Wednesday, July 02, 2008

T shirt banned by NZ censors

Warning content below may offend - seriously don't read any further if you are easily shocked....
The tshirt concerned is from the band "Cradle of Filth" and depicts a woman dressed as a masturbating nun, with the words "Jesus is a Cunt". The woman concerned appears to be enjoying herself and her breasts are bare with her genitalia concealed only by her hand. I haven't placed a copy of the image here out of respect of Christian readers, because I want them to at least understand my point - and besides, Google will enable anyone to find the tshirt within minutes.
The Office of Film, Video and Literature Classification (OFVLC) has deemed the tshirt is now banned. Yes banned. It is "grossly objectionable due to its obscene content" and so is injurious to the public good. Yes you can face imprisonment for possessing that tshirt now, whether or not you knew it was objectionable. You could also face imprisonment for selling it, giving it away, letting a child see it - in fact, that's it. You see "objectionable" places the tshirt on a par with child pornography - so a tshirt of a piece of art is cross the threshold of unacceptability like a video of a child being raped and murdered.

I can see why some would be upset by the tshirt. The words on the tshirt would shock and offend any Christian - but then if there was a tshirt that said the same about Charles Darwin, Ayn Rand or myself, I might be shocked, but I wouldn't want it banned. I'd think less of the person who might wear it, but that's it. Hardly a reason to make it criminal. Words on a tshirt that are not defamatory (sorry Christians, Jesus isn't alive by any objective legal definition) should not be banned - they are words, they offend but do not harm. The Society for the Promotion of Community (of Christian Fundamentalists') Standards (SPCS)said the words are "grossly obscene and blasphemous language directed at the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is worshipped, adored. praised and revered as the central Person of Christianity". As Stephen Fry once said "so you're offended? So fucking what?"
I am offended daily by the vileness of the actions and words of individuals and governments, I'm offended by people who don't wash and use the tube, I'm offended by foul mouthed yobs at 1am shouting outside our flat randomly, I'm offended by the BBC wasting money it took from me by force to pay exhorbitant salaries to people on commercially oriented programmes, I'm offended by restaurants that don't give me what i ordered. The world does not exist so governments can protect you from being offended.

The question I want to know, is that if it is illegal to have those words on a tshirt, is it illegal for me to even have them on this blog? Well US law protects me I expect given the hosting of this site - but if you can't write that phrase, then it has serious implications as to where the line is drawn on offending people through writing!

So what about the image? Was the woman in the image (I believe it was a photograph) forced to pose that way or reveal herself? If so, then there is an issue of assault and she would be a victim. If not, then let's think carefully - could she pose like that in someone's premises legally?

The answer is yes. There is no crime in a woman dressing as a nun, exposing herself and masturbating assuming she consents and is of age, which appears to be the case. So again, we are just talking about people who would be offended by the image. So let's deconstruct this. The person depicted on the tshirt isn't offended. The person buying or owning the tshirt isn't offended, but others not involved at all in the tshirt, except seeing it - are.

So we are to protect people from being offended from seeing an image that, in real life, would be perfectly legal to copy. This is rather unlike child pornography, where you are in serious criminal charges for attempting to undertake those activities in real life.

So why ban it? Well it appears the OFVLC is protecting Christianity and chastity, which seems rather strange as I didn't think it existed to do that. SPCS quotes this statement from the decision:

"The injury to the public good that is likely to be caused by the availability of this T-shirt originates from the manner in which it associates an aggressive and misogynistic meaning of the “harsh, brutal and generally unacceptable” word c### with Jesus Christ, and depicts an image of a chaste woman engaging in sexual activity. A fair interpretation of the messages conveyed by this T-shirt is that Christians should be vilified for their religious beliefs, and that women, including chaste and celibate women, cannot stop themselves engaging in sexual activity."

So there is injury to the public good simply by using a rude word with Jesus Christ? What if I say Kim Il Sung is a cunt? That will offend millions, but so fucking what?

The "image of a chaste woman engaging in sexual activity" is a curious description of something "bad". For starters the woman may not have been chaste, but was simply a model for the t-shirt. Secondly, the first sexual activity of all women is presumably when they are "chaste".

Does the tshirt say or imply Christians should be villified? Hardly. It is anti-Christ (careful use of the word), and depicts nuns as being sexual - which undoubtedly some are, and funnily enough the law doesn't criminalise them if they do or don't. However it isn't seeking oppression of Christians, it offends their primary prophet, but it is a stretch to say it villifies them. Does it imply that women cannot help themselves engaging in sexual activity? Well it implies the one on the tshirt can't, maybe some nuns can't, but then again, so what if it does? Would a tshirt that says "slut" and depicts a woman masturbating without wearing nun gear be criminal? Would a woman wearing a tshirt that says "i'm a slut" be criminal?

Let's be clear. I wouldn't wear this tshirt, I wouldn't listen to this band. I wouldn't be impressed by someone who did wear it, but the idea that you can be imprisoned for wearing it is frankly absurd and offensive.

I know many Christians will cheer this decision - but some of them wouldn't cheer if they faced the same offence for a tshirt that might say "gays carry AIDS" or something else that reflects their own beliefs but offends others.

Censorship law should simply not exist because people get offended, it should only exist to protect victims of real crimes. No crime was committed in the production of the tshirt design, so it should be nobody else's business.

You can ban anyone from your own property from wearing the tshirt and I have no objection to a mall owner or any other private property owner telling someone to leave if they wear the tshirt. That should be your right. However, to ban possession of the tshirt generally, across the board is absurd.

So in New Zealand, wearing this tshirt in your own room is a crime. However you can have a woman doing exactly what is depicted in this tshirt and it is wouldn't be.

By the way this tshirt caused an issue in Perth, WA recently. A 16yo has been charged with "offensive behaviour" for wearing it. Yes, the Police have their priorities right, and of course the Christian right is cheering on the prosecution.

Don't believe for a moment National would change this, or even ACT. Yes I know there are "higher priorities", but think about it. If someone in your family had criminal charges for owning this tshirt, buying it off Ebay and it being intercepted by Customs and the like - and presumably even downloading the image from the internet - would you still not care?

oh and what's to be banned next?

Hattip on this case to no less than the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, forever cheering on the suppression of tshirts with dirty words and bare breasts.


Anonymous said...

I think you could make a public-good argument for discouraging this kind of expression: it's injurious to the public good, because it desecrates something sacred.

To accept that you would have to accept that a sense of the sacred is beneficial in various ways - eg by encouraging respectful behaviour towards other human beings and a sense that in general, there are limits on the way people should behave. I doubt this is provable, but for the sake of argument let me assume it.

If it is true then it follows that an act of desecration undermines whatever goods flow from this sense of the sacred, and make it more likely that people will be disrespectful, aggressive and disregarding of the rights of others.

It doesn't necessarily matter exactly what it is that is considered sacred - it could be Jesus, Mohammed, Ayn Rand or even Kim Il Sung (if we had a large population of North Koreans) depending on how the line is drawn. Presumably if you want to protect your own sacred icons it would be in your interests to protect the sacred icons of others as well, the same way that if you value freedom of speech it's in your interests to protect the freedom of speech of other people regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

I don't think I would want the job of determining exactly what constitutes something sacred, because obviously this would open up a huge can of worms. In any case I wouldn't want to see someone jailed for wearing a t-shirt. I guess my motivation for this post was answering Frank Fry's question: does it matter if people are offended by a T-shirt like this? If offence is the only consequence then it probably doesn't matter, but I question whether it is the only consequence. I'd compare it to pissing in a river: doing this would probably make anybody angry who gets their drinking water from the river, but it's not the anger/offence/hurt feelings which are the problem. And in fact it would be harmless if only a few people did it but you would want to discourage that behaviour, because it would not be harmless if it became generally acceptable and large numbers of people did it.

My own personal belief is that our culture is the river, and wearing a shirt like this is equivalent to pissing in it.

Anonymous said...

How can the censor ban the masturbating nun T-shirt and not ban the Che Guevara T-shirt? After all Guevara was a callous murderer, the nun is just discovering her body in a perfectly natural way.

Libertyscott said...

Well people WILL discourage this kind of expression, that's part of free speech. Yes people should be respectful, but that can't be legislated. We can't ban people being rude to each other.

Pissing in a river would be an act of trespass, desecrating someone else's property. Owning a tshirt is nothing like that.

Anonymous said...

Well people WILL discourage this kind of expression, that's part of free speech. Yes people should be respectful, but that can't be legislated. We can't ban people being rude to each other.

I agree with this, if expression is to be discouraged it should be through informal social mechanisms not the state. Ideally this sort of behaviour, along with flag-burning would be the sort of thing nobody does because it is a lame thing to do.

Pissing in a river would be an act of trespass, desecrating someone else's property. Owning a tshirt is nothing like that.

I was thinking in terms of the river being common property. Obviously a Libertarian wouldn't consider that an ideal situation, but I meant it as a metaphor for culture which is common property, at least in the sense that everybody makes use of it.

Your answer does suggest an action the SPCC could take, however: register all Christian symbols as trademarks, then they could sue the T-shirt makers for breach of copyright :-)