However, the infection is spreading to England too, and this needs to be said.
|Alessandro Allori's |
particularly troubling image
of Susanna and The Elders
I don't make images of simulated rape. I'm not aware of having ever seen images of 'simulated rape' - and I don't believe I'd know one if I saw one. This law is not against me.
But I do write stories about the ambiguities of sexual morality, and some of my stories touch on ambiguities about consent. In my novel, Harem, there is a rape scene, although I'd claim it's intentionally not eroticised. But what can be done to the visual image can be done even more to the written narrative, because while a static image literally cannot portray consent or the absence of consent, a narrative can (and, if it's taking the matter seriously, must). So this law may not be against me, but it is on a slippery slope, and if the moral Taleban are allowed to get away with this one, the next law may well be about me.
And yet, so far, I've written one fairly feeble blog post. In it, I make the point that consent isn't visible: that it is completely unclear what images of sex are outlawed.
Let's examine that in detail: the law says
'An image is pornographic if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been made solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.'The image is extreme pornography if
'... it depicts, in an explicit and realistic way any of the following—Let's examine this section with reference to four image in the National Gallery in London (I'm sure the National Gallery of Scotland has similar images, but I have not yet found them)
(a)an act which takes or threatens a person’s life,
(b)an act which results, or is likely to result, in a person’s severe injury,
(c)rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity,
(d)sexual activity involving (directly or indirectly) a human corpse,
(e)an act which involves sexual activity between a person and an animal (or the carcase of an animal).'
- Rubens' The Rape of the Sabine Women;
- Reni's The Rape of Europa;
- Two images of Leda and the Swan, one after Michelangelo and one in the style of Pier Francesco Mola
- At least two images of Susannah and the Elders, one by Guido Reni and one by Ludovici Carracci.
|Rape of the Sabine Women, Rubens.|
|Reni, Rape of Europa|
Zeus, of course, was a serial rapist. Leda and the Swan refers to a similar tale, in which Zeus transformed himself into a swan. The 'after Michelangelo' treatment of this subject is explicit - it clearly shows the swan copulating with the woman. She doesn't seem to be resisting - consent is implicit in the image - but it's clearly 'extreme' under
|Leda and the Swan (after Michelangelo)|
Susannah, in the narrative in the book of Daniel, is a virtuous young woman who two senior members of the community try to blackmail into having sex with her. If she refuses, they will accuse her of adultery, a crime which will carry the sentence of death by stoning.
|Suzannah and the Elders, Reni|
But are these images pornography? Clearly, on the contrary, are they not art?
Look at the wording of the act.
An image is pornography if '...it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been made solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal...' We know as a matter of historical fact that these late renaissance and post renaissance images of illicit sexuality were made - and sought after - specifically as erotic images. That's why these three subjects - the Sabine Women, the rapes of Europa and Leda, and also Susanna and the Elders - were such popular themes, painted and repainted over a period of over a hundred years by many artists. These images were the most erotic which artists of the time believed they could get away with, and were bought for precisely that reason - and their eroticism rested significantly in the illicitness of the sexuality depicted. These pictures were by far more popular, and consequently have survived in larger number, than depictions of more sedate sexuality.
And yet in these images - chosen, it must be assumed, for their illustration of well-known narratives of non-consensual sex - the women are often shown apparently relaxed, apparently complacent. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that part of the meta-narrative behind these images is that 'women really enjoy being raped'. However, that's an aside from my present topic.
These images are, as I've argued, pornography. They portray rape, and some of them also portray bestiality. If this law on 'extreme pornography' is to be enforced, then the first to be prosecuted must be the trustees of National Gallery.
But these are still images, whose narrative context must be supplied by the viewer: it's in the mind of the viewer that these images are to be interpreted as images of rape, although the Leda and the Swan images are indeed explicitly images of bestiality. What of moving images, where the image supplies its own narrative?
|Still from Last Tango in Paris|
But, do we want to say that this and other mainstream movies which portray rape - Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, for example, or John Boorman's Deliverance - should be illegal in Scotland? All these films clearly portray rape. Do we want to say that artists may not discuss, through the medium of film, the moral and psychological issues of sexual assault and rape?
And that raises a bigger question. How are young people to learn what sexual behaviours are legitimate, and what illegitimate, if frank discussion of deviant sexuality is excluded from art and from popular media?
'Think of the children', the new puritan Taleban wail. I am thinking of the children. That's precisely who I'm thinking of. For their sake, for their hopes of growing up to become adults able to have healthy sexual relationships, to know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, we must not stifle or distort discussion of the full range of human sexuality.