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As the taboo of showing erect penises on TV is broken, new taboos are being built to stifle diversity of opinion & thought

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

As the taboo of showing erect penises on TV is broken, new taboos are being built to stifle diversity of opinion & thought
Sexual libertinism is on the rise, including on British TV where Channel 4 was happy to show men’s erections in all their glory. But at the same time, liberal freedoms protecting speech and thought are quickly disappearing.

Channel 4 showed an erect penis on air last night, which was the first time a male member ever stood at attention on British television. The erections in question – there were eight in total – rose to the occasion on the aptly titled documentary, Me and My Penis, which explored issues of masculinity through the radical portraits of fine-art photographer and artist, Ajamu. 

As someone raised in the schizophrenically Victorian culture of America, where an exposed breast or bare-bottom on network television is cause for alarm but pornography is a booming multi-billion-dollar business, I always assumed that the erectile Rubicon had long ago been crossed in that hedonistic paradise that is Great Britain. Silly me. 

The UK certainly does have a long history of showing limp dicks on television, like Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and Piers Morgan, and Channel 4 often shows flaccid penises too, especially on its nudity-packed dating game show Naked Attraction. But My Penis and Me made history by rising up and breaking the boner barrier.

Channel 4 didn’t so much circumnavigate the erectile Maginot Line as stroll across an imaginary line, because it seems the long-held taboo against showing a raging phallus on television in the UK was more of a gentleman’s agreement rather than a rock-hard rule.

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There was a long-standing myth of an unofficial ‘Mull of Kintyre’ guideline, which supposedly stated that any penis on TV could not be shown in a more erect state than the outline of the Scottish peninsula, which is such a gloriously British thing it makes my teeth turn crooked. I mean, who exactly is supposed to measure the angle of the penis in question? Do they use a special pecker protractor? Is that a union job?

Thankfully it turns out, according to Ofcom – the UK’s communications regulator – there actually is no ban on boners as long as they are “justified by the context,” which is a rule I think we should all try and live by.

As ridiculous as this all seems, what interests me most about the breaking of the British TV boner boundary is that just a week ago a story broke about how ITV nixed Spitting Image from showing the puppet penises of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. So apparently the British public are resilient enough to see a human erection on their TV sets but incapable of withstanding glimpsing a puppet penis? Churchill would be so proud.

What is most striking to me about this odd disparity is that it highlights both the deconstruction of sexual taboos, be they regarding erections on television, or gay marriage or transgenderism, and the construction of new taboos meant to limit and control speech and thought. 

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Agree or disagree, Spitting Image was making a political statement with its puppet penises, whereas on My Penis and Me the erections are the statement. One was censored by the corporate powers that be, the other endorsed.

As more is allowed in the realm of public sexuality, less is being allowed in the realm of public speech. You can be, do, show and watch what you like in terms of sex nowadays without any consequence, but try saying exactly what you think if it contrasts with the woke establishment’s beliefs and you’ll be met with a brutal backlash. 

So now there are erections on Channel 4 and “WAP” (Wet Ass Pussy) on top of the music charts, but you can’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘only women menstruate’ or ‘sex is real’ without great risk of being cancelled and losing your livelihood.

This strange brew of hypersexual libertinism mixed with the puritanical policing of speech and thought has an extremely unnerving late-period Weimar Republic feel to it.

As libertinism waxes and liberalism (in the philosophical sense) wanes, it seems we are quickly devolving into a dystopian hellscape with the distorted sexuality of Huxley’s Brave New World combined with the brutally restrictive politics and language of Orwell’s 1984. Soma and Two Minutes Hate for everybody!

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That comparison may seem hyperbolic, but considering how steep the slippery slope has been over the last four years alone, with the pandemic of wokeness, and its accompanying objective reality-defying symptoms of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and transgenderism spreading like wildfire, it strikes me as uncomfortably accurate. 

I am one of those fools who believes freedom is a magical elixir for what ails nearly everything and everybody. For example, for the puritanical prudes out there alarmed by the boner brigade on Channel 4, if you don’t want to see erections, you are free to change the channel.

For the politically correct prigs out there who demand ideological conformity or be silenced, cancelled or fired, you are free to ignore those with whom you disagree or to grow up, debate your opponents and defend your position.

Like the erections on Channel 4, freedom is hard and takes effort to maintain but is worth it because it lets you watch what you want, marry whom you want and think and say what you want. 

Sadly, freedom now grows flaccid because our culture is more interested in allowing raging boners on television than raging debate in the public square. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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