By now you MUST have heard about Dakota Fanning’s role where she is a rape victim. People are up in arms about it, NOT having seen the film (as is usually the case with censorship). They’re trying to say that it’s child pornography, that she’s been exploited, etc etc. Dakota Fanning herself has had some pretty stern words to say to people trying to portray her as a helpless victim, but then they pull out the “Well she’s a kid and doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” Fuck you. Kids know what they’re talking about. Don’t try to speak for her and then discount what she herself wants to say.
Let me tell you something, as a filmmaker, as a director, you would be amazed what you can portray or suggest without traumatizing your cast members. Let’s look at something which traumatized audiences for years, and still does, but didn’t do any harm to the actors. The shower scene in Psycho by Hitchcock. The way the shower scene was shot was done in such a way that you never seen the knife go into Janet Leigh. NEVER. I don’t even think Janet Leigh and the knife are in the shot at the same time. He cuts between the knife plunging up and down, Janet Leigh screaming, and red liquid goes down the drain. That’s it. And it was still scary enough that women didn’t want to shower after seeing it. Filmmaking is slight of hand. It’s putting a shot of one thing next to a shot of another and making the audience’s brain fill in the rest. I think we’re getting lazy with cgi and all the fancy CSI shots of a bullet going into someone’s spleen, but even then no one’s getting hurt making a movie.
Most censorship seems to be promoted by people who haven’t seen the work in question. I myself was torn apart and outed by the Alberta government when I was sixteen because of a video I made which was assumed to be child porn and a recruiting video. It wasn’t. There wasn’t any talk about sex in it, except a reference to dental dams. Most politicians who debated the merit of the work hadn’t seen it at all, and probably didn’t even realize they were censoring a teenager making work about teenagers. My god, the actors were all made out of pipe cleaners!!!
I was reading in Film Comment recently that awards don’t confer prestige on the films, films confer prestige on the award, and as an example they said that the Best Picture Oscar was diminished by being given to Crash instead of Brokeback Mountain. It’s true. I think Crash was a limited film, it didn’t grab me the way Brokeback did, it used too many racial stereotypes to try and make a point about racial stereotypes, and for that reason it failed. I know a lot of people wondered why Brokeback didn’t win, and suspected the fact that it was about The Gays was the reason. In fact, it was. In a remarkable bout of censorship, some members of the Academy who were on the jury refused to watch their screening copies of Brokeback. As someone who has served on juries, that is just so unethical. If you can’t watch the films, don’t be on the jury, please. You’ll look like a buffoon. Which is what the Academy looks like. And let’s not even get started in on their problems in recognizing talented non-white actors. And fuck off Billy Crystal.
What troubles me, after basically growing up in the Canadian Art world, is that I am finding younger (30 and under) artists and curators are willing to censor artists. I remember one screening of Untouchable at IMAG, the curator actually thought that my film might be illegal because of a crotch shot. A crotch shot of a nineteen year old (me). And then he made some very freaked out comments about vulvas (he was a squeamy gay man). The fact is, my gay male collegues routinely make videos showing cocks ALL OVER THE PLACE including him, and I have no problem with it. I have seen more penises than the average woman actually. So I feel like it’s my right, as a queer filmmaker, to also show female genitalia. And yet for some reason I find that one shot, than one ten second shot, is so controversial. Dudes, GET OVER IT! It’s only a vulva. Just like your dick is only a dick. It’s not revolutionary in and of itself, it’s just a piece of someone’s body, no matter how big your penis may be. And if a kid does accidentally see a dick or a vulva, whatever. All of us had one moment in our childhood where we accidentally saw a relative naked or our older cousin’s hidden stash of pornography. I’d rather my kid accidentally stumble on soft core porn than rotten.com and a photo of someone eating a dead baby.
That being said I don’t want rotten censored either.
I find it interesting that mediums such as art are more apt to be censored than say, things which really could affect the corporeal body of a youth. I mean, look at the USA. Teenagers aren’t allowed to view Iraq documentaries about what’s really happening to the troops over there, care of the censorship board MPAA, HOWEVER they are subjected to military recruitment and having their school records given to the army. So, little Billy can’t watch a war documentary showing soldiers being killed, but in a year he can be sent off to Iraq where he’ll watch his friends be killed and probably develop serious issues like PTSD, probably get severely wounded, may end up with radiation poisoning, could get the superbug infesting all the VA hospitals, and could also just be killed. But god forbid he see a movie that might give him more information about the realities of war.
Back to censorship in the arts. I had some friends, HAD being the operative word, who were putting on a group show and suddenly decided to censor a performer because they didn’t want to trigger ritual abuse survivors. The performer herself was a ritual abuse survivor, and besides that, a hell of a lot can trigger a ritual abuse survivor. I know triggers suck, I have them too and I hate them, but that doesn’t mean I expect to live in a trigger free world. You can’t say you know what will trigger a ritual abuse survivor, it’s different for everyone. Someone might be triggered by cats, or men in faun costumes, or roses. You just don’t know. The worst part was, they didn’t even know exactly what her performance was going to be, she was pretty vague about it, but they latched onto one concept (her friend dressed as Satan) and because of it they struck her from the program.
It’s ironic that the older generations of artists are more cognizant of censorship issues than the younger artists. One wouldn’t expect conservativism to inhabit people so young. After all, youth are supposed to be rebels, pushing the envelope, making us deal with stuff we were ignoring. And now they seem to be retrogressing. Not everyone. But enough young people are censoring work that they curate (or don’t curate) or calling in the vice squad on senior artists that someone needs to tell them to knock it off. Whatever happened to fighting the Man? Now you want the Man to come along and work with you against another artist?
I think one thing which reminded me of this was when Out On Screen showed Bruce LaBruce’s Skin Flick. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a gay porn film made about neo nazis, with a gang rape scene in the end. I say porn film because he actually was funded by a porn producer, so it genuinely comes from that millieu, it’s not just art I’m calling porn because it’s about sex. Anyway, the people I knew who were pitching a fit about it were the youth! I was so surprised. And none of them saw it, yet they went off and spouted all these things about the merit of LaBruce’s film, the fact that they thought it was racist, etc etc. They were very angry at Out On Screen for showing it. And, I didn’t see it, I only walked in on the rape scene, but basically they wanted to completely censor this artist. I was shocked. If you want to have dialogue about it, that’s fine go ahead. But please see it before talking about it, and PLEASE don’t be stupid enough to call for censorship. And there’s still two queer artists I know who wander around Canada willy nilly saying bad things about Bruce LaBruce without every seeing any of his work or knowing the context of his career. It makes them look ignorant. Look ignorant, I guess they are ignorant.
So maybe we need to make sure art colleges are dealing with the censorship topic better, although a lot of the censoring artists I’ve met are largely self taught and haven’t had intensive dialogue in an art college. I don’t know how to stop censors. But political change isn’t achieved by censoring people, unless your name is Adolph, in which case it’s a great tool for dominating your countrymen.