Dangerous Cartoons Act

From April 6th 2010 it will be illegal to possess ‘non-photographic visual depictions of child sexual abuse’ in England and Wales. Thousands of fans of Japanese anime, hentai and graphic novels face a maximum three years imprisonment and a place on the Sex Offenders Register for possessing sexually themed cartoons.

The full pdf concerning the law is available here: http://www.backlash.org.uk/pdf/consultation-non-photographic-response.pdf

The Dangerous Cartoons clauses are found in http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2009/ukpga_20090025_en_5#pt2-ch2, also see explanatory notes.

A more concise explanation can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDjtMgsBuvE.

Backlash contests this law on the grounds that freedom of expression should not be limited to information or ideas favoured by the Government or the majority. In light of the Government’s apparent commitment to “evidence based” policy making, it is contradictory that material that lies outside these guidelines should be criminalised on the basis of abhorrence rather than harm. At the Commons Committee hearing, Maria Eagle MP argued that the use of disgust in the writing of UK sexuality law is “well-established”, when in the past incorporating disgust into censorship law has been used primarily to discriminate against representations of homosexuality. The Government is essentially inventing a victimless crime on the grounds of taste and creating law that will have no impact on child protection strategies. Images of non-existent children do not indicate abuse or trauma; nobody can be harmed in the making of an illustration.

Although this law specifies that it applies only to images created for sexual gratification, depending on the level of detail or crudeness of said illustration many of the images likely to fall under this law are laughably unrealistic, often rendered for comedy purposes, albeit crude comedy.  These images may indeed incite sexual arousal in some individuals, but to assume that is the case for the population as a whole is a damning condescension, and presents a very real risk of a jury misinterpreting a still from a cartoon or a single image from a comic when it is removed from the exposition of its narrative.

Cartoons particularly at risk here are manga and anime, Japanese comics and cartoons.  The well known Japanese trend for large eyes, small mouths, high voices, enlarged heads, androgynous body shapes, adolescent gesticulations and the culture of Kawaii mean that a massive proportion of “cute” protagonists in Japanese illustrated or animated erotica may be perceived by a western audience as underage simply due to the trends and bias of that culture. Japan’s tradition of Ecchi and Hentai, and particularly in this instance, Lolicon and Shotacon, plus their mild censorship of explicit works (often tiny censorship boxes over only the very tips of genitals) mean that even mainstream material may potentially be an infringement of this law.

Western graphic novels may likewise fall foul, despite being more comprehensible to a western jury. Many moments in western cartoons and graphic novels could be deemed pornographic without the advantage of viewing the context of the story surrounding it. Specific points of concern include Alan Moore‘s widely-lauded works, Watchmen and Lost Girls.

It is also worrying to note that Lolicon has been mentioned specifically in relation to this new law but not Shotacon. The law may just be culturally oblivious of Lolicon’s sister genre, but why do the depictions cited by Government exclusively relate to images of (fictional, non-existent) girls when the (fictional, non-existent) boys in these pieces are as much at risk? In addition to inventing a law to punish those committing a victimless crime, it also runs the risk of appearing culturally ignorant and, as with the Dangerous Pictures Act, seems focussed far more if not entirely on women (or, in this case, non-existent girls) in the offending material, once again implying that only girls can be victimised by this material and must be protected.

Backlash is strongly opposed to any form of child abuse, and does NOT defend the right to possess sexually explicit images of children. However, the Dangerous Cartoons Act is the second intervention in five years by UK Government to police possession of pornographic content on the grounds of obscenity and abhorrence rather than evidence of harm. This law may potentially incriminate a far larger proportion of oblivious and otherwise law-abiding internet users than the Dangerous Pictures Act, in reaction to which Backlash was founded, and likewise runs the risk of creating criminals by dint of mere misinterpretation of an image when presented without context.