How to Deal With Porn 101: A Capitalist’s Lesson for the Coalition

Backbencher July 31, 2013 0
How to Deal With Porn 101: A Capitalist’s Lesson for the Coalition

Richard Elliott on the better alternative: ‘conscious’ capitalism

The Co-operative has this week provided an existential business ultimatum for men’s lifestyle magazines, or ‘lads’ mags’; to either introduce covers, in the form of opaque sealed bags, to hide the front pages of their publications, or face their products being removing from sale across all stores. The so-called ‘modesty bags’ are being introduced in response to customers who have complained that the highly objectified images of fleshy women which predominate the covers of such titles are harmful to younger children when it is easy for them to be exposed to such images. Should lads’ mags such as Loaded, FHM, and Nuts refuse the deal, or fail to comply by September 9th, the Co-op has pledged to drop all such titles from their 4,000 – strong outlets. It is likely that more outlets will follow on from the Co-op’s demand, should their own guinea pig example prove successful. The ‘modesty bags’ are not exclusive to lads’ mags, however; my favourite daily paper, which enhances every political debate, The Daily Sport, has already agreed to the Co-op’s changes.

Co-oplogo-772703

What is laudable about the plight of the Co-op is that it is a paradigm of conscious capitalism at work: the Co-op has responded purely to market concerns, in the form of addressing complaints made by their customers. The deals brokered and the ultimatums pledged are purely a matter between the supplier and the companies in question, without any part being played by the Government in any of it. There is nothing censorious about the Co-op’s actions, either; the lad’s mags are still well within their right to display all the flesh they want to, including on the cover without the proposed opaque bags, so long as they expect a financial loss from losing one of their key retailers in Britain.

None of the parties involved, customers or suppliers, have suggested that there should be any restrictions on what people can buy; and they deserve credit for having not done so. The primary concern for many customers is how flaunted the front covers of these magazines usually are. It is concerning in the same way that walking past an Ann Summers on any British high street, with its often sexually provocative advertising, can leave the passer-by troubled to consider that little girls may well be using those images as their archetypes for the female body (even worse, perhaps, if little boys do that too); but that in no way should insinuate an impulse to censor or ban what Ann Summers sell. The fact of it is that customers have a voice. The right to consumer freedom to buy these products, all illegalities notwithstanding, shouldn’t be infringed. What makes the Co-op’s ultimatum so effective and indeed so healthy is that the state has no hand in moderating it. This is purely business; lads’ mags will no doubt act now in the way which they think best for their companies.

Ann Summers displays sexually provocative products, but that does not justify censorship

Ann Summers displays sexually provocative products, but that does not justify censorship

Whether or not this argument falls within the remit of the ongoing right to pornography debate in Britain is questionable. However, the same sentiment applies to both cases. Nobody should have the right to tell you what you can or cannot buy, view, or consume for gratification. Like the Co-op’s reaction to their customers, so we should treat the debate regarding internet blocks on pornographic material. No doubt ministers backing the controversial bill will say that pornographic material is too easy to find; the equivalent of the opaque ‘modesty bags’ for the internet are not yet in place, they may argue, and that search engines should use better deterrents from unintentional access. But is this not what Google have already done? Type the name of a pornographic actor into Google and see what happens (I have assumed that the reader is acquainted with at least a few names from the pornographic industry, because prudishness and the bad conscience of not admitting such a thing is part of the larger problem). When all other common searches are narrowed down to the extent that only the specific actor in question could be the possible search, Google stop displaying the possible search. In practice, if one is searching for the porn star ‘Joe Bloggs’, only someone consciously looking for Joe Bloggs will be able to find him. Is this not all the censorship we need?

Nothing is being shoved in our faces, nothing is being flaunted, nothing is even that easy to find. Only someone motivated to find pornography will succeed in doing so; the unintentional audiences are almost always ruled out by the checks already in place, without any need for more regulations on internet use. The parallel is that nobody is forced to buy magazines like Nuts or FHM, and the Co-op have acted responsibly in narrowing down any unintentional audiences from viewing those products in the same commendable way that Google already has.

The Mary Whitehouse-esque cries of ‘think of the children!’ and the wishes of the fiscally stubborn free marketer do not often coincide. However, the ultimatum which has been presented by the Co-op has allowed us to have our cake and eat it too. Capitalism, properly exercised by both retailer and consumer, is conscious, in the sense that it responds exactly to the best interests of all parties. The Bill proposing to give the Government new powers over search engines does not come up until October. With any luck, those backing the pornography regulation bill will stand up and take notice of the Co-op’s example.

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