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Tumblr has announced that it will begin targeting adult oriented content on their platform with a specific focus on eradicating any material of a sexual nature. This comes less than a year after Patreon began targeting sex workers and entertainers imposing bans and demonetization. It's all a part of a larger cultural shift in recent years that has used a series of poorly formed arguments to justify the censorship and outright vilification of those who share their sexual proclivities for the entertainment of others. So why am I telling you about this on a horror website?
Other than the fact that censorship in all forms sickens me, pornography and adult entertainment are deeply ensconced in the landscape and historical rise of modern horror which, in its own right has been suffering quietly from a less overt form of censorship over the years. To put it bluntly, standing by while sexual entertainment and content is censored from the internet and social media is bad news for the horror community and sets a precedent that can, and likely will, come after our culture before too much longer.
This article was not censored for your protection. You've been warned.
An Abbreviated History of Horror and Porn
When George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead hit theaters in 1968 it changed the landscape of filmmaking and the horror genre forever. For the first time we had a truly independent horror film created outside of the Hollywood machine and in direct opposition of censorship boards around the nation. The depictions not only of violence and brief nudity but racial empowerment and an underlying anti-establishment/government tone made it the target of heated opposition. But its success opened the door for an entirely new era of genre filmmaking.
The 70's rode in on a tidal wave of blood, gore, and sexuality and saw the rise of some of the greatest horror filmmakers that the genre has known. These movies had gallons of gore, full frontal nudity, sex, drug use, racial intermingling, and a number of other taboos that simply weren't discussed in those days. And, as many of these filmmakers refused to cut content for the sake of prudish censors, they often received the dreaded X rating, a virtual death sentence in those days for their films.
At the same time, adult entertainment and pornography were fighting a similar battle to simply be allowed to exist in society without their creators, talent, and distributors being arrested and jailed. As laws were repealed or otherwise defeated on the topic, a cross over began to happen between horror and porn filmmakers. It was the dawn of "exploitation" cinema which did exactly what the title suggested by exploiting our deepest fears and most hushed taboos for the sake of entertainment as well as to create a conversation about those forbidden topics. There was a huge overlap in these days of adult films and horror films running in the same theaters, featuring writers, directors, talent, and crews who worked in both genres. In many ways, horror and porn saved each other and gave one another a chance to continue into the future.
Both sexual desire and fear are natural human emotions and deeply rooted in our evolution and the stigma surrounding both is baffling as they are two of the greatest driving forces behind our continued existence as a species. Fear is instinctual, a survival mechanism and the opposition and conquest of fear has lead us to the heights of exploration and advancement. Likewise, the species could not continue without reproduction and, let's be honest, even without creating new life sex has a plethora of benefits not the least of which helping us feel a little less insecure about the fact that we're all a bunch of underdeveloped primates on a backwater planet in the middle of a cold and unfeeling infinite cosmos. To that end, sex is as much a part of the human condition as fear but, like death, these are all topics that make so many people squeamish because they just don't want to explore their own vulnerabilities.
Fear and Loathing on the Internet
Tumblr isn't the first social media platform to impose some stringent guidelines on "acceptable content" over the years. Most recently Patreon, a platform for artists to directly sell their skills to patrons in an open market subscription style began cracking down on sex workers. Their reason was a poorly worded and mostly fear mongering response to new regulations designed to combat human trafficking. While human trafficking and forced sexual and physical servitude are huge problems in the U.S. and around the world, the truth of the matter is that this was simply a flimsy pretext to justify censoring and entire demographic of creators and fans for what someone in the upper echelons of the company feels is abhorrent or unnatural behavior. Facebook, Instagram, and several other platforms have similar policies for similar reasons that do little to actually address the culture of sexual violence and repression that make such industries as human trafficking so lucrative.
Tumblr announced today that they will be censoring anyone who is depicting genitals, female nipples, or anything of a nature suggesting sexual acts. It's telling that they specify "female nipple" in their statement and policy as there is a similar policy on Facebook and Instagram that leads most to assume that, first and foremost this is a war against women. Following several adult entertainers and sex workers on social media I can say that many if not all of these women are performing online for a number of reasons that all stem from a single idea: empowerment. A friend, sex coach, and general kinkster whom I know is very open and blogs heavily about how her performance and semi-public exploration of her sexuality allows her to feel not only empowered but at ease with who she is.
Diverting only slightly, let's look back a month or so to the wildly sexist statements made by film producer and production company CEO Jason Blum about women lacking the desire to direct horror films. This came only weeks after the second annual Women in Horror Film Festival in which dozens of women directors, producers, writers, editors, and craftspeople assembled to share their work and their passion for the genre and its future. It's just another telling example of how industry and society are still fixated on the overall subjugation of women, their anatomy, and their autonomy.
There is a war being waged on women all over the world. Be it socially, economically, or physically depending on the region or culture, women are still widely seen as second class citizens in almost every part of the world. Their contributions are widely overlooked and usurped and, at the root of it, greed and fear. I would go so far as to suggest that these recent demonetization and outright prohibitions on social media platforms have more to do with the fact that these women are, in some cases, making thousands of dollars a month from cam shows and other content that outlets simply don't want to have to pay. After all, where you have the monetization of online content, you have a company dipping its hand in the till to collect their share. Patreon tried a few times prior to its ban on sexualized content to change patron rates so they could increase their own revenue at the expense of creators or their customers. Failing this, I would say that they simply can't find a legitimate way to cash in on the sexual liberation of these people (predominantly women) and are therefore cutting them out all together to focus on other avenues.
Beyond the Sexual Revolution
The censorship of sex workers and entertainers online is a slippery slope and sets a mass of precedent that can easily be shifted onto any other art or artist in the name of some alleged "moral crisis." Horrify Me is a photography company in the U.K. that specializes in horror glamour photography. Their photos have taken the internet and the horror community by storm in the last few years with their stylized depictions of iconic horror creatures in a more glamorous but no less gory light than the original. Many of these photo sets include nudes of both women and men and the amount of censorship imposed on the creators by social media borders on comical. Often times, Horrify Me's non-sexual photos or self censored shots find themselves removed in a constant battle between the artist and Facebook due to their overt or simply implied "sexual" nature. But they're far from the only artists being attacked this way.
To put it simply, the current "moral" outrage centers on sex and the provocative nature of sexual entertainment and education. But suppose for a minute that social media platforms and web providers manage to purge the internet -- at least the segments of it allowing for independent artists and freelancers to share their talent -- of anything sex related. What then? Simply put, the focus will become violence and the target will immediately become horror. It isn't the first time that the genre has been in the crosshairs of religious crusaders and politicians aiming to make a name with constituents by attacking artists who work outside of social conformity. Makeup artists and filmmakers would be the first targets of this new assault. Their "graphic depictions" would be an affront to society and would endanger impressionable children. Next would come artists, painters, cartoonists, anyone who could pick up a pen or mold clay or create something where once there was nothing. As with any instance of censorship run amok or cultural revolution, the writers would face some of the harshest and most devastating blows as everything found "morally corrupt" can be found within the pages of their stories.
Understand, horror fans, that the social media purge that is beginning now targeting sex workers and adult entertainers is not a distant problem to be dealt with by someone else. They're simply going to be the first. Once companies and interest groups find a way to crush the independent movement within this branch of the creative arts it will only be a matter of time before they come for us. There's a lot of divisiveness in all areas of society and the U.S. in particular is a powder keg waiting to explode. Artists are the gatekeepers of civilization. The media is supposed to serve as a watchdog for the public, revealing the truth of what our government does. The military defends us from physical threats to our liberties. The arts -music and film and literature etc...- provide us with a vision, an idea of what our world could be and a warning of what may come. Artists give us hope and alleviate some of the pain and monotony of mortal life. Censorship is, at its core, a cancer that threatens the arts and, unchecked, will make our futures bleak and without wonder.
Oppose censorship in all its forms. Boycott. Picket. Petition. Take to social media in droves and fight against corporate censorship before they find a way to make such opposition impossible.