Censorship Blues – 13/May/2011

How About Arguments Based On Intellectual Merit?

Where does one start with the idiotic submission by Bravehearts to the Senate?

ONE of Australia’s most prominent child protection advocate, Bravehearts, has weighed into the art censorship debate, calling for the Classification Board to be overhauled and for matters of ”artistic merit” and expert evidence to be scrapped when deciding if art is pornography.

Bravehearts’s submission to a Senate inquiry into the film and literature classification scheme was one of several submissions highly critical of the board for allegedly sanctioning the exhibition of photographs of children that would otherwise be illegal, and for failing to halt the proliferation of images that demean women and pressure young girls to act in sexual ways.

Other community and Christian groups wanted the board’s power increased so it could censor outdoor advertising, which is at present self-regulated by an industry body, the Advertising Standards Bureau.

The executive director of Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston, an outspoken critic of the work of the photographer Bill Henson, called for NSW employment laws that ban taking photographs of naked and semi-naked children to be replicated across Australia and said such photos should be refused classification by the board.

”How is it that it was illegal to take the photos but not illegal to exhibit them?” she said, referring to photographs Henson took of a naked 12-year-old girl that were exhibited at a Sydney art gallery in 2008, sparking a ferocious debate about pornography and art.

That sound you hear in the distance is me grinding my teeth. I don’t exactly do art with nude teens in them, so it’s not a problem that sits in front of me, but I have written songs about an Orangutan sex slave prostitute and Josef Fritzl so I can see this sort of thing being a problem for my work as well. It may very well take Frank Zappa recordings off record shelves.

The problem is threefold.

The first problem is that the censorship board can’t be the board that decides if there is artistic merit or not. neither can it proceed with the notion that there is no such thing as artistic merit. Asking for it to discard notions of artistic merit and place judgments based strictly on whether there is a minor depicted in the nude or not, is grossly censorious and has terrible ramifications for ALL freedom of expression. It places too much under the blanket of a taboo, just in case there’s a pervert out there who gets aroused by art. Nobody would be able to discuss anything in fiction or art, because sure as hell it won’t stop at fears of paedophilia.

The second problem is that of defining pornography when removing the framework of art. In any age of history in age of differing societal standards is that it’s strictly in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to the beholder to decide how they respond to an image or an object. By Johnson’s logic, it’s only acceptable art if one doesn’t get sexually aroused. I don’t think that is going to work as a definition of art. And this has a corollary:

Let’s consider for a moment the humble rock melon. Most people on the planet don’t conceive of a rock melon as a sexualised object. Some people who use them as sexual aids for purposes of masturbation might consider otherwise. By Hetty Johnson’s logic, it would become illegal to display melons in shops because somebody might get aroused.

Similarly, if there are in this world bestial perverts and they were likely to be aroused by sheep, then why should there by all those naked sheep allowed to roam our countryside available to the person? How does Hetty Johnson suggest we enforce this issue? Putting diapers on all sheep in Australia? It’s clearly an idiotic position to take on what things are in the public view.

The third problem is that should it be possible to enforce censorship without notions of artistic merit, then where would such a revision stop? The naked cherubs in Renaissance paintings? The statue of David by Michelangelo and Donatello? David was a teen when he slew Goliath by biblical accounts, so by Johnson’s logic any statue of David should not be in public view, lest some pervert get aroused. Well, there happens to be a replica in a shopping centre on the Goldcoast, and it’s been there for years. She is really arguing that we shouldn’t consider the artistic merits of a Michelangelo, or Donatello, just focus on the exposed genitals.

Artistic merit of works is like the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. Without it, you’re going to have totalitarian repression of expression. If Hetty Johnson doesn’t understand this, it’s probably because she is happier with embracing fascism than actually trying to help kids from paedophilia. Picking on the arts is stupid.There’s no correlation between what artists do and child porn. Likening the two to one another is insidious. The fact that she can only see controversy and no artistic merit in Bill Henson’s work is not a failing in Bill Henson or his work or for that matter the Classification Board, it’s actually her problem and it rests squarely with her. She should seek help from a psychiatrist instead of wasting the Senate’s time.

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Filed under Cinema, Classical Music, Contemporary Art, Film, General, Literature, Movies, Pop, Prog Rock, Rock, Science, Television

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