Whitney, Clive and The Armageddon

Funny things, physician those internets. You might be innocently looking for porn and, this web damnit, what upturns instead is Clive Hamilton.

If you are Australian, it is likely that you know Clive well. For the past few years, he has evolved a professional suspicion that pornography, video games and unwholesome websites shape behaviour. Once, he wrote useful books about the paralysis of consumerism. Now, he frets that a money shot is the harbinger of doom.

Of course, he’s also developed a sideline in writing green Hallmark cards. Don’t get me wrong. I was all for saving the planet For Our Children, too. But this widely circulated correspondence to The Children made me want to have my ovaries electrosurgically removed.

Is this what happens to lefties past a certain age? Should I fear this conversion as well? One day, will I hand my gonads in at the desk and start coming off like the bastard issue of Whitney Houston and Al Gore too? Actually, strike that. I adore Whitney; much more now she has become an unlovable disaster.

Hamilton’s cheese, which includes the line, “Your life is going to be worse because of what your dad is doing when he goes to work each morning” is far sappier than anything Whitney has ever uttered in song.

Clive’s “Open Letter” is a bit like that Desiderata poster my mum used to have taped to the lavatory door following her diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety. “Go quietly amid the haste,” it said. To my mother’s credit, she never did. Still doesn’t. Proving that art, particularly bad art, has no real impact on the viewer.

Which brings me back to my point about Clive; a man who is stubborn in his belief that art can dissolve our morals. A man, let it be said, I once admired.

Clive has become an advocate for internet censorship. I’m haven’t. I wrote about it here and somewhat less convincingly here (they don’t pay as much). And a few other places.

Don’t bother reading them, actually. I can give you the essence now: I am not a fan of censorship. I think it’s paternalistic and vain. If you discount the few grand I’ve made writing about Senator Stephen Conroy’s embarrassing clean-feed for the paper, censorship has given the world nothing but an increased appetite for underwear catalogues.

Clive, however, is so worried about being on the wrong side of a secular Rapture that he wrote this for The Australian.

It’s almost funny to read this public thinker’s discomfort. He makes himself reproduce terms like “fisting”, “gang bangs” and “scat”. Ew. Don’t, Clive. You’ll ruin redtube for us forever.

Anyhow. His writing brings to mind a John Waters’ film full of clean-living caricatures forced against their will to utter things like ,“cum shot”.

Hamilton, although, presumably, sane enough to be godless, seems to need to believe in the apocalypse. Actually, he’s having a bet each way on doom. It’s carbon emissions or it is porn that will get us. We’ll either drown in an ocean of semen; or an actual ocean.

I won’t bother reproducing that quote about Voltaire here, as it so often used. To jog your memory, it roughly proceeds: I might think you’re disgusting, but I will defend to the death your right to play with your genitals.

It’s not all fun, games and gentle afternoons of bukkake being like this, you know. We permissive types will often encounter moments where our inner Voltaire is tested. That is, we are forced to defend that of which we disapprove.

For example, the movie Baise Moi was very bad. You don’t have to watch it to know. Just read the logline: a tale of the Violent Sexual Transition of a village naïf called Nadine. Really, French cinema? Is that the very best you could come up with in the shadow of Truffaut?

Nevertheless, when the movie came out, or, rather, didn’t thanks to Australian classification, I had to protest. Because, at my core, I believe in the liberty of expression.

(But not, needless to say, if the production of that liberty involves the abasement of others.)

And further, I feel it’s an obligation to protest in an era where even cranky old lefties are jumping off the Freedom Train and into a ditch full of cheese.

There is no evidence to suggest that pornography or console games end in violence any more than there is that the consumption of quality literature ends in one becoming James Joyce. Art can have no measurably negative effect on the behaviour of consumers. Particularly not the milquetoasts who go to see French films.

The narrative dreadfulness of Baise Moi notwithstanding, you cannot stop people from watching things because of an inkling.

And there is nothing more than an inkling driving this new Puritanism.

There is NO viable research to suggest that porn, literature or any art form has ANY negative impact on our behaviour. Other than making some of us nauseous. But, Clive, we cannot legislate from the gut.

Science has delivered us data on the consequences of emissions (of the industrial kind). It has not, however, given us anything on the upshot effects of College Sluts Vol. 4.

Don’t bother with that film, by the way. It’s awful. But, sheesh, even if you do: I’ll defend to the death your right to watch it.

It’s difficult being me.

30 comments for “Whitney, Clive and The Armageddon

  1. March 9, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Is it just me, or would ‘Clive And The Jizz Apocalypse’ be a great name for a band?

  2. March 9, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Heh. Heh heh. Heh.

  3. March 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

    ‘There is no evidence to suggest that pornography or console games end in violence any more than there is that the consumption of quality literature ends in one becoming James Joyce’ Brilliant.

  4. March 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

    You always bring a sheen to any commenting, TM. And make me wish I was a little less potty mouthed. :) Thank you.

  5. Bruno
    March 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Baise Moi is the movie people love to hate and the fact it is talked about 10 years after its release is testimony to its patchy quality.

    The first 20 minutes are great. The grittiness, violence, and build up of anger in the girls are very realistic and powerful. Then the movie switches into the road movie revenge narrative far less successfully.

    People who made this movie knew and understood intimately the pornography scene but couldn’t quite fictionalise it as well.

  6. March 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    If only somehow porn, games and green children’s cards could turn into a corporate super giant… Well I’m off to find some investment capital haha

  7. RD
    March 9, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Debate? Ok.
    I’m not in favour of censorship, and certainly not internet censorship as advocated by Hamilton.
    However, I want to take issue with the claim that porn doesn’t change peoples’ behaviour. As my former partner got deeper into hard-core porn, our sex life turned into a freakshow. Nothing other than acts that degraded me would turn him on. As much as I tried to open my mind to what was taking place, as the sexually adventurous woman I am, too often I would end up (secretly) crying during sex – feeling as though I wasn’t present; as though I was playing a part in a scene he’d watched that day. His use of hard-core porn became an addiction, and the results were devastating – for both of us, and for our kids after our separation. He knew/knows it was his use of hard-core porn that changed his attitude towards and behaviour during sex.
    I am not anti-porn. I am not pro-censorship. But resting an anti-censorship position on the claim that porn doesn’t effect peoples’ behaviour is a weak argument. You don’t know this for sure; I don’t know for sure that it does (although I know of a study showing some damn convincing evidence that it does – tried to dig it out, can’t find it – will keep searching) but let’s be careful hey. A lot is at stake in the “porn debate” and it’s complex. Porn is now one of America’s largest industries, and is the fastest growing industry globally. And some porn is terribly abusive. You place a caveat on your ‘permissive’ position: “But not, needless to say, if the production of that liberty involves the abasement of others” – well, porn is a liberty that sometimes/often involves the abasement of others. It CAN be harmful – for the women involved in making it, and (arguably) for the viewer.
    Certainly, internet censorship is not the answer. I agree that it is being driven by a new Puritanism, with the likes of Hamilton at the wheel. But, frankly, you can put a much more sophisticated anti-censorship argument than what you’ve done here. Please know I say that with the utmost respect.

  8. March 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks so much for your comment, RD, which I will consider and address later. I’m paying bills at present and can’t give your thoughts the attention they demand just yet. But, again, thank you.

  9. Zed
    March 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    ‘Is this what happens to lefties after a certain age?’
    No, this is just Clive Hamilton, wowser man and boy.

  10. Hedgepig
    March 9, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with you RD. Porn doesn’t qualify for “liberty of expression”, because “the production of that liberty involves the abasement of others”, in this case, women.

    • March 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      This is not necessarily or primarily the case, Hedgepig.

  11. March 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Although this is wandering off the post a bit but I’ve gotta say it.

    Clive Hamilton’s pro-censorship stance made me refuse to vote for him in the Higgins by-election. I don’t know if other people had the same reaction but I believe the Green vote, slid sharply.

    • March 9, 2010 at 5:44 pm

      I didn’t follow the by-election too closely and generally had my head up my date that week. But, my “gut” tells me your response may not have been atypical.
      Any Antony Green types want to offer analysis for Venise?

  12. March 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I mean this comment/question with great respect, RD, so please do not be offended.

    Is there any chance that your ex-husband may have gone down the same path even if he hadn’t been exposed to pornography?

  13. March 9, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Having received a grumpy email from a former colleague charging me with being a right-wing libertarian and this post with sniveling libel, I thought I’d better re-read Hamilton’s letter http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2765351.htm to remind me of the origin of my indignation.
    He’s a creepy dude.

  14. March 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I should point out, however, that there IS extensive evidence that exposure to James Joyce will result in violence.

  15. March 10, 2010 at 10:36 am

    I wouldn’t want to step on any toes here, but the thought that immediately comes to mind re: RD’s point, is that addictions of all sorts have sad consequences – porn is not more addictive, nor more damaging when addictive, than umpteen other manifestations of human behaviour that some might call “vices”.

    Generally speaking, the potential for addictive behaviour is not considered an argument for banning something – or for considering something inherently harmful.

    I think, anyway.

  16. RD
    March 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Where did I say porn is more addictive or damaging than anything else? Where did I advocate banning it? Where did I say porn is inherently harmful? You missed my point entirely.

  17. March 10, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Hi RD. I don’t think Ben suggested you were so extreme. I know him to be a reasonably literate chap who would not have misread your reasoned comment. When he said, “porn is not more addictive” et al, I believe he was just employing a conversational trope that I would be able to name were it not for the fact I lost all interest in linguistics in first semester.
    His primary point, I think, can be read in the statement, “addictions of all sorts have sad consequence”.
    And this enunciates, more or less, what I felt too after reading your (rather courageous) comment.
    I.e. A compulsive, addictive or obsessive person might seize upon whatever medium or substance is at hand.
    I don’t know you and I feel entirely unqualified to analyse what must have been an entirely devastating time for you.
    However. It does seem to me quite likely that your husband’s problems had a genealogy that preceded his compulsive viewing of porn.
    Really, your story is heartbreaking. The fact that he clearly needed some sort of intervention is heartbreaking. The fact that you felt unable to speak or protest is heartbreaking. I can’t even begin to imagine what crying during sex might feel like. And I’ve never had the experience of abuse or of feeling unable to communicate with a sexual partner. That’s just terrible crap.
    With utter respect, I ask: do you think all of this was the by-product of viewing porn?
    I take your point that my argument was insubstantial re the lack of conclusive evidence that pornography has a measurably negative impact on those who watch it. But I will offer here the evidence to suggest that some people benefit from it. Such as the local academic undertaking by Lumby et al http://dannyreviews.com/h/Porn_Report.html
    I guess I should have followed my argument about the inability of art/entertainment/media to really shape behaviour.
    I do believe this. I think.
    Anyhow. You have got me thinking about the role of porn as propaganda. I’ll report back if my mind changes.
    Thanks again.

  18. Steve
    March 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    It’s not that I dismiss RD’s anecdotal evidence. It’s just that I don’t see it as an argument for censorship. (I note by the way that RD is not using the anecdote as an argument for censorhip; she simply used it to refute the suggestion that porn is harmless). I’m not convinced by the way that porn was to blame here. Her ex-partner may have had all these kinks buried away somewhere, and watching porn may have simply allowed him to let his guide down and own his kinks. Didn’t work out for RD, but maybe it worked out for the ex-partner. He might be with someone now who embraces his kinks? One woman’s “degradation” is another woman’s turn-on. (Qualification here – there was no suggestion by RD of violence or lack of consent, which is an important point).

    Anyway, my point is that the legislature (no I’m not a libertarian – I’m an old fashioned leftie) has no business repressing the ex-partner’s kinks and tastes in order to protect the status quo of RD’s sex life.

    BTW – Personal note, I’ve just today become re-acquainted with your work Helen (via Crikey) after years of estrangement since the days of the J’s (yes I know I must have been living under a rock), and my life’s suddenly the richer for the re-introduction. Love your work.

  19. Steve
    March 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Rewind. That should have read “guard” obviously, not “guide”.

  20. RD
    March 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Oh now, come on. I would no more like the legislature to repress my ex-partners kinks in order to protect my sex life than would you, Steve. My point was only that we don’t *know* that porn has no effect on the viewer, and therefore it is an extremely unstable basis upon which to rest a case against censorship. That DOES NOT mean I am in favour of censorship. The points I intended to make are 1) Helen is capable of putting a much stronger case against censorship than what I read here, and 2) porn can (but not always) be harmful and let’s look at that with the seriousness it deserves. On the latter, evidence that porn can be beneficial (btw, doesn’t this show that porn can have an effect?) does not discredit the possibility that it can also be harmful. But I absolutely do not therefore advocate restriction in ANY form. Censorship is always a knee-jerk, ultra-conservative and usually ineffective (in achieving its own aims) approach. Ironically, what I’m suggesting is that a “but it’s harmless” position is also a knee-jerk, conservative and ineffective response. Which brings me to my next point: predisposition as the explanation for addictive behaviour fits neatly into the pathologised “individual responsibility” paradigm. Is it really that simple? While art/media might not “shape” behaviour, it is part of the complex mix in which we create, learn from and propogate cultural norms. To answer your question, Helen: yes, I do think what I described was a by-product of my ex-partner viewing porn. Not completely or entirely related to his viewing porn, but it was certainly a major factor. Perhaps all it did was bring to the surface his “kinks”, as Steve suggests, but it also informed the shape they took. And that’s my point.

  21. Steve
    March 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    RD I didn’t read your post to be pro-censorship, and wasn’t suggesting that you were seeking legislative protection of your sex life. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. In that sense my post wasn’t to you really but about you. (Actually it sounds rude when I put it like that, but you posted your story to I felt free to comment on it – no offence intended).

    Your comment about informing the shape of your ex’s behaviours makes sense. I’m not denying that porn may have an effect on the viewer. Maybe even a negative effect. I just oppose censorship on the basis that I don’t think a government department or agency is more qualified to protect a person from the potential deleterious effects of porn than that person is themselves. But I suspect you agree with that.

    By the way, I wasn’t defending your ex. Frankly he sounds pretty selfish and insensitive from your description. But his latent proclivity for porn inspired kabuki sex, though not my bag personally, doesn’t suggest any particular moral corruption. You just became unequally yoked is all.

  22. March 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Well, if we won’t be having porn in Clive’s cowardly new world, why the fuck do we need superdupersquillobitepersecond broadband? That’s all its for, isn’t it? Sheesh, we wouldn’t even have the interwebz if not for the porn dollar driving its development.

    Jeeze, thank dog my ex only wanted to wear my clothes.

  23. March 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    What’s even creepier is that Clive appears to live in an Australia I don’t recognise, full of families where only daddy goes to work and gets to make the big decisions about how to save the planet.
    Nice one dad.

  24. March 10, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Re-reading this post has me agreeing, totally, with Helen.

    Clive Hamilton’s little effort at the ABC was absolutely freaky.He came across as god with a remote control; or like a paternalistic creature from a sci-fi novel. A sort of voice-over in some rather cheap and nasty B grade Hollywood movie.

    It might seems as if he suffers from a rather severe case of megalomania. Which, when I think about it, is probably a requisite for those who would thrust censorship onto the electorate.

    BEN POBJIE: Yesterday, in comments on First Dog @ Crikey I nominated Ulysses as being one of the greatest stinkeroos in writing history!

  25. disco
    March 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    i have nothing to add other than this article and the subsequent discussion has been very interesting.

    particularly steve, who i agree with totally, even the part about how i am only just discovering helen again since the triple j days.

  26. disco
    March 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    also i have completely changed my mind upon agreeing.

    surely finding excitement in the humiliation of others is a moral corruption? sure, as far as they go, it isn’t too bad, but i don’t think it really should be said to be like ‘apples and oranges’ both are good just different.

    it isn’t different.

    also i think the parallels that one draws with a psychological addition and a chemical addiction are fraught with danger. yes it is true that RD’s husband probably had previous kinks. yes it is true that for most alcoholics did too. the difference is that for a person (say, myself) who does not enjoy sexual humiliating women, and is not an alocholic, no amount of porn would turn me into RD’s husband. The same is not true of alcohol. Which is why I think one must be careful of phrases like porn ‘changed his attitude’. Freed his attitude maybe.

    If I had a point when I started writing this post I have forgotten it.

    Also RD the most heartbreaking word in your story would have to be “silently”. (Please forgive me for this but you shared your story with random internet jerks like myself) WTF were you silent?

  27. Hedgepig
    March 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    “surely finding excitement in the humilitation of others is a moral corruption”
    Thankyou, disco, for pointing that out.

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