Better porn with de Botton

There is scope to re-think the porn industry.

Not content with ruminating on work, happiness, or airport queues, philosopher Alain de Botton has now turned his restless attentions to the promotion of an ethical porn movement, as reported here on Friday by the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis. De Botton plans to launch the "Better Porn" campaign and website promoting "pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values." Sex-positive feminists and ethical sex enthusiasts, particularly within the kink community, have of course been espousing this for a while. Yet even if he is late to the party, de Botton’s campaign is ripe for the championing. Contrary to popular myth, the sex industry is not entirely recession-proof and while commercial porn will never run dry so long as there’s money in circulation, the faltering flow of finance makes it a good time to dump quantity for quality.

As idealistic as de Botton’s project may sound, even in the face of the internet’s daemonic libertarianism, there is nothing inevitable about the ethical paucity of our porn. 30 years ago, before the internet had tempted adult fantasy over to the crass side, Angela Carter encapsulated the sentiment in the opening line to The Sadeian Woman: “Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers”. Replace "women" with "21st century humans" and there is De Botton’s campaign. Right now, we may have the porn we deserve but we can make better. Mass production of anything, food, furniture, fashion, may serve a market but usually at the price of ethics.  Porn is no different. Blaming poor porn on atavistic urges is lazy and historically inaccurate. Better porn just requires letting our brains, rather than consideration for our bank balances, lead our late-night Google searches.

Following the murder of Bristol architect Joanna Yeates, in which it was revealed that her murderer Vincent Tabak had a taste for strangulation porn, the reactionary cry from the left and right, feminists and conservatives alike, was that such porn needed banning. I suggested we produce an ethical stamp for porn, something which has always been particularly resonant for the BDSM/kink kind, where social and legal prejudice, and the complications of the pleasure/pain-driven dynamic has heightened the need to prove harmless production. The responsibility of companies like kink.com in stepping up to the ethical mark proves it can be done, and De Botton should look to such models as he builds his Better Porn campaign.

Imagining that De Botton is successful, such is the relationship between need and want, between desire, its permissions and possession, a subculture of unethically produced porn would be bound to persist. But it would be cowardly to reject an ethical model on that basis, and what price the reduction of the populace’s guilt if we knew most porn stars were genuinely and consensually performing?

The most difficult challenge for de Botton won’t be persuading people that his kind of porn is better, but that it’s sexy.  As Camille Paglia observed wryly, if somewhat unfairly, about feminism, "leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist’s". The personal is political has rarely made for hot interracial or doctor/nurse tableaux. So while ethical porn will always face the taxidermist test, the last thing we need is an obsession with cleaning up our desirous taboos until what’s an offer is a dry as an Equalities Commission guide to getting it on. De Botton claims to recogise that what makes porn unethical isn’t its fantasies or explicitness, but the means of its production. He could do a lot worse than take an Arts and Crafts-style approach to his project. Avoid elitism, invoke passion, and society will be better off for its production. (Stuffed animals probably need not apply).
 

Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories