So Is It There or Not?

The BBC's three-part documentary series The Hunt For Britain's Paedophiles finished earlier this (last) week. Nobody expected it NOT to go out with some kind of warning about its content, but the pre-broadcast disclaimer went even further than usual. It soon became obvious why. Scattered throughout the episodes, in-between the interviews and long-shots, were clips from paedophile porn films.

Of course, they were obscured. But barely. Black boxes were superimposed over actual scenes of penetration, but it was there. We could see the bodies of the rapists in motion, we could see the legs of the victims, splayed out and squirming under movement. We couldn't SEE the penetration. But we could, because we could see its effects, like knowing the wind is there because you can see the leaves blowing outside.

It blurred the distinction between factual documentation and voyeurism. The debate until now about investigating this particular crime was one of the willingness or otherwise to 'see' the products of the crime (in other words, child porn). I recall an end-of-year NME round table discussion (for those of you who don't read it, NME is a music paper. Apparently). Alex James of Blur and the DJ Mary Anne Hobbes were talking about child porn. Would they even stoop so low as to look at it? Of course you would, said Alex. Basic human curiosity. Hobbes said otherwise. And yet we know that people (strong, dedicated policeman, with more guts than I could imagine) have to watch it, for obvious investigatory reasons.

To see it there, on 9.00pm BBC2 broadcast, was something else. It was a gutsy move. But you wonder how much effect it genuinely had. Because of course millions of Britons who have seen this have now watched child porn. Oh yes we have. It was there. We're tainted now, those that admit it. Black boxes? They recalled with an eerie kind of.....MOCKINGNESS the black boxes and circles which used to prevail in legally-available adult porn before the 90s 'reforms'. Yet the actual details have become something else. We weren't watching child porn as that would make us paedophiles. So what were we watching? The inadequacy of our culture now, as people so reliant on the way we see images, is depressingly vast and apparent.

The original idea for my writing this was based on an annoyance at having to 'listen' to a minute's silence at work on the day or so after Sept 11th. We had to stop talking and typing, but the radio was on , 'playing' the silence. Which wasn't silence, but rather recorded sounds of birds and wind. And of course Big Brother and its dubious new form of entertainment, which is to say normality (but it isn't normal because...blah blah blah, not to mention those long periods of obscured audio whenever they mention something libellous). And some other things which are too little to even bother with.

But the paedophile thing is way more important. I'm not claiming that it's literally doublethink in the sense that kiddie porn is being smuggled in under our noses. I just think that there are things we should decide not to show, and to be certain that we aren't showing it, because we need definites, not fluidity, in these areas; it's just that 'the media' is so chameleonic and wide and shifting that that makes it kind of hard to do. Tricks with mirrors we sometimes do not need. We need to develop a culture that looks into glass and knows what it is we're seeing.

© Dee Dee McGowan 2002