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Privacy, pornography, sexuality (a video)

Posted by Namita A. Malhotra at Dec 10, 2009 04:45 PM |
The video is an attempt to use the material collected for purposes of provoking a discussion around privacy, pornography, sexuality and technology. It focuses largely on an Indian context, which most viewers would be familiar with. The video is pegged around the ban of Savita Bhabhi – a pornographic comic toon – but uses that to open up a discussion on various incidents and concepts in relation to pornography and privacy across Asia.


 

 

The project on pleasure and pornography will generate outputs in different formats, but especially since it is meant to be interdisciplinary (legal, critical, feminist, cybercultures, media and cinema studies) it would be interesting to use different ways of communicating the ideas that the project will develop. Several interviews have been conducted (ranging from length of 30 mins to 2 hours) with contemporaries in India whose work in different ways (quantitative research, historical research, filmmaking, academic writings) intersects and relates to pornography – this includes Bharat Murthy, Manjima Bhattacharjya, Nishant Shah, Ratheesh Radhakrishnan, Shohini Ghosh and others.

 

The video above is an attempt to use the material collected for purposes of provoking a discussion around privacy, pornography, sexuality and technology. It focuses largely on an Indian context, which most viewers would be familiar with. The video is pegged around the ban of Savita Bhabhi – a pornographic comic toon – but uses that to open up a discussion on various incidents and concepts in relation to pornography and privacy across Asia. For instance what is the role of technology and how has it altered or not altered relations between the citizen and the State, what are the stakes of the State in sexual subjectivity of the citizens and what are the relations of gender, pornography and debates around privacy in public discourse.

 

In this post I would gesture towards the last category that has not been touched upon earlier, in relation to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. It has become important during the course of this project to draw connections to work done in the global South. In legal studies, comparative work around legal concepts of obscenity, pornography, vulgarity are most often only in relation to America and United Kingdom, either for a strong tradition of free speech and expression in both countries and because of historical connections to common and legislative law in UK. However it is important to examine the trajectories of similar legal paradigms (Malaysia) and even different legal paradigms  (Indonesia) across Asia to understand the mechanics of how pornography is constructed and understood in legal and possibly cultural terms as well. 

 

Here we look at instances of material that are described as pornography in legal terms and how that legal category avoids taking onto itself what could be described as hard core pornography, and instead focuses on material that in the Indian context are described as obscene (see first blog post on Indian law). In other parts of Asia, very often laws that describe what is pornography play an important role in controlling women and reinforcing gendered modes of access to media, information or to public spaces.


The Indonesian Anti-pornography law instead of protecting the privacy of individuals, regulates and controls the ways in which women can participate in the public sphere. The law deals with appropriate garb, behaviour, forms of artistic and video practices under the broad umbrella of the term pornoaksi or pornographic action. In Indonesia as in other parts of Asia, there has been over the last 4-5 years a flood of mobile and webcam pornography uploaded by people themselves (couples and individuals), which forms a large part of the erotic consumption in the country. The sheer volume and circulation of these videos points to how technology is enmeshed in sexual practices in even in the global South, contrary to what is written about sexuality and technology that largely focuses on the phenomenon of technology-sexuality in the global North around platforms such as Second Life[i] or aspects of virtual reality. However the new law (passed in 2008) does not address this phenomenon directly even though that was the reason for promulgation of the law, but instead focuses of the dubious and vague category of pornoaksi.

 

The law also allows for ordinary citizens to complain about obscene behaviour. According to gender and human rights activists in Indonesia, this gives a lot of leeway to the more socially conservative elements to complain and even attack film festivals, gatherings etc. In an article (unpublished) about the anti pornography law, Julia Suryakusuma (a columnist and writer in Indonesia) says -

"But is the so-called ‘Anti-Pornography Law’ indeed aimed against ‘pornography’, or is really directed against women and the freedoms won through post-Soeharto democratization? The Law, I will argue, is, in fact, based on a social construction of ‘morality’ and womanhood that masks as religion but which is, in fact, a potent combination of social conservatism and political opportunism."

 

The video ends with a very moving press conference by the Malaysian State Assemblywoman offering her resignation because intimate (but not pornographic) pictures of her had been circulated without her consent by her ex-boyfriend. The incident was a transparent ploy by an opposing political party to denounce a formidable opponent and attempts to use public discourse around obscenity, vulgarity to limit the politician’s participation in the public sphere.

 

The video was also part of a discussion around privacy, agency and security organized at the recent Internet Governance Forum in Egypt in November, 2009[ii] and was screened at the beginning of the workshop to spear head a discussion between varied participants. The workshop was organized by Alternative Law Forum, Association for Progressive Communication - Women's Networking Support Programme and Center for Internet and Society. The IGF saw an intense focus on issues of privacy especially in relation to issues of data aggregation and control over private and public data of individuals by corporate entities. The video and the session was an attempt to bring into the focus of such discussions, issues more pertinent from a feminist, queer or theoretical perspective.

 

 



[i] Coming of age in Second Life, Tom Boellstorff : An ethnography of Second Life that looks at various aspects of practices online including friendship, sexuality, marriage, aspirations and desires.

[ii] More details of this workshop (concept note, speakers) are available on the IGF website at http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/index.php/component/chronocontact/?chronoformname=WSProposals2009View&wspid=275

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