The Loneliest Jukebox

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Simon says

A thoughtful response to a recent Spiked commentary. Simon said...
"I read your article on spiked, and while I disagree with Younis' conviction for committing a breach of the peace, I also disagree with you.You say, "Younis acquired the video from the internet; he did not behead anyone himself in order to obtain it." The argument doesn't work for people who are found with a hard drive full of kiddie-porn does it? It's not enough to say "Mr. X didn't rape any children himself; he just liked watching other people do it."Younis should have been prosecuted for the same reason that they prosecute people who download child pornography, because the existence of an audience hungry for such images makes it more likely that people will provide them.It is undeniable that the content of the video is criminal; its possession should be criminalized to diminish the demand. If only one jurisdiction does this effect will be minimal, but it would be a good start, and perhaps other would follow. There would be little point in killing unimportant individuals if there weren't a global audience waiting to see it. The acts are more for the armchair supporters of the insurgency than directed at achieving any tactical objective. For you to claim some sort of parity between the fictional "snuff" of video nasties and the real-life horror of the beheading videos is post-modern nonsense. I watched The Devil's Rejects last night. It was a despicably violent movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the gulf between watching an actor cowering in fear before he is "slaughtered" and some hapless abductee is absolute. The actor picks up a cheque and goes home. The abductee does not."

Several points. You disagree with Younis being jailed for a breach of the peace, but would seem to prefer some new law where prosecution for possession of images was the preferred option. I've got gut level hostility to a retrospective prosecution of Younis if such laws came in. That said, it would be a moderate improvement if at least people would know they were breaking the law prior to dabbling in attrocity footage (as opposed to a retrospective prosecution). But let's face it, in terms of free expression, such a law would become a huge problem. Second, extraterritoriality: it's dodgy to prosecute for crimes committed abroad at the best of times. Do we want to see UK drug law applied to UK citizens who have a wacky weekend in Amsterdam, for example? Simon suggests extending the principle of extraterritoriality to images of crimes committed abroad, or even to images of gore acquired from overseas.

As for video nasties, the main reason to mention them at all in an article like mine is because the comparison illustrates changing attitudes. The gulf between fictional and real bloodshed is absolute, but different forces in society choose to pretend otherwise from time to time. In the 1980s advocates of the Video Recordings Act treated fictitious violence as real (they also maipulated the issue of child protection to their advantage.) These days a spectrum of voyeurs ranging from amateur collectors to respected news organisations revel in real violence as entertainment. The article makes it clear I'm not keen on this voyeuristic turn, but then there's no point in reserving free expression only for the people I agree with.


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