Fear of the Imaginary

A common theme in sex censorship legislation is the desire, or at least willingness, to stamp out depictions of fictional events. For example, the anti-pornography provisions in the recent Coroners and Justice Bill were first mooted because of a loophole that was being exploited in some child protection legislation. Some paedophiles were distributing tracings and other derivations from photographs of child sex abuse. This rendered these depictions technically legal even though they were clearly implicated in real child sex abuse.

However, the eventual legislation did not maintain its focus on closing this loophole. Instead, all depictions, real and fictional, of under-age sex acts were outlawed. Far from only targeting paedophiles, acclaimed artworks such as Alan Moore’s Lost Girls could be prohibited.  It may well lead to some bizarre legal arguments in the future, such as debating the possible age range of the only vaguely humanoid cartoon characters that inhabit many Japanese comic books and graphic novels.

We can get some idea of what it will look like when censorship law comes crashing into Toontown. It seems that Twitter messages are also capable of producing some bizarre outcomes. In recent weeks, we learnt that Paul Chambers has lost his appeal for sending a ‘menacing’ message despite it being an obvious, if poor taste, joke. Subsequently, a Tory councillor has been arrested for jokingly twittering that a journalist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, should be stoned. Once again, this was a case of bad taste with obviously no real intent to threaten. Here we see entirely imagined acts are becoming subject to criminal penalties. In these cases of humour going wrong, the best reactions have, unsurprisingly come from the Daily Mash and Charlie Brooker.