The Art of Control | Juliet Jacques
Image credit: Tactical Technology
Warning: This piece contains content that some readers may find offensive
Tamara O’Hara woke at noon to see an envelope lodged in her letterbox, overshadowing the boots, corsets, whips and chains piled by the door to her studio flat after a video shoot.
16 April 2015
Re: www.tamara-tv-takeover.co.uk (“the Service”)
As you may be aware, following amendments to the Communications Act 2003, UK providers of video on demand services operating on or after 1 December 2014 have been obliged to notify these services to us, The Authority for Television and Video On Demand Ltd (“ATVOD”).
ATVOD has received a complaint regarding the Service identified above, and we are writing to you as you appear to be the provider. This letter is to inform you that we are investigating the Service for potential breaches of ATVOD’s rules 1, 4 and 11, corresponding to the requirements of the Communications Act 2003 (“the Act”) as below:
Rule 1: Requirement to notify an on-demand programme service (section 368BA of “the Act”)
Rule 4: Requirement to pay a fee (Section 368(E)(3)(ZA) of the Act)
Rule 11: Requirement to ensure that children will not normally see or hear material which might seriously impair their development (Section 368(E)(2) of the Act)
ATVOD has been designated by Ofcom [the Office of Communications] as the co-regulator for on demand programme services under the Communications Act 2003, as amended by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulation 2009 and the Audiovisual Media Regulations 2010.
She had been expecting something like this since the law had changed and she’d read about what could no longer be shown in online pornography: peeing and female ejaculation (if performed onto another person and/or consumed); fisting; full bondage with a gag; ‘age play’; sex at gunpoint (if ‘believable’); anything liable to cause more than ‘transient and trifling’ pain, e.g. spanking, caning or whipping; face-sitting (if performed by a woman on a man); trampling; verbal abuse; numerous other acts, some that she’d never tried (‘Power Tools’ sounded best left to the professionals), some that she and her queer friends enjoyed, all banned on the basis that they could harm viewers who copied them, or children who saw them.
She scanned the letter, wondering if her site fitted their definition of a UK-based On Demand Programming Service, or if she had ‘editorial responsibility’. She checked her phone: they had emailed a copy, so she forwarded it to a client who worked as a lawyer.
‘Rob – just got this from ATVOD. Do they expect normal people to be able to understand it?’
The reply came within five minutes.
‘They think you’re a TV on demand site providing things they want to ban. They’re asking you to prove you’re not – if you can’t then you’ll have to register – pay an annual fee for them to censor you. Good news though – they offer ‘concessionary rates for non-commercial and small scale providers’ below their usual flat fee. Nice of them, isn’t it? Call if you want to chat x’
Tamara phoned Rob.
“How are we going to fight these fuckers, then?”
“You need to respond now. You’re supposed to get nine days before you lose the right to reply, but this has turned up three days before the deadline. The best thing to do first is to tell them that you’re not a TV on demand service, but it’s hard to argue that you’re not competing with BBC iPlayer or Channel 4 on Demand when your site is called Tamara’s TV Takeover.”
“They’re not competing with me,” shouted Tamara. “I give my customers something they’ve not had since Channel 4 stopped the Red Triangle! Tell Mary Whitehouse or whoever sent this that I make art, not porn.”
“We could give it a shot. I’m happy to draft a letter saying as much. I can quote that transgender fisting scene in Ulysses as a work of literary merit, although it’s pretty tame compared to some of your stuff.”
“Of course it is, it’s a hundred years old. Mention all the queer filmmakers – Warhol and that. Tell them about the police shutting down Flaming Creatures by Jack Smith but Susan Sontag saying it was beautiful, and ask why it’s alright to show Blow Job in a cinema but not for me to put Perv Your Enthusiasm on my tiny little website.”
“I can tell you why,” said Rob. “It’s because cinemas make sure children don’t see it. Their concern is about payment – you take money from debit cards, which under-18s can use.”
Tamara’s eyes widened.
“Christ, am I going to have to take everything down?”
“It might be worth restricting your Members’ Area until this is sorted.”
“But this could take months! How am I going to make the rent?”
“Do more sessions with clients?”
“I want to make films – not just do whatever some City cunt asks for, even if I tell myself I’m making the bankers pay for the crisis every time I whip him. And I can’t even do that when they’re wanking behind a webcam.” Rob laughed. “I’ve got an idea. Send me the letter when it’s done – they probably won’t accept it but it’ll stall them while I get my shit together.”
Tamara text messaged three people: Maria, another dominatrix who often featured in the videos she put on her site, and on a download service called Films4You; Chris, who she called “my favourite sub”; and Harmony, who provided and operated a digital camera.
‘Are you around over the next few weeks? May have a project for you xxx’
They replied quickly: they were around, and intrigued. ‘Cool,’ wrote Tamara. ‘I’ll be in touch.’
A few weeks later, Rob sent an email to Tamara, simply headed ‘Bad news.’ Attached was a scan of a letter from ATVOD:
The Service is in ATVOD’s view an On Demand Programme Service (“ODPS”) which offers strong fetish adult material …
‘Don’t bother reading all of it,’ wrote Rob. ‘Gist of it is that they do think you’re a TV on demand service. We’ll have to take this up a level – appeal to OFCOM.’
‘Okay,’ replied Tamara. ‘We’re going to send them a film.’
That Saturday morning, Tamara put some plants and posters around the flat, trying to make it look like a set for a television programme. Maria, Chris and Harmony arrived just after noon, and Tamara explained the premise.
“Harmony, I want you to film. Everyone has approved my scenario – from there we’re going to improvise, like an Andy Warhol movie. Maria – you and I start as TV presenters on the sofa, in our power suits, me in red, you in blue. We’re doing a show called Live in Your Living Room – a bit like EuroTrash, but more hardcore.”
“Which channel?” laughed Maria.
“It doesn’t matter,” replied Tamara. “Something on Sky, late at night. Anyway – we’re talking about how we’re being shut down. Then Chris comes in. He’s one of the regulators, here to explain the new rules.”
Maria and Tamara put their hands on their hips, smiling at Chris. He laughed nervously, putting on the suit that Tamara had told him to wear.
“What’ll we do with him?” asked Maria, licking her lips.
“We let him explain,” said Tamara. “Then we kidnap him. Here’s a gun.” She handed a replica weapon to Maria. “We take him to a secret location, and tell him that either he gets the ATVOD laws revoked, or becomes our slave.” She looked at Chris. “Which will it be?”
“We’ll see,” he replied, laughing.
“So, we’re starting and we don’t know how it’s going to end,” said Tamara. “It’s like Casablanca, isn’t it? Maria – you sit on the sofa, next to me. Do your make-up while Harmony sets up the camera, and then we’ll start chatting.”
“We’re rolling,” whispered Harmony.
Tamara: Hello, and welcome to Live in Your Living Room, with me, Tamara O’Hara, and my co-host and lover Maria Marx. I’m afraid this might be our last show – the government are trying to ban anything that shows women in control.
Maria: [Tugs on her blue jacket] And to think I modelled myself on Maggie.
Tamara: Let’s be clear on the new legislation. It targets acts popular within the queer and S&M communities, and tries to undermine the very basis of female pleasure, let alone domination. You’re not allowed to show a woman “blocking the airways” of a man, with a strap-on or something, but showing a man doing that to a woman with his penis is fine. You’re allowed to show a man coming, but not a woman.
Maria: So it’s an act of state censorship?
Tamara: It looks like it. And you might think that if the Conservatives want to make British politics more like America’s, where the religious right have more influence, then banning depictions of the most radical sex acts might be where they’d start.
Maria: Do they make any allowances for the fact that spanking, caning and humiliation might be consensual, or not?
Tamara: Absolutely none. There was no consultation with any producers, and the organisation responsible has been totally unaccountable. Until tonight, as we have a special guest – Gideon McGill, Chief Executive of the Authority for Television and Video On Demand services. He’s going to tell us exactly what this means for our show, and our friends in the fem-dom industry. [To audience] Don’t boo, it’ll only make them angrier!
Gideon sits on the armchair, next to the sofa.
Tamara: Gideon, can you explain why these rules have been introduced?
Gideon: It’s not a conspiracy to outlaw female pleasure, or power. We simply want to stop children being able to access material that may harm them.
Tamara and Maria stand and pull their guns on him.
Tamara: It’s always about the fucking children, isn’t it?
Tamara addresses the camera, holding her gun across her chest.
Tamara: We are taking him hostage – Gideon will be our gimp until the laws are abolished. ATVOD: you know where you can contact us.
Tamara put down her arm and laughed.
“Okay, that’s scene one. I’ll add some crowd noises and a title card saying we’ve taken him to our dungeon. Let’s set up for the next one. Harmony – put some light in the corner where the chair is. And you,” she said, handing Chris a latex suit and face mask with spiked collar, “put this on. We’ll open with us tying you up.”
Chris changed into his costume and sat. Tamara and Maria got into leather boots with 5” heels, fishnet stockings, leather miniskirts, black crop tops and balaclavas, before Tamara gave Harmony the signal to shoot.
Here’s some regulation that you won’t like.
Tamara straps Gideon’s ankles to the chair and cuffs his hands behind his back.
We will not give in to terrorism! The government will-
Oh, shut up.
Maria fastens a ball gag over Gideon’s mouth. She draws her gun and stands next to the chair, before the camera. Tamara reads from a sheet of paper.
Tamara: Here are our demands. First: the abolition of the new legislation and dissolution of ATVOD. We will continue to disobey until the law is revoked – full bondage and a gag for our captive will just be the start. Next: regulation of sexual material to be conducted by those who understand and respect the female orgasm. Finally, the revolution – as prophesised by Shulamith Firestone and Valerie Solanas.
“Okay, well done,” said Tamara to Chris, untying him. “Next it’s the fun bit. You worshipping us. Strip naked, get down, then put your arms around my bum and your face up against my pussy.” Chris obeyed, and Tamara winked at Harmony.
Tamara: On your knees, slave.
Maria pushes into the shot, and strokes her strap-on against Gideon’s mouth.
Maria: Let’s make him gag.
Tamara: No – let’s make him read. He might learn something.
Tamara puts a book in Gideon’s hands and holds a gun to him.
Tamara: This is Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex by Pat Califia. Read the passage I’ve highlighted. For every mistake, every hesitation, I will punish you. Actually, I might just punish you anyway.
Gideon starts reading.
Gideon: Three years ago, I decided to stop ignoring my sexual fantasies.
Tamara: [Grabs Gideon’s hair] To the camera, you idiot!
Gideon: Since the age of two, I had been constructing a private world of dominance, submission, punishment and pain. Abstinence, consciousness-raising, and therapy have not blighted the charm of these fearful revelries. I could not tolerate any more guilt, anxiety, or frustration, so I cautiously began to experiment with real sadomasochism. I did not lose my soul in the process. But in those three years, I lost a lover, several friends, a publisher, my apartment and my good name because of the hostility and fear evoked by openness about my true sexuality.
Tamara slaps Gideon, making him drop the book. She slaps him again as he tries to pick it up. Then she grabs him by the hair, pulls him over to the chair, bends him over and spanks him with a paddle. After ten strikes, she stops.
Tamara: That’s enough for now. You know your options. Abolition of the ATVOD laws, or life as our slave. Which is it to be?
Gideon: I can’t put my life above the well-being of our children. If I have to sacrifice myself – so be it!
Maria: I think he wants to be our prisoner.
Tamara: We’ll soon find out.
Tamara puts on a strap-on near Gideon’s mouth. He shakes his head. Tamara holds the gun to his face and he relents. Maria walks around and puts her strap-on into his behind.
Gideon: [Removing Tamara’s strap-on, after two minutes] Alright, I’ll get the law scrapped!
Tamara and Maria high-five each other across his body.
Tamara puts her strap-on back into his mouth and then carry on for another two minutes. Then she walks over to the camera.
Tamara: You heard us – the law is to be abolished. We shall release the hostage when we get written confirmation from ATVOD. It is in his interest for you to announce the dissolution of your organisation. We shall continue punish our slave for crimes against people engaged in consensual sexual practices until we receive this announcement.
Tamara and Maria tie Gideon to the chair, and gag him.
“Okay, that’s a wrap,” said Tamara, taking the gag out of Chris’s mouth.
“Leave it in for a while,” he replied, laughing.
“I think you’ve had enough for now. Anyway, I need to start editing. Well done guys, and thanks. It’ll be online soon, I’ll send the link to you. And our friends at ATVOD, of course.”
Tamara finished editing. She disabled all the links on her site – About, Videos, Photos, Sessions and Contact Me – and created a new home page.
Tamara’s TV Takeover
Do Not Adjust Your Set
The Authority for TV and Video On Demand services is trying to shut us down – or at least stop us having any fun. This film is our communication to them.
Due to explicit sexual content, it should not be viewed by under-18s.
She went on Twitter.
Tamara TV @tamara_takeover · 29 April
Our film in response to #ATVOD and #OFCOM is up! We have sent it to them – watch it here: tamara-tv-takeover.co.uk/home #DoNotAdjustYourSet
She emailed the link to Rob.
‘Here’s the film. I’ve scanned a ransom note made from cut up newspapers, too, telling them to meet our demands. Send it all to OFCOM, asking them to review the material when they make their judgement. Tell them it’s fucking art, not just TV – let alone porn. If they want a fight, I’m up for it.’
‘Will do x’ replied Rob, and she waited for the adjudication.
A month later, Rob wrote back to Tamara.
SUBJECT: Appeal to OFCOM
‘Great news – you can keep going! But you might not like their logic … x’
She opened the attached letter and read past the verdict to their reasoning.
‘It is the opinion of OFCOM that Tamara’s TV Takeover does not constitute a TV On Demand service, as the material is not of sufficiently quality, technically or aesthetically. The production is crude and amateurish, poorly lit and badly shot; the plotline is minimal and not believable, whilst the dialogue is stilted and the acting under-rehearsed. OFCOM feel that this content is of no artistic merit, and so should be exempted from ATVOD regulation.’
Furious, Tamara threw the letter to the floor. They said the same about Jack Smith, she thought, and James Joyce. She picked it up, put it in a drawer and started planning her next film – one that would explore her feelings about securing freedom of speech, but only for herself.
Juliet Jacques is a writer, cultural critic and journalist. Her fiction has appeared in Five Dials, The London Magazine, 3:AM, Necessary Fiction and elsewhere. Her Transgender Journey series for The Guardian documented her gender reassignment between 2010-12 and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011. She is a regular blogger for the New Statesman and her work has also appeared in TimeOut, The Daily Telegraph, The New Inquiry, The London Review of Books and other publications. Her book, Trans: A Memoir, will be published by Verso in September 2015.