Is US prudishness ruining the internet?
Censorship, Anglo-Saxon values and boring economics
Back then to the original question. There is no doubt that, where two cultures clash, the less powerful often finds its values rewritten to some extent by the more powerful. European attitudes to nakedness are, in general, less prudish than US values: but differences in approach to nude bathing between East and West Germans led to heated debate post-unification.
In film, it has long been argued that the sharing of a common language with the US has been Britain’s downfall. According to Jennie Kermode, editor of Eye For Film: "The domination of Britsh cinemas by films made in America is... threatening to create an ethical monoculture where the contesting of ideas - and therefore the capacity for growth - is lost."
The US corporate world therefore has great power – and that power should be wielded responsibly. However, it is probably unfair to accuse the US of across the board prudery: US courts have long been more supportive of commercial porn than UK ones and if Americans seem a tad more squeamish when it comes to bare flesh, they are far more resistant to attempts to censor speech.
The real heart of the debate can be seen in a recent decision by Craigslist to bow to state pressure, and temporarily "block" access to its adult services section. (It can also be seen in the somewhat loaded commentary that News International levels at Facebook, a competitor, compared to MySpace.)
Craigslist is a commercial enterprise, and therefore must tread more carefully than individuals – because being shut down, even temporarily, could be commercial death.
That sensitivity also leads to a growth in complaint culture, with many organisations preferring to take something down first, at the first sign of objection, rather than investigate: banning and blocking is usually the safer option.
This question is raised by Ms Dwyer, who spoke at length about an ongoing debate in the US in respect of First Amendment rights: "Is a corporation more like an individual, allowed to express their own opinions and run their private business as they please? Or are they more like the government, which needs to be restrained in its actions by checks and balances so that it does not infringe upon the rights of private individuals?"
Or is it simply, as editor of SomethingDark (NSFW) Daryl Champion suggests, that the real problem is "a new wave of Anglo-Saxon prudery, not just American, that appears to be on the rise in the major English-speaking countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
He goes on: "If concepts of personal freedom and social liberty were more ingrained in Anglo-Saxon culture, the agendas of moral minorities would not be so far advanced in either national governments or private sectors." ®