Further proof, if proof were needed, that moral guardians are unutterably insane and arbitrary.
Especially in relation to porn, which is to which this relates.
The scene, if you will, is Britain in the middle of the 1990s. John Major is Prime Minister and his attempts at government are constantly being floored by yet another scandal about one of his ministers doing something sexually questionable, having affairs, perjuring themselves, or suchlike. It also doesn't help that the man has absolutely no media savvy whatsoever. It is also a time when the Video Recordings Act 1984 is in full force, and the concept of "video nasties" is still in the public's mind. Furthermore, it's only a scant couple of years since two children murdered another child on some railway tracks after abducting him from a shopping centre. Once again, bad horror films (namely Child's Play 3) are blamed. In the midst of all this, it falls to the British Board of Film Classification to set acceptable limits to the public on what can be seen, skirting between the shrill screechings of the wowsers and the tabloid press, which had the ear of the Government over this sort of thing, as always, and the real need not to murder the British film market by setting arbitrary limits on what can and cannot be shown on British television screens.
(This was, of course, before widespread internet access and even further before widespread internet access that was high enough of bandwidth to download watchable-quality video files.)
Into this maelstrom came pornography, rising up from unassuming suburban terraces in the Home Counties and thrusting westwards from Holland and Denmark. Now it should be noted that British film classifications, for video recordings, for our colonial cousins, consist of the following:
- U - Suitable for everyone. No real violence other than cartoon or slapstick violence, no nudity, no strong language. Contains no material likely to offend or harm.
- PG - Parental guidance. No fucks, no cunts, one to three shits or buggers, no boobies (but some minor cleavage is allowed) some minor violence but no blood or "imitable techniques."
- 12 - Only those aged 12 or over may buy it. Not to be supplied to anyone below that age. No cunts, one to three fucks (or one aggressive fuck), lots of shits or buggers, sexualised semi-nudity but no nipples. Graphic violence is permitted so long as it doesn't include imitable techniques, so no knife-fighting.
- 15 - Only those aged 15 or over may buy it. Not to be supplied to anyone below that age. Multiple fucks (including aggressive fucks), one to three cunts, limitless other expletives. Strong violence and sexualised nudity, included simulated sex, but only in very brief appearances. Graphic violence including blood and gore, as long as it's in moderation.
- 18 - Only those aged 18 or over may buy it. Not to be supplied to anyone below that age. Limitless fucks and cunts. Contains strong bloody violence, torture, blood and gore, etc. Sexualised nudity is permitted as is simulated sex without the use of soft focus.
- R18 - Special category reserved for porn films. Only to be sold to those over 18 in licences sex shops.
The R18 category was introduced basically to avoid the BBFC being judicially reviewed. Its head at the time was a rather moralistic gentleman called James Ferman who, infamously, insisted on bowdlerising the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (we, the kids, still referred to them as Ninja Turtles regardless) and insisting on having them animate out Michaelangelo's nunchaku into something else. He had a downer on pornography. However, he also realised that for the Board to blanket-ban the stuff would get the BBFC done in the Administrative Court by the first pornographer who came along for fettering a discretion. So what to do?
Well, the answer was to institute all manner of policies which didn't amount to a blanket ban, but in practice made it impossible to actually show actual sex on British television screens.
The first of this was, for ladies in said films, "outer labia in, inner labia out." This is fairly self explanatory.
The second was aimed at gentlemen and was the Mull of Kintyre test. Now, have you got a map of Britain in front of you? Yes? Good. Now look at Scotland, and specifically that long, thin strip of land hanging off the West of Scotland towards Northern Ireland. That's the Mull of Kintyre. Whenever a penis was visible on screen, the Board would pause and compare said penis to the Mull of Kintyre. If it was in a state of turgidity in which it was at a wider angle from the thigh than the Mull of Kintyre is from the rest of Scotland, then it had to go. Thus, no erections, ever. And not just full hard-ons either. No semis. Because clearly protecting children and teenagers from accidentally seeing what 50% of them have swinging about between their legs and which has a habit of not at all resembling the Mull of Kintyre whenever they think of Nathalie Simmons from their Maths class is really important.
The result was that consumers braved the opprobrium of going into licences sex shops and paying over the odds for European smut which was cut (usually by substitution) so harshly to avoid these two criteria that it was an unwatchable, unwankable mess.
Thankfully, by 2000, sanity prevailed and the new head of the BBFC, one Andreas Whittam Smith, realised that this test was stupid and allowed consumers to see actual shagging lawfully on their television screens for the first time ever. Of course, by now most of them had the internet so it was all a moot point anyhow.
This is not to say, of course, that the BBFC is now free of pointless arbitrariness. Those swearword-count guidelines I cited above? They're still in force. Also BDSM related activity is frowned upon with censors preferring to reject it on the basis of how it allegedly "glorifies sexual violence" just to keep the MacKinnonites quiet. They also refuse to allow squirting because they believe it's actually urine, which is also verboten. Because showing something that actually might happen in reality is going to lead to irreversible moral decline, isn't it. Gnagh.
If it wasn't for the internets I don't know what I'd do.