Uncensored: Sex, Porn and Social Justice

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The Uncensored Festival comes in the wake of the London Porn Film Festival, which caused much feminist ire a few weeks ago. Curiously, Uncensored follows much the same ‘ethical porn’ route – it claims to be at “the intersection between porn and activism” – but has seemingly managed to avoid the same levels of controversy. Indeed, Uncensored comes with Arts Council funding, the very definition of right-on respectability, and make a great deal about offering safe spaces and being inclusive of every sexual taste. This is relevant, as we’ll see later.

Uncensored hyped itself as being for the “lovers of pornography”, though perhaps not all pornography… not, perhaps, the mainstream of the genre, as it also states it was for “the persistently feminist, the unapologetically queer and their uncompromising critical approach to the politics of pleasure”, which suggests more furious table thumping than actual sexual enjoyment – more sex as determined lifestyle statement than actual, genuine pleasure. But as old school pornographers, fetish club regulars and degenerates, we were curious about where this new, desperately political generation were going, and so we took ourselves down to the first two days of this weekend event. It turned out to be a mixed bag between the glorious and the embarrassing, with the political being a predictable fly in the ointment.

Pt. 1: Vintage Porn and a Mouse in the House

Let’s be blunt: Hackney Wick is not the ideal place to have any sort of event. Out in the sticks and, despite a certain hipster influx, not the sort of place you want to be stuck in during the early hours, especially with the ticked away train station. Nevertheless, we arrive around 6.30 on the Friday opening night to catch the opening act, a film screening and talk by our chums at the Erotic Film Society, which gave a potted history of British sex censorship in the 1970s and the legalisation of porn in Denmark in 1969. With fascinating documentary clips, this was excellent stuff, though it was notable that most of the audience was too young to even know who Mary Whitehouse even was, let alone what a hate figure she was. Nevertheless, watching this with an audience who are, we are told, the Snowflake generation and always easily offended was interesting, especially as it then cut to the very commercial (by early 1970s standards) films of Ole Ege – watching straight porn for straight men with an audience that was predominantly made up of young lesbian women was an interesting experience, and the tolerance and open-mindedness shown was refreshing. The films, of course, were fantastic.

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Ole Ege

Next up was a performance by stripper and artist Mouse – a woman who has been around the scene as both full service (i.e. ‘hands on’) traditional stripper, porn performer and subversive artist for years. Her act tonight was typically uncompromising – more comedic and outrageous than actually sexy, it involved cigar smoking, masturbation and beer enemas shooting out into the audience, and was hugely entertaining. I’m not convinced that Mouse’s performance has any deep socio-feminist-poltical meaning, despite the festival claims, but it’s damn good fun and gloriously sleazy – and it went down a storm. It seemed a hard act to follow, and so we didn’t stay for the later film shows.

Pt. 2: Obscenity Discussions and Cum As You Are

Similarly, we skipped the bulk of Saturday’s talks and film shows to arrive – after a long, expensive and, as it turned out, unnecessary taxi ride – for the cumbersomely titled panel discussion Yes, But is it Porn? In the Outer Reaches of Sex, Fetish and Obscenity. This was hosted by Itziar Bilbao Urrutia, a female Fem-Dom porn producer who is perhaps most notable as the first person to take on former UK Video On Demand regulator ATVOD and win, and featured porn star and producer Misha Mayfair and solicitor Myles Jackman. It had the making of an interesting discussion on porn regulation, but quickly deteriorated into a bit of a mess, with video clips that took ages to load and then went on forever (eating into time that might have been better devoted to actual discussion of the issues) and lots of nonsense about how ‘feminist’ porn has been targeted by the censors – a claim that ignores the long history of porn censorship in the UK and assumes that things like BDSM and other kinks are predominantly feminist interests. As someone who twice fought the law on these very points, I’m aware of how nonsensical the current ideas about targeted censorship are, alongside the idea that the rules against certain sexual images online that came in around 2014 (and have now been dropped) were a new attack on feminist porn rather than a natural progression of already existing obscenity interpretations. But I’m equally aware that for most people here tonight, the days before hardcore was legal in the UK are ancient history – not, perhaps, before their lifetime, but certain before they were even aware of what porn was. History is, perhaps inevitably, rewritten by people to fit their own agendas and concerns. But it’s always worth remembering that 25 years ago, an event like this would have been raided by the authorities, and porn was outlawed with the fervent support of feminist groups who wanted to protect women.

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Mouse

Any sense of pleasure I had the previous night at the sexual tolerance of the audience was crushed this evening by the audience member who interrupted early on to complained that he felt “oppressed” by the fact that the panel and audience were laughing at some weird, esoteric kinks – not that he actually shared those kinks, you understand, but the mere idea of people chuckling at Hazmat fetishises was enough to trigger him. The idea that we can’t find anything absurd – or that we can’t chuckle at what is considered harmless fetish imagery as opposed to that seen as obscene, the very concept of the talk  – is as oppressive as anything he was feeling I might suggest – but the self-righteous attitude displayed was irritating, and so after the talk fizzled out, I decided to skip the Q&A – on the basis that Q&A’s almost always bring out the nutters in the audience – and head to the bar, waiting for the Cum As You Are party.

I haven’t been to a fetish club in years, and the Yard Theatre was a pretty small place that was never going to match the excesses of Torture Garden. But I was intrigued enough about just what this new generation might do to stick around for an hour to see what was going on. Against a backdrop of awful dance music, it was interesting to see both the new and the old collide – club kids and hipsters, some cute topless girls and, yes, the traditional fetish club sight of the naked old bloke dancing away. Whether there was either the room or the inclination for kinky, hedonistic activity as the night progressed, I can’t say – but it seemed a lively, vaguely exhibitionist affair by the time I left at 11pm.

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The disappointment of the Saturday night panel, the remoteness of the venue and a general malaise made me skip the final day. But on the basis of the two I attended, I’d say that Uncensored is an event that deserves to continue, but might perhaps benefit from less pandering to the social justice contingent – sex and porn should be subversive and challenging, a decidedly Unsafe space if ever there was one. But the event had enough interesting ideas and potential – some fulfilled, some not – to be worth continuing, and at a time when sexual expression and freedom is under more and more threat from both sides of the political divide, we need to be encouraging more of this sort of thing. I hope it returns next year.

DAVID FLINT

One comment

  1. Great article! Maybe one day we’ll see a “Pornographing is fun and erotic” exhibition. It’s almost as if to say it turns you on is still a no no and so has to be addressed from a feminist or various oppressed members of society position. Is this a uniquely UK sensibility?

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