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Entertainment-The painful process of rethinking consent

Cooper, S and James, M (2012) Entertainment-The painful process of rethinking consent. Criminal Law Review (3). pp. 188-199. ISSN 0011-135X


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The principal focus of this article will be upon an area of activity that has over the past decade seen a significant amount of growth in popularity, namely, the infliction of pain and/or injury for the purposes of entertainment, as pioneered by the US TV series and spin-off films Jackass and widely copied in the UK by, for example, Dirty Sanchez and the double act ‘The Pain Men’ on Channel 4’s programme, Balls of Steel. Until recently, and despite its popularity, this type of entertainment has attracted minimal comment from academics or practitioners on the legality of such conduct. However, a campaign begun by Mediawatch in 2010 has brought to prominence some interesting and potentially difficult questions about the ability of a person to consent to injuries caused in the name of entertainment. As the parameters of legally valid consent are both unstable and contested, it is unclear whether the types of conduct under discussion here are capable of being consented to and whether the associated reasons for inflicting the pain and sometimes injury provide any justification for what might otherwise be criminal behaviour. In analysing the application of the criminal law to instances of what is referred to here as ‘painful entertainment’ this article challenges traditional approaches to the categorisation of consensual activities and proposes a rethinking of how the law of offences against the person could be applied to novel situations.

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