Are “gorno” lovers a danger to society?

When I was a kid, my mum was a horror movie fan. They were always kept in sight, on video tapes that went into the VHS top-loader, but I was always warned, “Don’t ever watch that. It’ll give you bad dreams; it’s scary.” We’d go to the video rental store, and I’d stand for as long as I could get away with it staring at the top shelves that held the horrors and the porn (they were always lumped together). So, in classic textbook style, I became a video nasty/torture porn/gorno aficionado. Years on, it seems the jury’s still out on what exactly it is that makes for “unacceptable” or even ban- deserving content.

At the 2012 BAFTAs, one well-respected critic tweeted that Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur shouldn’t have been nominated, dismissing it as torture porn. For many, Considine’s film forces its audience to acknowledge that domestic violence can be hiding behind anyone’s door and so should be seen as a thought-provoking, terrifying piece of work. Titillating? No. Arousing? No. Entertaining? Totally – though admittedly not in a Saturday night TV entertaining kind of a way. You can’t measure the entertainment value of Paddy Considine’s work against, say, Paddy McGuinness’s, but both have audiences baying for blood…or at least a trip to Fernando’s. However, you might watch Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (readily accepted as torture porn) and revel in its fantastical, stomach-churning content, yet have to switch off Hostel 2, Eden Lake, or Wolf Creek – there are well-known, unsettling scenes in those movies which might repulse and sicken in the way that Kill List, Rosemary’s Baby, The Woman, and Saw, perhaps don’t. Meat for one is, as they say, poison for another.

All of these films force questions about the human condition. To take the burgeoning Purge franchise as a perfect example, just what would people do if they thought they could do absolutely anything with no consequence? It’s a fascinating, exciting concept. It makes us think about our own lives, priorities, and limitations in the same way that heart-rending tearjerkers can. Now, this is not to suggest that a movie such as The Human Centipede is a work of beauty in the same way as, say, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s fairly certain Jimmy Stewart would never have gone down the whole “medically accurate attachment of mouth to anus” route, but surely each genre has a place.

In 1974 Death Wish sparked huge controversy and continues to do so: liberal guy’s wife and daughter brutally attacked; liberal guy decides world is actually a toilet, turns vigilante and takes his violent and bloody revenge. Eli Roth’s Hostel asks the question, “If humans could pay to be able to do absolutely anything – to live out their sickest fantasies, where would they draw the line – if at all?” Along with movies such as Natural Born Killers and Child’s Play these films have all been blamed for inspiring real life copy-cat crimes. The thing with that argument, surely, is that Harry Potter is loved and read in its millions – how often do you hear of kids repeatedly hurling themselves into walls at Kings Cross? One of my favourite ever films is Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, but I’ve yet to bend myself over my boss’s desk and beg him to spank me.

So are gorno lovers a danger to society? Are they more likely than lovers of other film genres to be inspired to go on Purge-like killing sprees? Are they really warped, evil wrong-doers unable to differentiate fact from fiction? It seems unlikely. Now, who’s up for a trip to Bratislava? Apparently there’s this dead reasonably priced hostel…

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