What is NSFW, what “may offend”

I have always found unacceptable our societies’ excessive tolerance towards violence and the depiction of violence with their simultaneous prudish avoidance of sexual imagery in the (semi-)public domain. The key element here is encoded in ‘simultaneous’: I realise people and groups have sensitivities and weaknesses and in our age we are all witnessing how we can no longer afford to ignore either.

My suspicion is that this simultaneous avoidance of (representations of) sex and embracing of (representations of) violence is deeply political. Namely, I think you would agree that authority, religion, multinationals, sexist pigs, fundamentalists and the like can reasonably hope to achieve more of their aims and more effectively so by appealing and resorting to violence and by attempting to condition the public to “violence as a means / a solution / a last resort”; at the same time, sex hardly offers itself to any of the above, being erratic, incidental, and so on.

As I can hardly match Foucault or Marcuse, or any of the great ones, and as I feel we are all corrupted by that part of dominant ideologies which leads us to consider bombed homes and massacred civilians a suitable thing to expose families to at dinnertime, as opposed to nudity, sexual foreplay or intercourse, I will try to run a little experiment of sorts.

Before that, you click on all the links below at your own risk, they all lead to images unsuitable and distressful for some. They are all of (reasonably) non-artistic value, to control for matters like the limits of art and the like.

So, suppose you are at your family or work computer and you click on this link. No eyelid will bat and, crucially, I doubt that these pictures of death, of people suffering and of their homes reduced to rubble would be carrying a ‘may offend’ warning anywhere in the world. They are also safe for work and, as seems to be generally understood, of no corrupting influence whatsoever.

Now, suppose you are at your family or work computer and you click on this link instead. Eyelids will bat and, crucially, pictures like this one do carry ‘may offend’ tags and are not tolerated in many parts of the world. Actually, this link is inaccessible where I work, for instance, as it leads to ‘Nudity’ and is blocked by some devious and morality-guarding software. This is just as well, given that this picture appearing on your screen would make you no friends with your employers, as such material is not safe for work and, as seems to be generally understood, of some corrupting influence.

The same software guarding us from corruption happily let through this (I seriously warn you against clicking on — it’s of the stuff that gives nightmares), which I found via the Goose, whose blog by the way has suffered from Blogger for featuring nudity. Somehow, it’s ok to view this stuff at work and it’s not blocked by nanny software either.

Two points are worth stressing so far:
First, it is of no real consequence whether the image of the shot person is genuine or not (I mean I can personally assure you about the cosmetic value of PhotoShop airbrushing in most shots containing nudity);
Second, the shock value of the picture of a naked woman compared to that of the horrifically mutilated person is or should be negligible — still nobody would call you names for viewing the latter on your computer. Take a minute and think about it.

Let us now raise our stakes. I am not capable of clearly expressing why and how, but politics clearly enters the whole business of what is corrupting, offensive, safe for work or, say, suitable for teenagers. Illustrating:

Death and destruction in the Lebanon is ok for viewing anytime, anywhere, by anyone. The mutilated “suicide bomber” is shocking and horrific (and, to me, sobering, as it makes me consider the ‘beauty of our weapons’ and what they are for) but not immoral, offensive, filthy, sleazy or of corrupting influence — it is safe for work. The picture of a naked woman is hardly shocking and horrific but may be considered immoral, offensive, filthy, sleazy or of corrupting influence — it is not safe for work. Still, even this last unsafe item is ‘better’ than this (or any of these), although quite sanitised and tame. Why? Are male bodies inherently more immoral, offensive, filthy, sleazy or of corrupting influence than female ones? No, it is obviously a matter of politics.

Concluding: we live in a world of distorted priorities. In a world where we feel it is better to waste work hours looking at death and heart-wrenching misery than at healthy and amorously disposed human bodies; in our world we would mind less catching our teenage kid ogling at the image of someone’s face destroyed by weaponry than catching her or him looking at mildly stimulating representations of sex. We live in a world where morality is conceived as a struggle against (public or semi-public representations of) sex, not as a struggle against poverty, hunger, crime, injustice, oppression. Distorted morality, indeed.

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6 thoughts on “What is NSFW, what “may offend”

  1. Well I think most people would question the *motivation* of a person looking at a nude photo at work against that of a person looking at photos of a bombarded village on the BBC website. The web page of the mutilated head (or whatever – I am a wimp and did not scroll down) is sick and true we do not guard against unecessary violence; be it on the news or in movies. In fact, we have become very de-sensitised to violence and find it completely OK most times.

    I see your point, however, I don’t really think people go looking for violent pics to satisfy some bloodthirsty primal instinct, but I am sure many people go looking for pics of nude women… and there lies the difference. I believe, that the issue of whether porn is OK is a different one from whether we are becoming more and more accepting towards violence. Although, both are important.

  2. The question of motivation M raises is certainly a very important one. However, I believe it just takes us to another facet of the problem: arousal and (self-)satisfaction (or plainly seeking either) are somehow worse than apathetically observing death and destruction.

    Leaving nevertheless motivation and intentions aside, I think that we would all agree that even a chance encounter with nudity is considered more offensive and certainly unsafer for work than a chance encounter with horror and violence. At the same time, gay eros is considered more offensive and certainly unsafer for work than straight eros. Now, I think that that is a serious problem, as I have claimed in the post.

    Otherwise, Noullis’ summary applies.

  3. Please excuse the redux, but there is the apt case of the kind of eros is acceptable. Gay eros is most certainly considered the more prurient and undesirable. Not that the tone of content may vary dramatically between a homosexual or heterosexually inclined eros.

    M does touch upon a mattr of differentiation between porn and eroticism. Again, a line that is thin, wiggly and meandering freely between domains that evoke, more often than not, some manner or degree of politicking. But this politicking ‘itself’ is, at times, very much analogous to a nervous cough.

    Mentioning ‘porn’ at a dinner do is far more acceptable than the mere mention of a phallus. The sheer horror of Lebanon *will* evole the right sort of tisk-tisk-ing before the asparagus soup and the boobjob will get everybody all ebulient and vocal.

    It’s a matter of what and how one is pre-dispoed to ‘hide’

    Please excuse the long winded comment, but you have ipened quite a can of worms.

  4. “deeply political”

    A good point. But not taken far enough and superficialy addressed. Religion is the main element here. One in particular. The condemnation of the Chrislam towards sex stems from the attitude of the Hebraic religion to it. Notice that the Good Book (phweh)is rife with talk of murder and genocide and veeery light on ze huky punky. This is by no means unavoidable (your namesake starred in many a bawdy tale in his youth), nor is violence the only means of establishinhg control over the psyche of the flock. The priests of Atarte (she of the mighty hooters) knew that well. In fact the absence of so central a function of man from the Abrahamic religions is striking in and of itself, particularly when contrasted with other traditions like the Jappy Sinto, SE Asian folk religions and Hinduism where you can hardly move in the temples without bumping into a gigantic phalus or a luscius pair of melons. At any rate (this stuff is more speculation than fact) the ancient Hebrew priests got a wee concerned at seeing all them nice Jewish boys getting all hot and bothered (and converted) by the charms of Astarte and her cohorts and turned against the whole sex thing in a big way. Which would have been fine, except for that funny in the head nice Jewish boy, Saul (ne Paul). He took the ball another Jew, Jesus, had dropped and run with it, with his disciples some centuries later eventually converting most of my fun loving Greek ancestors (they were big on food, wine and big dicks too*) to their cult, which was the biggest mistake either people has ever made. The Greeks are now fucked up in the head schizophrenics and while the Jews are still keeping it together, you might have noticed that their cohabitation with Christians, has been err “less than pleasent” for them.

    *And rather fond of their own**, hence English Christians can now attend a Totenham Hotspurs match and taunt that teams supporters with high calibre wit like “We have foreskins and you don’t, doodly, dooda x2”. While eating pork pies.
    **Yes, yes and those of others, and those of others. So what? Fucking homophobia, another brilliant contribution of Judaism to the West.

  5. M, I deliberately chose links to imagery that, to my mind, would be hard to classify as pornography. But I realise this is quite a topic in itself.

    Otherwise I am truly enjoying the debate, reduxes and all.

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