LOS ANGELES—Anti-porn activist Gail Dines had an editorial published on Counterpunch Monday that equated the porn industry in the UK with the Tea Party in the United States. The post is titled "The Porn Industry and the Tea Party Playbook," and in it Dines, who is a prolific pamphleteer (to say the least) for her arguments in favor of the eradication of online porn, presents not only a painfully obvious straw man argument, but also makes the novice rhetorical mistake of trying to present herself as a victim by portraying the porn industry as the one trying to censor her, as if such a thing were possible.
The focus of Dines' ire is a British group called Sex & Censorship, which was founded in the middle of last year by Jerry Barnett, the former managing director of U.K. adult VOD provider Strictly Broadband Ltd. and chairman of AITA, the UK’s adult industry trade association, which closed last year. If you did not know any better and read the piece with an innocent's eye, you might think that Dines just stumbled across Sex & Censorship and only recently investigated its pedigree. She does, after all, start her piece arguing that S&C is willfully duplicitous.
"The UK porn industry seems to have taken a page from the Tea Party’s organizing playbook by setting up a group called Sex and Censorship that markets itself as an organization dedicated to 'defending Free Speech and Sexual Freedom'," she begins. "Reading their website and Facebook page, however, reveals a very different story. S&C seems more like an organization dedicated to defending the speech of the porn industry by consistently attacking groups that question the industry’s exploitation of its employees or its domination of the sexual landscape with misogynist images that undermine the civil rights of women."
These are patently deceptive claims, to be sure, but it is the first sentence of the next paragraph that nails this particular editorial as pure straw man. "A bit of digging around," she continues, "reveals that S&C, rather than being an authentic grassroots organization, is actually an industry-driven Astroturf group with fake grassroots."
She's probably proud of the "Astroturf" mention alongside "grassroots," since those terms were used extensively by progressive activists to tar conservative groups in the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections, but the fact remains that it is only Dines herself who claims that S&C is a grassroots endeavor, and not the organization. Similarly, when Dines adds in the next breath, as though she has just uncovered a secret, that "S&C is the brainchild of Jerry Barnett, who was described by the BBC in 2008 as 'the boss of the UK’s biggest adult website,' and is now chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association," the truth of the matter is that Barnett and all of his associations and activities were already long since well known to Dines and all of her anti-porn British cronies. The only duplicity here is coming from Dines.
In fact, Dines participated with Barnett in August of last year in a live online debate on the David Cameron ISP-level porn filter, for which she is a vociferous advocate. That live debate took place a mere month or two after Barnett had founded Sex & Censorship precisely because of his personal and professional concerns about "censorship activities in the UK and beyond." A video of that debate can be seen on YouTube.
Despite the fact that Dines is (and was) well aware of Barnett, his work, Sex & Censorship, the Free Speech Coalition, the industry media and many of the people and companies who work in adult entertainment, and has been writing about all of it in detail for years¸ she nevertheless maintains that S&C is a "front" and Barnett is trying to hide something, and continues to associate him with a U.K. trade association that no longer exists.
None of this is particularly unique, however. For many years, social conservative groups like Morality in Media and the American Family Association have hearkened back to the 1950s Joe McCarthy/House UnAmerican Activities Committee era in referring to the Free Speech Coalition as a "front group," as if the mere use of the term "free speech" meant that the group was trying to pass itself off as anything but a trade association. It is a ludicrous claim that in Dines' case has only one purpose: to support her claim that efforts undertaken by S&C are really the work of behind-the-scenes, immensely powerful forces just like those behind the Tea Party!
She writes, "The similarities between the Tea Party and S&C became most apparent last week when the group placed Stop Porn Culture in the crosshairs of their rifle by organizing a protest of our first UK conference on March 15th. Adopting the now-predictable Astroturf method of inverting reality, S&C framed Stop Porn Culture, an educational group dedicated to raising consciousness about the effects of porn, as a group working to ban and censor porn, and to 'shut down debate.' This claim reeks of hypocrisy, coming from a group whose purpose is to shut down any criticism of the industry and to disrupt our educational conference!"
There is indeed a protest organized by Sex & Censorship scheduled for this Saturday. An explanation by Barnett about why it was called can be found here. Rather than stifle anyone's speech, he explains that the protest was organized to bring attention specifically to Dines' Stop Porn Culture. "Although Stop Porn Culture (SPC) is well known for its anti-sex campaigning in the US," he writes, "it is a new introduction to the UK. Their conference next month is aimed at setting up a presence in this country."
From Dines' perspective, however, "What makes this protest’s methods so like those of the Tea Party, is the way S&C adopts standard corporate political strategy by claiming to act on behalf of workers to mask the interests of capitalist elites."
What is almost brilliant about that argument is the way it conflates truly rich political manipulators (like the Koch brothers) with a U.K. adult industry that has been practically decimated by overregulation. The very fact that Barnett's own interests in Britain were rent asunder due to government regulations supported by Dines, only to have her turn around and call him the more powerful aggressor, adds a level of cheeky insult to the injury already done to adult expression in the United Kingdom by far more powerful supporters of sexual censorship.
In that same mendacious vein, Dines spends the latter part of her article making the claim that it is she and her allies in the anti-porn movement who supports the interests of sex workers and not the people behind Sex & Censorship.
Indeed, she claims that like the evil oil industry does with unwitting oil workers bussed to rallies to protest government regulations of big oil, "S&C has used their website, Facebook page, and Twitter account to whip up anger among porn performers by accusing Stop Porn Culture of trying to 'deny the basic rights of women who choose to be pornstars, strippers and sex workers.'"
Claiming that she refuses to be "bullied by the porn industry or their front groups," she adds as a final call to action, "We ask porn performers to see us, not the industry, as allies, because our goal is to radically restructure this society that allows men to get rich off the commodification of our bodies."
There may indeed be a long-overdue conversation waiting to be had among a wide swath of vested interests about the way in which sex workers (and sex work in general) are treated not only by companies, but also by local, county, state and federal governments, as well as by self-labeled anti-porn feminists, and the recently formed Adult Performer Advocacy Committee is one body that intends to initiate that conversation—and its members are as self-possessed and as solidly against sexual speech censorship as any others in the adult industry. Hence, the Stop Porn Culture side might want to revisit some of its more outlandish claims before it tries to convince anyone but governments already primed and ready to censor that it has performers' interest in mind.
At the moment, no one is buying Dines' line but the true believers. Maybe one reason for that is that they cannot make up their mind who exactly they are fighting against. On the one hand, Gail Dines says it's a Tea Party-inspired industry and on the other, Stop Porn Culture's Ben Barker says it's influenced by the "male-dominated radical Left."
Or maybe, just maybe, it's neither and the real agenda here is the perpetuation of a thriving anti-porn industry.
We just noticed that Jerry Barnett has issued his own spirited reply to Gail Dines, also on CounterPunch.
Photo: Gail Dines, courtesy of sexandcensorship.org.