I first became involved in this area when I began researching moral campaigns against ‘dangerous media’ back in the 1980s. A study of the 1950s campaign against ‘horror comics’ revealed something that has remained very important to me, that there is a gap between the official language that campaigners adopt, and their underlying motives and purposes. This study was followed by my involvement in challenging the panics over the so-called “video nasties”. That revealed to me just how big a role bad research (in that case, the ‘dodgy dossier’ produced by the so-called Parliamentary Group Video Enquiry) can play in persuading politicians and public.
Since then, I have become more involved in trying to design and carry out my own research into audiences for controversial materials – not through artificial laboratory-style experiments, but through finding ways to hear and understand the thoughts and responses of the actual audiences. These have included: gathering the recollections fo former readers of the banned 1976 British comic Action; exploring the responses of audiences to David Cronenberg’s controversial 1995 film Crash; and, most recently, getting the chance to research for the British Board of Film Classification into audience responses to watching sexual violence on screen.
More than anything, underlying my approach to this whole area are two things: (1) drawing out and questioning the claims and assumptions of moral campaigners against porn use – and that can mean questioning the very languages they use to describe porn and those who enjoy it; and (2) designing research that can give a voice to those people, in ways that can reveal patterns and connections that will hopefully have impact and be persuasive in public debates on the topic.
Martin Barker, Professor of Film and Television, University of Aberystwyth
Some key publications:
‘Audiences and Receptions for Sexual Violence on Screen’ – co-authored report to the BBFC, 2006 (available as a download from their website)
The Crash Controversy: Censorship Campaigns and Fim Reception (with Jane Arthurs and Ramaswami Harindranath, 1998)
Ill Effects: the Media-Violence Debate (with Julian Petley, 1991)
The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Arts (1984)
A Haunt of Fears: the Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign (1984)