Under a black sun farmworkers labor in fields. They harvest crops oblivious to the strange eclipse in the skies above them. On closer inspection the sun is perhaps a spot on the lens. Or a camera fault, or perhaps a mistake in printing. There are more photographs, but here the faces of the farmworkers have been devoured by this black spot—eaten like a cancer. It’s now apparent these black dots, these black holes, have been deliberately made.
During the 1930’s Great Depression the US Government set up the Farm Security Administration to help combat the country’s rural poverty. As part of the FSA’s remit was a photography project set up by Roy Stryker to document the lives of the people who lived and worked on the land.
Stryker hired some of the best photographers of the day such as Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, and Edwin and Louise Rosskam, among many, many others. The photographers were briefed as to what the FSA wanted documented. When the rolls of film were sent back from locations across the USA, Stryker rigorously examined each and every negative. His system for discarding images was brutal—he used a hole punch to pierce any negative he didn’t like—making it unusable.
It is not known on exactly what grounds Stryker rejected an image. Was it aesthetic reasons? Bad teeth, ugly people? Political? Images of farm life that did not coincide with the government’s desires narrative? Whichever—of the 164,000 developed negatives, only around 77,000 were made available for use. That’s a helluva lot of rejected photographs.
Stryker’s vandalism killed many historic and irreplaceable photographs. Of those that remain, Stryker’s hole punch handiwork has created strange yet still compelling images. Some conspiracy theorists suggest the photos were censored because of UFOs, or strange deformities, or odd background figures—and similar flights of fancy. In truth they were probably censored because the reality of human deprivation never sits easy with a government’s self-image.
I think one can safely assume that artist John Baldessari is well aware of these images.
More of striking examples of Stryker’s censorship, after the jump….
British filmmaker Charlie Lyne, maker of 2014’s Beyond Clueless, is irritated with the British Board of Film Classification, and he found a clever way to express it. He submitted a movie for review with the title Paint Drying that lasts 607 minutes—a little more than 10 hours—consisting of “a single, unbroken shot of paint drying on a brick wall.”
Ordinarily at DM if we’re writing about a movie we haven’t seen, that’s something we’re probably not going to state in the post, or at the very least we’re going to soft-pedal it.
In this case I’m willing to admit, flat-out, that I have not personally watched all 607 minutes of Paint Drying to attest to its contents. It might be better than the latest installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise, but I have no idea. I haven’t seen that either.
Lyne’s beef with the BBFC, which has been in existence since 1912, isn’t limited to its tendency to censor—one might argue that classification doesn’t equal censorship per se, but in a capitalistic system, the difference between a PG-13 and an NC-17 rating is the difference between being a viable participant in the marketplace and not being one. Today there’s certain content that will never get included in a tentpole summer movie because an R rating by definition means that the audience permitted to see it would be smaller, and that has a self-censorship effect on filmmakers.
But that’s not all that Lyne is exercised about. The other thing that bugs him is that the BBFC charges filmmakers money to rate the movies, and that’s money a lot of independent filmmakers don’t have to spare. According to Lyne, the BBFC charges filmmakers nearly a thousand pounds to rate a 90-minute movie.
Late last year he started a Kickstarter to protest the BBFC. He raised £5,937, which permitted him to make his movie. As Lyne told the Independent, “People wouldn’t stand for it if the BBFC was censoring literature, music or any other art form, so why is film fair game? Paint Drying is my attempt to draw attention to that contradiction and I wanted to provoke a discussion about film censorship in the UK, which my project certainly has.”
Asked whether he has watched the film himself, Lyne blithely blurts, “Nah.”
On January 26 the BBFC released its rating for Paint Drying: “(U) no material likely to offend or harm.”
Ughhhhh, remember Crossfire, that farcical program of political theater that purported to encourage debate by having two politically opposed positions parley in an absurd performance of umbrage? If not, you’re not missing much. The format was stupid, and it flattened politics to a kind of idiotic spectator sport. However, given the right guests, it could be damned entertaining. Take this episode featuring Pat Buchanan and Mojo Nixon duking it out over record censorship—frankly, I’m shocked Pat took the bait! There is some choice pearl-clutching from a Missouri state representative Jean Dixon—heavy supporter of Tipper Gore’s censorship sewing circle, the PMRC, but this was well past their heyday, and Mojo’s clearly the star of this show.
Look, we all know who gave the most beautiful and inspiring statement against censorship, and that is John Motherfucking Denver (no facetiousness—much respect to the late Country Boy), but there’s something so much more appropriate about Mojo Nixon in this format. Pat “The-Holocaust-Wasn’t -Really-That-Bad” Buchanan does not deserve an impassioned speech on behalf of “Rocky Mountain High.” Pat Buchanan deserves to debate the man who wrote such classics as “Don Henley Must Die,” and “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child.”
Obviously I’m biased, but I’d say Mojo wins the debate, mainly because Buchanan loses his cool, while Nixon is appropriately and unapologetically manic from the get-go. Perhaps Pat is just jealous of Mojo’s lush head of hair???
The whole PMRC music censorship flap of the 80s and 90s is a rare—BUT NO LESS DEFINITIVE—example of Democrats being just as bad, if not far worse, than Republicans can be.
The PMRC (“Parent Music Resource Group”) was headed by Al Gore’s then wife, Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, wife of Bush I’s then Treasury Secretary, James Baker, two bored Washington socialite busy-bodies who wanted to “make a difference” and get on tee-vee and stuff. Although the PRMC was nominally non-partisan, I blame the Democrats for supporting it more than I blame the Republicans (they didn’t call those Parental Advisory warnings “Tipper Stickers” for nuthin’).
The whole thing made it impossible for me to vote for Bill Clinton, with Gore as his running mate (both elections) and I didn’t vote for Gore in 2000, either. Clearly at one point in his public career, Al Gore backed censorship and thought crime as a winning political stance—he supported his wife’s efforts all the way—and frankly I didn’t need to know that much more about him. Gore might have rehabilitated himself somewhat with his environmental advocacy in recent years, but I still suspect that underneath he’s a total dickhead, nevertheless…
In 1990, The Oprah Winfrey Show hosted former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, future Fox News pundit, Juan Williams, Ice-T and Nelson George to discuss the PMRC issue.
For those of you too young to have lived through this, here a succinct bit of background from Biafra’s Wikipedia entry that will fill you in:
In April 1986, police officers raided his house in response to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In June 1986, L.A. deputy city attorney Michael Guarino, working under City Attorney James Hahn, brought Biafra to trial in Los Angeles for distributing “harmful material to minors” in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. In actuality, the dispute was about neither the music nor the lyrics from the album, but rather the print of the H. R. Giger poster Landscape XX (Penis Landscape) [NSFW link] included with the album. Biafra believes the trial was politically motivated; it was often reported that the PMRC took Biafra to court as a cost-effective way of sending a message out to other musicians with content considered offensive in their music.
Music author Reebee Garofalo argued that Biafra and Alternative Tentacles may have been targeted because the label was a “small, self-managed and self-supported company that could ill afford a protracted legal battle.” Facing the possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2000 fine, Biafra, Dirk Dirksen, and Suzanne Stefanac founded the No More Censorship Defense Fund, a benefit made up of several punk rock bands, to help pay for his legal fees, which neither he nor his record label could afford. The jury deadlocked 5 to 7 in favor of acquittal, prompting a mistrial; despite a motion to re-try the case, the judge ordered all charges dropped. The Dead Kennedys disbanded during the trial, in December 1986, due to the mounting legal costs; in the wake of their disbandment, Biafra made a career of his spoken word performances. His early spoken word albums focused heavily on the trial (especially in High Priest of Harmful Matter), which made him renowned for his anti-censorship stance.
No one has posted Biafra’s amazing 45-minute long “Tales from the Trial” rant on YouTube, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy to track down.
Below, highlights of Jello Biafra absolutely eviscerating Tipper Gore’s pro-censorship arguments. This is an amazing piece of history, it really is:
Well, it feels like quite a while since we’ve had a genuine “ban this filth” furore kicked up over a horror film in the UK. Moral panic over celluloid work is something the British do very well - and not just the infamous Video (Nasties) Recording Act of 1984, but also the public and private reactions to films such as Reservoir Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, Child’s Play 3, The Exorcist, Visions of Ecstasy and more. Now there’s a new film to be added to that list, or if you will sown on to the end of the chain. The British Board of Film Classifications (the BBFC) has taken the decision to place an outright ban on director Tom Six’s soon-to-be-not-released Human Centipede II (Full Sequence).
The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims. Examples of this include a scene early in the film in which he masturbates whilst he watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede film, with sandpaper wrapped around his penis, and a sequence later in the film in which he becomes aroused at the sight of the members of the ‘centipede’ being forced to defecate into one another’s mouths, culminating in sight of the man wrapping barbed wire around his penis and raping the woman at the rear of the ‘centipede’. There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience. There is a strong focus throughout on the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between pain, perversity and sexual pleasure. It is the Board’s conclusion that the explicit presentation of the central character’s obsessive sexually violent fantasies is in breach of its Classification Guidelines and poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.
I saw Human Centipede (First Sequence) at the cinema, and enjoyed it a lot (it was in fact a first date, and we are still very much together). While I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a classic, it was well made, delivered some good scares (mostly centred around the excellent, unhinged performance by Dieter Laser as herr doktor, above) and it wasn’t as gory as I was expecting. The horror did indeed come from the central idea, a rare feat in today’s saturated, torture-porn market. While last year’s A Serbian Film featured some very heavy sexual violence, and was heavily cut by the BBFC, it still played in cinemas and on DVD systems across the land. It seems that mere graphic sexual violence is not enough to get a film banned, it is indeed about the film maker’s intent. And herein lies the problem.
Personally I do not believe in the power of prohibition, and feel particularly irked by the thought that there are a group of people somewhere making decisions on what I can and cannot watch without knowing a single thing about me (and yet assuming the worst about my character). What is the point in this day and age when uncut versions of pretty much anything can be obtained at the click of a mouse? However, I also know how the horror industry works, and absolutely any whiff of scandal that can be created must be exploited for maximum exposure. Human Centipede II (Final Sequence) was shot in England, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that director Tom Six knew the BBFC guidelines and decided to deliberately flout them. The UK has a relatively small market but a powerful media presence, and let’s face it, the film will get a hell of a lot more column inches now than it would have otherwise. For a series of horror films based on a truly disturbing central idea, getting one banned is a masterstroke. Because no amount of onscreen depravity will ever match up to the dark fantasies we create in our heads when imaging how bad a banned film might be.
Writing this post (which I wouldn’t have done were it not for the ban) I decided to look up the trailer for HC2FS, and was rather dismayed at the result. It’s all going a bit Von Trier for my liking - that is when a director’s ego and persona becomes much larger, and more of a focal point, than the actual work they are creating and promoting. Thus bad film making can be excused through a cult of personality. And before any fan people jump on me for that statement, it’s acknowledged that Von Trier has used his own persona, and people’s perception of it, to break his films out of the Danish art market and on to the international stage. It’s not a crime per se, but it still pisses me off, especially if the directors are just not as interesting as they think they are, as is the case here. So, principle photography and at least the first edit of HS2:FS must be ready for the BBFC to pass a judgement, but when it comes to trailers all the public can we see is this rather self-indulgent and poorly executed “personality director” clip. Is this supposed to brew disturbing images in my mind and make me want to see the new film? Sorry Tom Six, but it doesn’t. It bores me and makes me want to see it less:
Regular readers of this blog know what happened to us a few weeks back (update here) with one of our posts getting dinged for being “abusive” on Facebook. Yesterday mega-blog, Ars Technica had their corporate Facebook page, where they are able to reach over 40,000 readers in their news feeds, locked out for supposed copyright infringement. Clearly, Ars Techina is no fly-by night organization, and yet they were subject to the same dumb rules as everyone else. The story is really blowing up today, with prominent blogs like Gawker and the Atlantic Wire weighing in. It’s about time the media holds Facebook’s feet to the fire on this issue until they FINALLY change their policies favoring whiners, complainers, blue-noses, trolls and cyber-bullies.
Prior to the account lockout, we had received no notices of infringement or warnings. Truly, we awoke to find that Facebook had summoned a judge, jury, and executioner and carried out its swift brand of McJustice all without bothering to let us know that there was even a problem.
Further investigation has revealed just how flawed Facebook’s infringement reporting system is. To begin with, someone making a complaint can provide any third-party e-mail address they choose. So it is rather easy to spoof the origin of a complaint, while giving Facebook and the accused no chance for a direct rejoinder.
Everyone who uses Facebook is on some level a Facebook partner. A thoroughgoing social site, it is nothing without its users. That Facebook would so harshly judge and move against its most valuable assets without any semblance of fairness or evenhandedness is disappointing.
I whole-heartedly agree. First and foremost, the backasswards way they handle complaints is simply unintelligent, counterproductive and can have extrremely negative consequences for the businesses which are unfairly targeted, often by their own competitors using a fake email address that can’t be traced back!
As Sarah Perez revealed at Read Write Web on the Ars Technica fiasco found out that just about anybody can take down even million dollar companies on Facebook, because the company doesn’t even bother to verify the identity of the complainer:
However, what Facebook does not do is verify whether or not any of that contact information is accurate. While doing so may be an administrative burden the network could not afford, it does not even take the simple step of verifying the reporter’s email address is valid.
Scam artists, as you may have guessed, have discovered this loophole. In one case, with Hamard Dar’s Rewriting Technology site, the page went down for over a month. Dar says he was targeted for money. “He wanted me to pay him…to get the page back,” he told us. Dar didn’t go for that option, however, because there was no guarantee the scammer would return the page once paid. Instead, Dar ran his own personal investigation until he discovered the person involved and threatened him to withdraw the complaint, saying he would report him to U.S. cyber crime enforcement (the scam artist lives in Chicago). The page was then returned.
Facebook has really got to get their shit together on this issue. Just today, dozens of political activists in the UK—including folks related to mainstream group UK Uncut—had their Facebook pages purged. With what we all know will be an absolutely insane election season coming up, their indefensible censorship policies (who are their lawyers anyway???) will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on free speech, no matter what side of the political divide you’re on.
The so-called “apology” touted by the likes of Perez Hilton, Pink News, The Advocate and even mainstream news sources like AOL, Huffington Post and Gawker, as if some kind of “victory” had been won by the LGBT community was nothing more than generic “Oopsie! We goofed” text left by a low level Facebook employee six pages in on the comments to the original Dangerous Minds post. Here is the screen shot:
Furthermore, it’s not saying anything specifically about a gay kiss. This generic text could also refer, for example, to a photo of a breastfeeding woman that someone reported as “abusive” (their word not mine) to Facebook’s censors. Don’t break out the champagne so fast, folks.
This week, with some satisfaction, a number of gay and lesbian news sites reported that Facebook had “apologized” for removing a photo of two men kissing on its site. The initial censorship had sparked a week-long protest and attracted coverage from The Huffington Post, MSNBC and other news outlets. But now, the man who started the controversy says he’s not satisfied with Facebook’s response. “This is being presented as some kind of victory or that there’s a reason to go do a conga line down Christopher Street,” says Richard Metzger, who posted the photo of two fully-clothed men kissing that was removed from Facebook on Saturday for containing “nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content” according to a notice from the social network.
But Metzger doesn’t see why anyone’s celebrating that acknowledgement. “It’s just generic PR speak that doesn’t even refer to a gay kiss,” he says. “The real problem here is certainly not that Facebook is a homophobic company. It’s that their terrible corporate policy on censorship needs to stop siding with the idiots, the complainers and the least-enlightened and evolved amongst us.”
According to Facebook’s FAQ page, a “Facebook administrator looks into each report thoroughly” when deciding whether to remove an item. “There shouldn’t be a human being making that determination,” says Metzger. He would prefer a censorship system that removes flagged photographs based on an automatic, crowdsourced method similar to the one used by the comedy site Funny or Die. Essentially, he’s promoting a “wisdom of the crowd” system that would work like this: One user flags an item and a second alert pops up asking other users if the material is offensive or not. That way, no single person could get a photograph banned.
But would a “majority rules” system make for a more tolerant Facebook? We’re not sure. Asked if he thought his proposed system could result in more homophobic behavior, Metzger responded as such:
“That’s possible, but in our ecosystem that kind of behavior would be expelled. On Free Republic-type groups, behavior like that might get voted up but it wouldn’t affect the whole Facebook ecosystem. These groups stay with their own kind.”
Still confused? Here’s the back story, just in case:
Richard Metzger: How I, a married, middle-aged man, became an accidental spokesperson for gay rights (Boing Boing)
This picture has itself caused scandal in the UK, as it was a gay kiss that was broadcast before the watershed, and as such led to a number of complaints to the BBC. However, since this episode aired (October 2008) Christian now has a boyfriend and a few more gay kisses have taken place.
In relation to the John Snow Kiss-In event, I used this particular photo because I considered it to be quite mild (no groping, no tongues). The photos I had considered using before I chose that one are much more racy. Oh the irony!
Secondly, the removal of the Facebook John Snow Kiss-In event:
It turns out that the Facebook event for the John Snow Kiss-In was not blocked by Facebook, but made private by the creator of the event itself. Paul Shetler, the organizer, left this comment on the previous thread:
“Hey I just saw this. Before it goes too far, I just want people to know that FB have NOT removed the kiss-in event page; it’s still there, but _I made the event private after the event_ was over and only visible to those who had been invited as there were starting to be trolls posting abusive nonsense on it.”
Thanks for clearing that up, Paul. Now if Facebook will only reply to Richard’s query about why they removed my original post and photo when he put it up on his wall…
It has been erroneously reported in the media that our own Richard Metzger (who lives in Los Angeles) organized the London “Kiss-In” event, which is untrue, and also unfair to Paul Shetler and the actual organizers. Also, Richard did not state in his post that Facebook HAD taken the event page down, he just questioned IF this was the case and IF there was a connection with MY post about the event being removed from his own wall. This seems to have confused some people.
Here is a report on the John Snow Kiss-In from the Guardian, featuring an interview with Mr Shetler:
Nothing like a good banning to warm an old gay punk’s heart—especially in the internet age. Looks like Australia’s classification of Toronto-based filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s latest bit of hardcore underground gay gore, L.A. Zombie as pornography has prevented it from being screened at the Melbourne Film Festival. According to Melbourne talk-radio station 3AW, LaBruce couldn’t be happier:
‘‘My first thought was ‘Eureka!’… I’ll never understand how censors don’t see that the more they try to suppress a film, the more people will want to see it. It gives me a profile I didn’t have yesterday.’’
Virtually all of LaBruce’s films—from the skinhead-fetishizing No Skin off My Ass from 1991 through to the political-porno-zombie flick Otto; or Up With Dead People—have managed to shock and scandalize straights and gays alike with their violence and satirical stereotyping. It’s good to know there are some areas in the Western world that aren’t immune.
Does a current censorship trial in Moscow indicate a return to the old Soviet ways of doing things, although it’s a newly resurgent Russian Orthodox Church we’re talking about here? A 2007 exhibit featuring some controversial art (such as the painting above, and another of Mickey Mouse as Lenin) was supposed to be against censorship of the arts, but has instead turned its curators into the poster boys for religious censorship. Now, after a 14-month trial, Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev face up to three years in prison:
Even Russia’s culture minister says the two men did nothing to break the law against inciting religious hatred.
But the prosecutors refuse to back down and have demanded a three-year prison sentence when the judge makes her ruling on July 12.
The exhibit “Forbidden Art” at the Sakharov Museum, a human rights center named after celebrated dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, featured several paintings with images of Jesus Christ.
In one, Christ appeared to his disciples as Mickey Mouse. In another, of the crucifixion, the head of Christ was replaced by the Order of Lenin medal, the highest award of the Soviet Union.
The directors of the exhibit were unprepared for the amount of hate it has generated in Russia, a country that was considered officially “atheist” during the era of the Soviet Union. Now it appears there is less separation between church and state in Russia than in the US of A. I doubt that painting would merit more that a few disgruntled remarks, even in the deep South!