Tag Archives: Censorship

Censorship in Australia

From the long history of censorship in Australia, it is possible to achieve an accurate understanding of Australian culture as dominated by prudish, thin-skinned, sycophantic, philistines.

Not a single Australian politician has come out to defend Bill Henson, not even those who own art by Henson (they are hoping that they can profit from the increased sales price and the witch hunt). The Federal Arts Minister, Peter Garrett has remained silent on the controversy of arts censorship – censoring himself. (Garrett is not really the Minister for the Arts, rather he is just another one of Rudd’s toadies.) International readers of this blog may not be aware that in Australia there is compulsory voting that censors anyone who does not encourage voters to show a preference for both political parties. (I wonder how Bill Henson will be voting but according to Australian law he will have to support a party that condemns his art.)

A major contributing factor to censorship in Australia is prudish, Christian morality. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced his religious bias quickly into the debate of Bill Henson’s art with his “God forbid” remark. Rudd believes, without evidence, in the idea of the “innocence of children”, introducing Christian dogma to the debate. Christians are not in a good position to throw stones as they frequently expose children to an image of sadomasochistic pornography with a nearly naked man hanging on a cross. [Andy Soutter “The Greatest Porn Star Ever Sold”, Rapid Eye 3 (Creation Books, 1995)]

In 2004, the ACMI was responsible for the censorship an artist’s work that they had commissioned. ACMI then exhibited an altered version of the work against the artist’s consent. The censored work exposed the pornographic sadism in the central Christian icon. And in 1997 there was the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ by a thug with the blessing of then-Archbishop, now Cardinal Pell Pot.

Censorship is also an issue at the 2008 Sydney Writers Festival. Journalism students of University of Technology, produce ‘Festival News” for the Festival. The first edition of the Festival News was censored by the Writers Festival because of references imply that the Minister of the Arts was not popular. The festival claimed that the publication was ‘offensive’ when it was merely critical of the government. This action is similar to the demotion of academic Dr. Paul Mees by the University of Melbourne for criticism of the Victorian Government. This sycophantic aspect of Australian culture is disgusting; it makes it very difficult for critics or intelligent debate and retards civic progress.

The chill effect of the recent censorship of artists self-censoring out of fear will damage the careers of artists in Australia and further retard Australian culture (if there is such a thing). Read about the experience of recently censored Melbourne artist Cecilia Fogelberg in her blog.


More Art Censorship

Another exhibition has been censored in Australia. In the same month that Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform was censored by Melbourne City Council. Again this has been due to a single a complaint about nudity in photographs. But this time the NSW Police has supported the censorship shutting down the exhibition. And this time it is an internationally known photographer, Bill Henson and Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, a major Sydney commercial gallery.

For the news story read: Photographer Bill Henson exhibition under investigation

The last time that NSW Police were stupid enough to venture into art censorship in 1982, was also at Roslyn Oxley Gallery. Then they fueled the career of painter Juan Davila. I don’t know what they hope to achieve this time as Bill Henson’s career is well established, but the price of his photographs is sure to rise with the increased controversy. It will also increase the long held reputation of Australia being a country of prudish philistines.

“The discussion about Stupid as a Painter in the press and in the art scene was predictably ‘Is it art or is it pornography’, only a repetition of the long history of censorship in Australia.” Juan Davila (Hysterical Tears, 1985, p.13)

The discussion about the Bill Henson exhibition will, unfortunately, be same. The claims of morality and protecting people underlying censorship are hypocritical considering Australia’s record of genocide, war crimes and brutalisation of refugees (including children) in Australian concentration camps. It is not surprising that nudity in art is being regularly censored in Australia as it helps maintaining the failed illusion of decency.

The parrots of Australian politics came out to show their hypocrisy, ignorance and philistine attitudes. Leading the charge was the ever-righteous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Bill Henson’s photographs –  “I find them absolutely revolting.”  NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he found the exhibition “offensive and disgusting”. NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell followed the trend condemned the exhibition. If this is Rudd’s real opinion of Henson’s photographs what level of revolting, beyond the absolute, does he have for his US allies torture program or the abuse of children by Catholic priests? Or are those things less revolting to Rudd? He certainly acts that way.

And so the real reason for the police raid is to help these slimy politicians make themselves appear like moral leaders. It is difficult to make an Australian politicians with no regards for human rights appear moral but beating up an artist over nudes is probably the best way to do it.


Censorship is Offensive

Power will be asserted where it can be asserted. Censorship is an exercise in power. One person can’t change what is shown on TV, in public library books, at the NGV or Young and Jackson’s. But one person can get Melbourne City Council to censor an art exhibition because of nudity. The censorship of Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ is an example of how easily Melbourne City Council caves in to pressure when it comes to art.

Melbourne City Council could have responded to the single complaint with the first point in the council’s Protocol on Artworks: “To encourage lively, critical debate and public conversation in an understanding atmosphere. This contributes to the perception of Melbourne as a city which manages its arts and related issues, however contentious, in an intelligent and informed manner.” (Protocol on Artworks, City of Melbourne 2005) But they did not; instead they joined in with the complaint. The perception now is Melbourne is a city which manages it art, when contentious, in an unintelligent, uninformed and knee-jerk manner.

We are, unfortunately, still in a culture war between religious zealots who believe that nudity is sinful and those who don’t hold this belief. The Melbourne City Council has showing which side of this war it is on, while pretending to “encourage lively, critical debate and public conversation in an understanding atmosphere”. Now some people maintain that Fogelberg and Flinn went too far, others that they didn’t. I think that this debate is a sidetrack; it is essentially a plea for tolerance of censorship. It is a way to avoid the real issue of why do we tolerate censorship? I find censorship offensive but Melbourne City Council would not do anything to appease my complaint because they do not believe that censorship is offensive – but they believe that some art is.

When I was looking at the ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ before it was censored a group of women passing commented on the nudity. But they weren’t really interested, not enough to look twice. Perhaps, Fogelberg and Flinn’s mistake was not putting up warning notices about the nudity, like everyone else does. Of course, these warning notices might have had the effect of drawing attention to the nudity and attracting hoards of school children to the art.

The Age 11th May 2008 has a report about the censorship of this art exhibition; http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/05/10/1210131335180.html And read my review of the exhibition in Platform & Counihan.


Unpopular Culture

Warning: may cause reader to think.

We all know, or at least, think that we know what is ‘popular culture’. Popular culture as distinct from high culture; does that the definition of popular culture implies that high culture is unpopular? Is there such a thing as ‘unpopular culture’?  If you took the warning labels seriously you would think that almost all culture is unpopular.

For example, almost all of the arts documentaries shown on the ABC and SBS about the visual arts, music or literature come with warning notices: nudity, drug references, and offensive language. Some of exhibitions that I attend come with warning labels about nudity or just things that might disturb some people.

In February of 2008 officials from the London Underground banned a poster with a 16th image of Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The image was advertising an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Officials had originally said the poster breached their guidelines, which bars ads that “depict men, women or children in a sexual manner, or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context.” The London Underground changed their minds after MPs and other people started calling them idiots.

The Age (March 6, 2008) reports a parent’s complaint, supported by the Shadow education minister Martin Dixon, about a single word in Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The novel is set reading for Year 7 at Melbourne’s Girl College. If teachers are not responsible enough to determine suitable reading for children then what qualifies other people to make that judgement?

Some of the CDs that I listen to have warning labels about “strong impact coarse language and/or themes”; we have Tipper Gore, Al Gore’s wife, to thank for these. Are these warning labels evidence of ‘unpopular culture’? I have a Fatboy Slim CD with a “warning: this recording contains explicit language”. The people who put the warning label there should have looked up a dictionary to find out what ‘explicit’ means but these self-righteous zombies are too self-righteous to be corrected by a dictionary. I think that they were trying to say was “this recording contains common language”.

These cultural warning labels exist because organizations have guidelines about cultural sensitivity and guidelines about suitability for juveniles. Protection from litigation is sometimes postulated, but this is dubious, as I have never heard of someone suing because they were shocked by a nude, course language or drug references. These guidelines are not based on expert opinion, such as teachers or academics, but are based on prejudices.

I don’t condone censorship in any form, including these euphemistic ‘guideless’. I don’t know of any evidence that these warnings are doing any good. But they do subtle harm, as I have shown in this entry, by prejudicial censoring, by implying danger through ‘warnings’ and by the institutional misuse of language. These institutions do not pander to my cultural sensitivity to censorship, nor to atheists desire not to be exposed their young children to images of Christian sadomasochism; the cultural sensitivities that the institutions do largely pander to are Puritanical wowser politics. The same political-religious forces that supported censorship have their opinions supported by these ‘guidelines’.


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