cuted for break­ing laws most peo­ple break with­out con­se­quence, and the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties po­liced in ways that ur­ban­ites would rail against as a hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion.

The hypocrisy of a sys­tem that out­laws X-rated ma­te­rial, only to tol­er­ate, even em­brace, the sale of it in stores across the coun­try, is demon­strated through the ex­pe­ri­ences of Dar­rell Co­hen, jailed for sell­ing X-rated ma­te­rial a few doors down from sim­i­lar stores whose own­ers had not faced pros­e­cu­tion. If this case and sim­i­lar sto­ries cast doubt on the le­git­i­macy of censorship and as­so­ci­ated law en­force­ment, then where do we even start with web­sites that con­tain re­stricted im­ages but are hosted over­seas?

Sparrow deftly moves through the mul­ti­tudi­nous per­spec­tives on the de­bate to end up at what is ar­guably the low­est form of com­mod­i­fied sex­u­al­ity: web­sites such as Is Any­one Up?, where pho­tos of or­di­nary women (and oc­ca­sion­ally men) are mer­ci­lessly judged against porno­graphic stan­dards. The web­site’s cre­ator and its users de­fend the right to free­dom of choice. Sparrow makes the con­nec­tion to a ne­olib­eral mar­ket econ­omy, in which our sex­u­al­ity has be­come a prod­uct, and al­though Is Any­one Up? is per­haps an ex­treme ex­am­ple, this com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of sex­u­al­ity has broad con­se­quences.

The sex­ual free­dom fought for in the 1970s in an anti-cap­i­tal­ist con­text has been co-opted by the ‘‘ ne­olib­eral strug­gle to break down what­ever stood in the way of mar­ket free­dom’’, Sparrow writes, adroitly con­nect­ing the dots be­tween sex­ual lib­er­a­tion and mar­ket eco­nom­ics, con­sumerism, censorship and pas­siv­ity.

Censorship comes with its own chal­lenges. In­ter­net fil­ter sys­tems such as Net Nanny may pro­tect chil­dren from the grim depths of on­line porn but also pre­vent them from ac­cess­ing help­ful in­for­ma­tion about sex­u­al­ity and sex­ual health. At one point Sparrow finds it nec­es­sary to re­move Net Nanny from his home com­puter so he can re­search his book.

It would be ideal for Sparrow to present an­swers for how to move for­ward in the porn de­bate, but that is not easy, nor is it his ob­jec­tive. Money Shot should serve to gen­er­ate more de­bate around the con­tentious and com­pli­cated is­sues of porn and censorship in an era of per­ceived tech­no­log­i­cal and mar­ket free­dom. It should be es­sen­tial read­ing for any­one in­ter­ested in a nu­anced ex­am­i­na­tion of the state of pornog­ra­phy and censorship in Aus­tralia.

Jeff Sparrow’s wry observations of Sexpo con­vey a pa­thetic sense of the ridicu­lous

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