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An exploration of UK legislation on the publication of film, looking into the work of the BBFC and its impact on freedom of expression and imparting ideas, comparing ‘Antichrist’, ‘A Serbian Film’ and ‘NF713’.

“…an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect … is, if taken as a whole, such  as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely…to read, see or hear the  matter contained or embodied in it.” (OPA, 1959)

The Obscene Publications Act (1959) is the main legislation used in determining the legality of ‘any description of article containing or embodying matter to be read or looked at or both, any sound record, and any film or other record of a picture or pictures’(OPA, 1959) based on whether material is likely to ‘deprave and corrupt’. If the artefact meets this criteria of ‘depraving’ or ‘corrupting’, it is deemed an obscene publication, making it illegal to distribute in the UK. The description of the OPA is ‘An Act to amend the law relating to the publication of obscene matter; to provide for the protection of literature; and to strengthen the law concerning pornography‘, as it provides a defence of ‘public good on the ground that it is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern’.(OPA, 1959) This creates a distinct divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, where material may contain obscenity if it conforms to the expectations of ‘high art’. A radical shift in attitudes has taken place in Britain, as now the censorship of literature or high art is mostly seen as unacceptable, whereas the OPA was originally brought about in 1857 to deal with ‘obscene’ literature, exemplified in Lord Campbell’s statement;

“I have learnt with horror and alarm that a sale of poison more deadly than     prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic- the sale of obscene publications and indecent     books – is openly going on.” (Thomas, p.39, 2007)

It would be possible to suggest that the OPA is, in contemporary society, mostly used against images, showing a legacy of thought dating back to the 16th century when it was ‘believed that evil influences could come into the body through the eyes, and corrupt the viewer’.(Burn, 1997) Films are not safeguarded by the law, meaning that it can be illegal to distribute moving images – under the Video Recordings Act (1964) the film need not even be ‘obscene’, as all ‘films’ (whatever this word constitutes in a society where most have access to a camera and are capable of producing moving images), that are not classified as exempt, must be rated by the British Board of Film Classification.
The BBFC removes scenes from films in line with the OPA, but also with their own guidelines, including scenes that show sexual violence in a way that may endorse the behaviour, or that encourage the viewer to identify with the perpetrator. The BBFC‘s annual reports show ‘From September 1985 to December 1990 inclusive the BBFC cut 1,661 out of 18,085 video features and rejected another 27, almost all for sexual violence.‘(Robertson, p.173, 1993) What constitutes ’sexual violence’ has changed over time, from the BBFC policy in 1925, where “girls’ clothes pulled off, leaving them in scanty undergarments”, (SBBFC)  was considered to be sexually violent. This is mirrored by the BBFC’s interpretations of sexuality; for example, in 1927, films were cut to remove ‘passionate embraces’, as these were considered sexual at the time.(SBBFC) Currently, the BBFC definition of ‘sexual violence’ is cited as “the conflation of sexual images together with violent images in such a way as to create a connection between the two”.(SBBFCa) This change begins to show the time-based nature of offence, as the former material would certainly be far less shocking now, not only because of the aesthetics of the films, but also because of the normalisation of the acts portrayed. As Freedberg suggests “…the expansion of methods of reproduction… has frequently had the result of turning the shock of first sight into the near-indifference of familiarity.’(Freedberg, p.19, 1989) This sort of desensitisation is a societal fear, along with the idea that the normalisation of attitudes or behaviour, through familiarity with images portraying them, precedes the inevitable erosion of decent social values.

The radical shifts in acceptability of imagery demonstrates that obscenity, and offence, are social constructs, completely dependent on the norms and values of specific cultures. This is demonstrated in the most depraved materials appearing throughout history: the books ‘more deadly than poison’ of 1857 (Thomas, p.39, 2007); ’the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses’, the Venus of Urbino by Titian, according to Mark Twain in 1880 (Twain, p.244-245, 1907); up to Councillor David Kelsey on A Serbian Film in 2010, ‘It’s the most disgusting, vile thing I’ve ever sat down and watched. It was absolutely unbelievable.’(Vass, 2010)


(Still image from A Serbian Film, directed by Srđan Spasojević)

David Kelsey also states ‘I just find it amazing what people can actually get away with in the cause of art nowadays – to me that’s just not art’,(Vass, 2010) raising the question of whether A Serbian Film has been afforded ‘art’ status, by virtue of not being completely rejected by the BBFC, or whether it is still relegated to ‘low art’, since it was subjected to 4 minutes 11 seconds of cuts to secure an 18 certificate. Perhaps A Serbian Film is somewhere between the aesthetics of high and low art, as it was not passed uncut at ‘18’ like Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, which was labelled an ‘art film’, but was not completely banned like China Hamilton’s NF713, derivatively labelled a ‘sex work’.


(Still image from Antichrist, directed by Lars Von Trier)

Antichrist features more explicit sexual portrayal than A Serbian Film, splicing pornographic scenes into the narrative, but shot in black and white or slow-motion, breaking its aesthetic ties to the pornographic and placing itself within the realms of the artistic. Conversely, NF713 was intended as an ’art film’ but labelled a ‘sex work’ by the BBFC, despite being written and performed by artist China Hamilton, aiming to comment on state control rather than being intended solely or primarily to arouse. Thematically, NF713 and A Serbian Film are similar, with both using sexual violence as an allegory for being subject to societal authority, with Srđan Spasojević justifying his work under claims that the film “…is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government. It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotise you to do things you don’t want to do.”(Turner, 2010) Despite its aspirations to show “…almost indescribable and exploitative chaos”(Turner, 2010) through use of violence, the scenes displaying the most extreme violence or sexual violence, and therefore arguably the strongest indicators to the audience that the film has a clear position on the morality of violence, are cut by the BBFC. The film intends to make a political point about being controlled by authority, with the violence being framed as aversive and against the main character’s will, but this is seemingly not enough, with these scenes having to be cut, despite this diluting the content and message of the piece. Freedberg’s statement ‘…it is not uncommon to find that the suggestive turns out to be more provocative than the blatantly descriptive’(Freedberg, p.21, 1989) can be applied to the BBFC’s guidelines on ‘dwelling’, in that films showing more explicit and prolonged portrayals of violence or sexual violence, rather than allowing the actions to be implied, will receive more restrictive certifications,(BBFC, 2009) yet it is possible that this could mean scenes of violence or sexual violence are eroticised or romanticised through not showing their consequences. The quote also hints to the possibility that imagination is more adept at filling the blank spaces of ‘implied‘ violence, potentially creating something more depraving and corrupting than anything engineered by CGI and prosthetics to be shown on-screen.

BBFC guidelines demand films available to the British public conform to portraying a uniform attitude to sexual violence, allowing sexually violent imagery so long as it is unambiguously aversive, in no way endorsing or giving an unclear position,(BBFC, 2009a) even if this requires alteration of the film’s message to show this. For example, despite A Serbian Film showing intense violence in a sexual context, using this as allegorical for something unequivocally negative, the scenes must be altered to tone-down the imagery in case anyone interprets it in the ‘wrong’ way, even if this detracts from the wider points the imagery intended to make.


(Still image from NF713, directed by Michael Stamp)

In contrast to academics avoiding sexual connotations of ‘high’ art, as Freedberg explores in “The Power of Images”,(Freedberg, p.17, 1989) discussions of sexuality in film seem to ignore every aspect of its context or symbolism other than the degree of sexuality it shows, and whether it gives the ‘right’ message. NF713 is classified as an unacceptable sex work because of its fictional non-consensual abuse sequences, with the film denouncing the motivations and context of the state representative‘s actions, while simultaneously conforming to BDSM-like imagery, eroticising the physicality of the actions. This leaves an ambiguous message with the physical actions not being condemned; a view the BBFC is disinclined to tolerate, priding itself on having “a consistent and firm policy towards violence against women, particularly where the violence is in a sexual context or is sexually motivated… We know of no country other than Britain in which such a considered and unambiguous stand has been taken on this kind of material”.(BBFC, 1987)  This creates a hypocritical position where the BBFC is condemning consensual, fictional material, thereby censoring an aspect of female sexuality, while maintaining that it is beneficial to women and protecting them. In censoring NF713, the BBFC creates a situation wherein the film intends to expose the heavy-handed nature of authority in removing bodily, particularly sexual, autonomy from the female character, but the BBFC is arguably enacting this same controlling behaviour on a societal level. Within the narrative, the female character of NF713 is restrained and interrogated on charges of using her body to support an anti-State organisation, whereas actress Niki Flynn is prevented from voicing her expression against State control as the BBFC has deemed it harmful, focusing on its naked ‘female victim’ over its politics, a view Flynn brands ‘patronising and insulting’.(Ozimek, 2009)

The concept of censorship is largely integrated into the British legal system, portraying it as a necessity. Even in legislation like the Human Rights Act (1998), freedom of expression is balanced with clauses to revoke it to protect health and morals. It is partly this sort of legal precedent that makes censorship an unassailable institution, while destruction of other artistic artefacts is condemned, for example vandalism of high art, as explained by Freedberg;

“We easily concur; we do not vent our anger in this way on images in public places.     The image – or what is represented on it – may rouse our shame, hostility, or fury; but     it would certainly not cause us to wreak violence upon it; and we certainly would not     break it.” (Freedberg, p.11, 1989)

The destruction of an artistic object is described as ‘violence’ or an ‘attack’, framing it as a crime. This seems not to apply to films, although there is the distinct difference that violence wreaked upon film is by organisations rather than individuals, and done in systematic, controlled ways, justified by the greater good, not admitting to personal bias, or that the act of cutting film has any of the emotive violence of vandalism. Another notable difference is individual vandalism of art is seen as rebellion, outburst, improper display of unrestrained emotion, and all these things in this context are against norms, values or laws, whereas the organised censorship of film is propagated by institutions, and integrated into legislation, doctoring art in a much more subtle fashion than destroying it completely, changing its content before it is released to the public, allowing little comparison between the artefact in its original state as opposed to its censor-approved form. Instead of framing film censorship in the same way as destruction of other art – as vandalism, as criminal – public fear is utilised to create an environment in which film censorship is elevated to a necessity, through the moderators, viewing films the public may not see uncut until many years in the future, being enforcers of morality and decency in accordance with ‘majority‘ opinion of a public too corruptible to see the films themselves. If vandalism of an artistic artefact in a public space can be seen as a crime of passion, the censorship of an artistic artefact in private, by an organisation, can be seen as a calculated, premeditated attack on the object and what it represents, if referring to its destruction in the language of violence afforded to high art.

In cases of destruction of artefacts in public places, it is at least a visceral reaction towards the image rather than a pre-emption of the power an image may possess, as with film censorship. Freedberg explains this symbolic destruction;

“People have smashed images for political reasons and for theological ones; they have     destroyed works that have roused their ire or their shame… but in every case     we     must assume that it is the image – whether to a greater or lesser degree – that     arouses the iconoclast to such ire. This much we can claim, even if we argue that it is     because the image is a symbol of something else that it is assailed, smashed, pulled     down, destroyed.” (Freedberg, p.10-11, 1989)

In UK film censorship, sexual violence is currently the most assailed theme, as it is an amalgamation of two already hated representations, making it a symbol of moral decline on both sexual and violent fronts. Not only does this often incite the conservative or religious ‘right-wing’ side of the political spectrum to denounce such representations, the portrayal of sexual violence is seen as an equality issue, encouraging symbolically stamping out fictional inequalities, ironically creating very real inequality in using the protection of off-screen women as justification for censoring material in their name, in their best interest. With the government branding potentially arousing fictional portrayals of sexual violence, usually as part of a ‘sex work‘ although potentially stretching to isolated scenes from works classified by the BBFC, as ‘disgusting’, ‘abhorrent’, and one minister saying that the government intends to “send out a clear message that they and the people who look at them have no place in a civilised society”,(Brown, 2009) it is clear that imagery of sexual violence, even when fictional and consensual, is something to be symbolically destroyed. By creating a possession offence with a custodial sentence, it seems the aim is not only to destroy the material, but also to vilify and make an example of people deviating from prescribed norms and values of sexuality.

In a society in the grips of moral panic over sexuality and fantasy relating to violence, it is questionable as to why a work like NF713 was submitted for BBFC classification, when, in considering their guidelines on what can and cannot be shown, it was never likely to be passed for public distribution. Even when considering the Video Recordings Act, was it necessary for this small film, classified as a ‘sex work’ above all else by the BBFC, to be certificated, particularly if it could have been released online rather than in DVD format? If this is not a legal course of action, this raises questions as to what constitutes a film, distribution, and the legal status of internet material not rated by the BBFC. This reinforces a more underhanded form of censorship through film-makers knowing there are certain things that cannot be legally portrayed, or at least knowing some subjects are risky to deal with, especially when submission to the BBFC is mandatory, but also costly with fees per minute of running time.(BBFC)
With subjective legislation like the OPA attempting to control images, film, writing, and sound recordings without being able to describe what may fall foul of the law before an artefact is viewed by a jury, and the BBFC restricting potentially obscene materials before they get into the hands of the public, or the jury, it is inevitable that visual culture will be constrained by boundaries of unclear legislation. Despite advances in technology enhancing the prospects for creativity and sharing ideas, laws like the Video Recordings Act prove a barrier for smaller film-makers, and the OPA still tries to dictate boundaries of taste and decency in a society where competing and conflicting ideologies make consensus difficult.

As David Francis asks; “Does no-one appreciate that film and television will become the source materials for the study of twentieth century life, manners and artistic achievement?”  (BFI, p.21, 1986) Perhaps this very idea is the reason challenging materials that do not comply in transmitting the ‘right’ message are symbolically annihilated, destroying the place of the image, and message, in Britain’s cultural history, attempting to deny images, and views, that conflict with maintaining control over representations that can no longer unanimously be deemed ‘obscene.’

Bibliography

Books

BBFC (1987), Annual Reports and Accounts For 1987, London.

FRANCIS, D. (1986) quoted in Film and Television Yearbook 1986, BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE, London.

FREEDBERG, D. (1989) The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response, University of Chicago Press.

ROBERTSON, J. (1993) The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1975, Routledge.

THOMAS, D. (2007) Freedom’s Frontier: Censorship in Modern Britain, John Murray Publishers, University of California.

TWAIN, M. (1880) A Tramp Abroad, American Publishing Company.

Films

STAMP, M. (2009) NF713 (Enemy of the State), 81 minutes, Mista Solutions (Unreleased)
[still image available online, http://melonfarmers.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/i-am-not-a-numberbbfc-bans-bdsm-video-nf713/)

SPASOJEVIC, S. (2010)    A Serbian Film, 110 minutes, Invincible Films.
[still image available online, http://fntboyblue.tumblr.com/post/811419058/a-serbian-film)

VON TRIER, L. (2009) Antichrist, 103 minutes, Artificial Eye (United Kingdom).
[still image available online, http://www.clevescene.com/reel-cleveland/archives/2009/11/13/reviews-of-the-new-films-opening-at-the-cedar-lee)

Internet Resources

BBFC (2009), BBFC Classification Guidelines 2009, available online http://www.bbfc.co.uk/download/guidelines/BBFC%20Classification%20Guidelines%202009.pdf [accessed 12/10]
(2009a) NF713 Rejected by the BBFC, available online http://www.bbfc.co.uk/website/Classified.nsf/0/F8B581E9BA5395398025758D003FB270?OpenDocument [accessed 12/10]

BBFC (2010), BBFC Cuts A Serbian Film and Remake of I Spit On Your Grave, 26th August 2010. Available online  http://www.bbfc.co.uk/press/newsreleases/bbfc-cuts-a-sernian-film-and-remake-of-i-spit-on-your-grave [accessed 12/10]

BBFC, DVD/Blu-Ray Feature and Trailer Standard Fee, available online http://www.bbfc.co.uk/customers/video/fees [accessed 12/10]

BURN, G. (1997) The Hand That Rocked The Academy, The Guardian, 6th September 1997. Available online http://www.whitecube.com/artists/harvey/texts/97/ [accessed 12/10]

FLYNN, N. (2009) quoted in British Film Board Rejects ‘Disturbing’ Sexual Torture Film: Is Obscenity Law Undermined by Extreme Porn?, OZIMEK, J. The Register, 8th April 2009. Available online http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/08/bbfc_extreme_film_legal_paradox/print.html [accessed 12/10]

Human Rights Act (1998), available online at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents [accessed 12/10]

KELSEY, D. (2010) quoted in
A Serbian Film can be shown at British Horror Film Festival in Bournemouth, VASS, M., 22nd October 2010. Available online http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/districts/bournemouth/8468460.___Disgusting_and_vile____film_can_be_shown_in_Bournemouth/ [accessed 12/10]

MACASKILL, K. (2009) quoted in Shock of the Sick Websites which Seek to Glorify Rape, BROWN, A., Daily Record, 19th January 2009. Available online http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/editors-choice/2009/01/19/shock-of-the-sick-websites-which-seek-to-glorify-rape-86908-21052717/ [accessed 12/10]

Obscene Publications Act (1959), available online at http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=1128038 [accessed 12/10]

SBBFC, History of Film Classification and Censorship in the UK Timelines, available online http://www.sbbfc.co.uk/Timeline [accessed 12/10]

SBBFCa, Tough to Watch – Sexual Violence, available online  http://www.sbbfc.co.uk/articles/site/ToughToWatch [accessed 12/10]

SPASOJEVIC, S.  (2010) quoted in The View London Review: A Serbian Film, TURNER, M., 9th October 2010. Available online http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/films/a-serbian-film-film-review-35519.html [accessed 12/10]

Posted on: February 23, 2011

Disappeared for ages, then started to feel better and more able to do stuff, for a day at least, but knocked back down again now. Not to sound like I have delusions of persecution or anything, but marked by 2 lecturers who don’t at all like me because I won’t put up with all the absolute bullshitting that they try to pass as academia, so my feedback is basically that I can’t do art, I’m technically bad, my understanding is excellent in the comment box but ‘good’ on the tickbox sheet, and just generally don’t bother, you’re not an artist, you have no imagination, you never get past facts. It’s not meant to be made up, that’s not the point – the whole issue is that it’s factual. But apparently documentation doesn’t cut it, despite their mantra of ‘document everything’.

So I’m having a shit day. After about 3, 4 hours of crying about being worthless, and, to be honest, attempting to con someone into spanking me since there’s still such a stigma about hitting a woman, even if they’re literally asking for it, I’m starting to tap into my resilience and try to rebuild. Not that there’s really anything to rebuild. The last month or so I’ve just disappeared. Ignored phone, emails, not really spoken to anyone, not gone to uni, not really done any work, so I have 2 modules that I haven’t even started, and I feel less than enthusiastic about putting in any effort for any of this. With my practical module, I put everything I could into it, or at least I felt like I did – the week before hand-in I stayed up til 4 most mornings working on putting everything together, to be told that it’s worthless, pointless, I shouldn’t have bothered. It’s not technically good video, so don’t try. It’s interesting that I feel so much worse about it now I have the feedback sheet back… To know who marked my work, and what they will have seen. I felt ok about it when I didn’t know, when there was no consequence, no acknowledgement that they must have seen my work. So ultimately I feel quite sick, thinking about two middleaged men judging videos that I’ve made, going into personal issues, or showing vulnerability, or skin… Kind of entertaining in a disconnected kind of way, seeing as I never feel like that about performing for men online, but when it’s men that I should respect, trust, whatever, I find it disgusting. I find that sort of judging so much more disconcerting and destroying. Funny that people have a problem with porn and camming and whatever for it judging women on their appearance, but fucking hell, that’s nothing compared to having your whole sense of self judged and condensing your supposed ability into a number.

Not really sure what happens from here. Been considering dropping out, but maybe that’s a bit much. Plus it’s easier to just stay, get a degree even though the absolute last thing I ever want to do now is anything to do with art. Hobby painting for me, even if it’s sex and violence rather than flowers and kittens.

I suppose it just confirmed all the things that I thought already, that my work wasn’t really art, and was just rubbish GCSE or A-level stuff. Shame they haven’t even left me with my academic writing, giving me less marks than my essay last year, which I think was terrible compared to the one I handed in this year. I might put it up, just to feel vindicated really, and probably to have another rant. I was apparently marked down because I don’t use any ideological arguments… Apparently I only write about morals and high art status, and that isn’t ideological. And I should have mentioned money. Definitely not just because the marker has a supposed loathing of capitalism, and sees himself as this Marxist, anarchist freedom fighter, despite owning (and obviously also showing off – I believe it’s mandatory) an iPhone, and being in the most fucking prostituting profession there is – I have to wonder quite how being paid to deliver knowledge to those who can afford it fits with his deeply-held Marxist views. Obviously they’re deeply held seeing as he felt the need to write in my feedback that I should have mentioned that film-makers don’t like censorship because it means they get less money, despite how obviously fucking ridiculous this is seeing as if it was for money surely they’d write a film that wasn’t going to get censored in the first place. But why respect views that don’t fit with your own? My essay is going to an external moderator though, so maybe they’ll think it’s better than the school gave it credit for, but I don’t want to have any hope, because it’ll just be another disappointment. Basically, education just feels like the main objective is to desensitise you so much to being academically abused, so that you have no self-esteem and are willing to accept whatever they want. If only what they wanted wasn’t so soul-crushing as to desire you to change all your ideas, how you implement your ideas, and how you feel about the entire system.

Posted on: January 11, 2011

Sometimes I actually want to be the sort of person who is positive and healthy and normal, just because it would make everything so much easier, if I could actually be  that instead of being this and wanting to be that. Doing things because they’re easier isn’t really a good reason to do things though, and with this I don’t really think it’s possible. Like, it’s easier to comply, do what you’re told, not make a fuss, and have all those sort of experiences at university prepare you for later life. You don’t have to conform in this way in order to live, but it makes it easier. You’ll have less problems if you behave in this way – society is set out to favour people who conform to social norms and values, and you’ll meet less resistance if you just bloody well behave, but you don’t have to. There’s incitement to, encouragement to, and aversion to not to, but you can try to behave differently if you really want to. I always had a theory that this university was intentionally bad in order to prepare you for how incredibly dickish everyone in your everyday life outside of education would be, but I never thought they’d actually advertise this themselves. Like being told that having staff say inappropriate, unacceptable, unprofessional things to me should make me stand up for myself more, and that will prepare me for life outside of university. Of course I think that’s meant as university teaching me to stand up for myself, but it more comes across that authority will bully you, and if you don’t stand up to them, then it’s your fault they’re bullying you. Even as they’re demanding someone stand up for themselves, they’re implying you’re a pushover because you didn’t realise that you’d been treated significantly badly enough to complain, because other authority denied it was a problem, and that made you think it was considered acceptable behaviour. So, the moral is, when authority tells you to stand up for yourself, you may stand up for yourself.

Part of the issue here is that I feel like I’ve been treated badly by a couple of different staff at my uni for different reasons, but that my principles on freedom of expression stretch so far as to think that it’s within their rights to behave like this. Even when it’s someone using personal insults, being aggressive in debating, and trying to impose personal morals on students, I feel that they should be able to act in that way, even though it made me feel terrible at the time. This is the difficult thing – I know that I am willing to put up with more of this sort of treatment because I dont want to silence anyone or get anyone into trouble for the things they think. That would be totally against everything I believe. And it makes it really complicated, because I’m really angry about how I’ve been treated, and I want it validated by the university, but at the same time, I dont want any change implemented through force. I filled in a feedback sheet today, and was obviously very negative because that’s how I feel. I also couldnt help writing how I felt about one particular lecturer, although I do feel that I was somewhat fair in saying that he was absolutely terrible in one-on-one sessions, but is a decent lecturer, because, on some level, he is. He’s not especially good – he repeats things, he’s very self-indulgent, he doesn’t allow anyone else an opportunity to think (edit: *talk*… interesting mistake there) and undermines people in discussions awfully, but, in comparison to the rest of the lecturing staff, his lectures are a dream because at least they have the potential of being indepth and interesting and about something. I wish I’d actually had more space to write proper comments, because I feel bad about writing such negative things and not having the relevant room to fully explain everything. I’d like to meet with someone just to talk about the issues I have with the course and the staff, but I feel like it’s my fault that I feel so badly about it. I feel as though there must be something inherently in my character that either provokes people to treat me like I’m worthless, or that I’m just too oversensitive. I realise that it’s not just me that is treated disrespectfully, but maybe other people dont care about it. I’m also not sure if there’d be any point in discussing any of this, because I’m not making a complaint. I hate how the course is run, I think it’s dull and unengaging and vague – there is no organisation, but then there’s nothing to organise because the course is just “do what you want”, which is great for someone like me because I really cant be bothered with working on things that I dont feel I have a strong engagement with, but it just means that there really isnt anything in the course for me to connect with. I like having discussions with staff or students about work or issues or whatever, but because it’s an art course, no one really has much understanding of what anyone else is doing because people are making work about things specific to what they’re interested in. And obviously the staff are often rude and overbearing. The ones that arent can be really nice, and I felt bad for still giving them negative reviews, but just because they’re nice people doesnt mean that they’re good lecturers. I think perhaps I’m overly critical – it’s welcome to find anyone at the school that isn’t a complete self-serving egomaniac, so nice but not good at lecturing is a definite improvement.

I think it’s probably fair to say that this isnt the right course for me. It was probably a mistake to take it, but I didnt realise it at the time, but at least it’s giving me a learning experience, and hopefully I’ll end up with a degree at the end of it. I think despite this not being the right choice of course for me, my reasons for seeing it negatively arent necessarily just because I’m not liking the course. I can see a lot of things that are really obviously wrong, and that a lot of people feel similarly about, but the uni seems so defensive about everything that it feels like there’s no point in pointing these sort of things out, seeing as the default position is “we’re not the problem, it must be you.”

Lots of things to worry about in the near future, mostly about university, seeing as I have an exhibition in the next few weeks that I haven’t even thought about yet. And probably won’t bother to think about, if I’m going to be honest. I’m not very good at all the things my university prizes – collaborating, playing along nicely, working as a team – so the idea of a collaborative exhibition is hell. I’m used to having to work with other people to set up exhibition spaces, and last time I had to do this I did have big problems with it, which I’m not sure I ever blogged about because I felt so bad about getting so angry about it. Basically, I waited to set up my exhibition space for 4 hours, because I had to wait for the cooperation of one of the most stupid girls I have ever met. I’m sure she has lots of good qualities, but courtesy and consideration are not her strong points. I’m by no means the most practical of people, but at least I make up for that in my absolute terror of inconveniencing other people. She had absolutely no idea what she was doing, but made no effort to not fuck things up for everyone else around her. I waited for her to move her work off the wall I had been assigned – as I said, I waited 4 hours. When she finally started doing this – because I politely (or at least restrain-edly) told her multiple times that I could not do anything to set up my work until she had moved her stuff – she explained that she hadn’t been able to move her pictures off the wall because she was waiting for the paint on her new wall to dry. She couldn’t move the things to the next wall, it wasn’t ready yet. When it was ready, she proceeded to move each image (there were probably about 15) separately, peeling them off the wall, removing the blue-tac, then putting them up on the new wall, in their right positions, across the other side of the room. It was so frustrating to watch I had to go and pace around the corridor and stand in the stairwell to compose myself, going back every 10 minutes of so to check whether she was done yet. I made a point of not bothering to help her move the giant bedframe I’d propped against the wall, because I wanted to test out what it felt like to know that I was doing something completely inconsiderate, but ignore social convention and do it anyway. Turns out, after 4 hours of wanting to shake sense into this girl, it doesn’t feel so bad to be incredibly rude. I also have to add that all of the pictures were of ponies, which I could at least find entertaining, because I was having to wait 4 hours for a blonde to move her pictures of puppies and ponies. The only thing I liked about her work was something she hadn’t even made – it amazes me that putting your horseriding uniform on a mannequin and having a saddle on a table counts as art. That sounds terrible, because I realise that anything and everything can be considered art, but I wouldn’t say that it’s good art, or that she counts as the artist.

Anyway, that story aside, I now have to deal with this, but on a presumably even worse level, as it’s not just collaborating to put things up on a wall, it’s collaborating to create the work. It’s a project that the lecturers haven’t decided whether they are marking or not, which seems highly unethical to me, not knowing whether this counts to my degree or not, but feels pretty pointless anyway. I chose a group that I thought I’d be able to work with, and probably would have been able to when I was the most dominant person in the room. When I was there, we all decided that there was no point deviating completely from our individual practices – we would gain nothing by doing something totally unrelated, and our work linked thematically to each others’ anyway. The week I’m not there, this all changes and becomes very “yes, sir, no, sir”, and the lecturer that they’d been saying wasn’t worth trying to please last week becomes the source of all wisdom, and we all rejoice that he is “very excited” about the project, which feels like was probably his idea, but he’s managed to convince the group that it was their very clever original idea. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I can’t help being a bit cynical about people who can change their minds and principles that quickly. Of course there’s the high possibility that when I was there, it was just that I was being controlling enough to direct them to believe what I was saying, but then I don’t like how fickle they are in switching to listen to someone else 😉

But yes, so now I’m stuck having to create an exhibition, where the premise is that there are 6 of us with different styles of working, we get to collaborate, and not think about what we’re doing. The week I was there, we were planning to find our own space and work out where would be best for us to exhibit, but then it changes to letting the grown-ups assign us a space and we have to adapt to what the adults give us. That’s the idea. To be honest, when I first read all of this, it confused me so much I felt as though I was losing my mind. I literally don’t understand how you can create art based on a space, with no other theme or idea. I haven’t seen every room in my university, but I’m going to guess that they’re not really too too different. They have walls and floors and ceilings, and maybe some stuff in them. That’s it. How exactly are you meant to make something interesting in response to that, without having something else to work with?

To me, this feels like being put on a different course, or at least going back to the very beginning when I still reluctantly tried to take part in group projects, even though they were obviously completely pointless. It’s just a scaled up version of the first week of university, being given a group of strangers and told to make things out of balloons. It only looks slightly more credible because of the lack of balloons.

I also have to mention that the posters and invitations highlight and advertise that the piece is going to have “no forethought”, like it’s a good thing. I don’t know whether this is just what contemporary art is like now, or whether it’s that it’s meant to sound clever and not actually intended to read like that. Doesn’t really matter I suppose. I think it sounds terrible academically, but I find it so funny that I can’t bring myself to point it out and risk having it changed.

Just as a quick follow-up to my posts on the ‘opt-in’ system…

MP Claire Perry actually posted this on her twitter page, unless we have someone very cleverly pretending to be Claire Perry to discredit her and her ideas.

“100% of negative or abusive commentary about opt in system for internet porn is from the chaps. Women 100% positive (so far)”

Yep, I’m not even kidding. This is the level of thinking from the person proposing this idea. ‘Negative’ (not agreeing) and ‘abusive’ comments can be put into the same category, and that they must have been from men. Uhm… has every negative (read ‘abusive’…) commentor left a scan of their birth certificate, or perhaps a photo of their passport next to their cock, on Claire Perry’s website? It’s nicely convenient to think that all the negative commentors are men. Men watch porn, so of course they’re going to defend their filthy habit. All us lovely delicate feminine beings of course agree with our female politician, invariably representing our views and interests, because our ideas are dictated by our genitals. Not that the whole country is still pretty repressed about sexuality, in part because of ridiculous laws like this, and the restriction of material from adults, and that women are probably still likely to feel ashamed about this sort of thing. If we’re trying to shame everyone about it, and views on female sexuality are still really, really outdated (as a clear example, female ejaculation still classified as urination under BBFC guidelines, and urination being ‘obscene’ under the OPA), then is it any surprise women aren’t defending something that they’re told is disgustingly anti-female, they’re exploited by it, they’re internalising…?

I have no idea how to use Twitter, so I’m at least going to put up a clear record here – I am female and I oppose this disgusting, draconian legislation.

I’ve been reading a lot on this particular development lately, or as much as I can without throwing down the computer in frustration. It’s partly the proposed legislation, but partly how complacent people are about their freedoms. UK government wants all internet pornography to have to be an opted into – from discussions I’ve read, many people are fine with this. “Well, just opt in”. But that’s not the point. It’s a slippery slope, blocking anything on the internet. Plus, why should I have to give my details – presumably seeing as the whole point is age restriction, this will require ID – to an ISP, who has every right to divulge that to a government that clearly has a very big problem with internet pornograpy?

I would also go further, that this isn’t just an issue of censorship. I’m 20 years old, I still remember what it was like to be a child, hopefully without all the “oh, it was so different in my day!” bullshit. I remember what it was like having the internet as a female child, living in a relatively restricted, repressive household. Firstly, I didn’t see internet pornography until I was 17 (still underage, may I add), and I was a prolific user of the internet – to the point that my parents threatened to throw out my computer, to many tears and shouts of “I hate you! You can’t take away my PC!” They were desperately worried for me, being of a generation that hasn’t grown up with the internet. They did everything right, all of the things that parents are directed to do, save for putting on an internet filter, which technically they had no need to do because the shame and social stigma was enough of a filter for me anyway. Shared computer, in a family room, in a position where the screen could be seen. All that did was change my sleep habits, which infuriated them even more. I’d stay up until 4 in the morning, then sleep all day. On school days, I’d get up insanely early to use the internet without any supervision. And none of this was for pornography. I was far too ashamed to look at pornography – I was a girl, afterall. It was partly that making the deliberate decision to search for pornography was too incriminating, too much of a clearcut choice to see something ‘bad’. So I’d try to search for things that weren’t porn, then follow links, attempting to get to something risque. I never stumbled across hardcore pornography as a child, ever. I would say that all the things that say that children inadvertantly see porn all the time have a very odd definition of porn, or fail to mention that the children were actually looking for it, or are users of torrent sites and other ‘shady’ areas of the net.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/dec/19/broadband-sex-safeguard-children-vaizey

The statistics from this article astound me. 60% of 9 – 19 year olds have seen internet pornography. 19 year olds. Last time I was aware, 19 years old did not constitute a child. I realise that the age of adulthood seems to have shifted from being able to do at least some age restricted activities at 16 to 18 now, but 19 is by no means a child. By 19, you are free to look at pornography, or even be involved in the industry. Also, 60% really isn’t that much, and it doesn’t say whether it was voluntary exposure or involuntary. If it is involuntary, put a filter on your own computer, don’t filter mine.

I’d also like to share how I got around my no-porn household, seeing as pornography seems to be a new evil for children. What is so bad or harmful about seeing some pictures? As I’ve said, I’m a prolific user of the internet, and have been since I was 12 years old, and am a regular porn viewer now, and I have not ever seen any genuinely violent pornography. I’ve seen videos that are obviously acted, but even that is just a few slaps – nothing I haven’t done in my own life, and I think therefore I have a bit of a different understanding of it, seeing as I know that I can’t be the only woman in the world to enjoy this. I’ve never seen anything that could be seen as ‘snuff’ or other such moral panics, even by the most overactive, paranoid imagination. I realise that this will seem to send out the ‘wrong message’, but I feel it’s important to share the truth as it was for me. I’m not saying that this is what it’s like for everyone, but, as a kid, I wanted to see pornography. I knew literally nothing about sex – my parents never discussed it with me, and I basically didn’t go to school, so never had any sort of sex education. The first time I saw a condom was the first time I had sex.

Seeing as I couldn’t watch pornography because of all the shame and stigma and fear of being chastised by my parents (interesting that all the statistics in the studies about underage pornography viewing says that a high percentage feel embarrassed or ashamed, and worry about what their parents will say. That is not the fault of pornographic material, that is our outdated attitudes to sex), I instead used chatrooms. So when I was 12, I was speaking to men, ranging from saying that they were my own age, to in their 50s. Often these conversations weren’t overtly sexual, but talking to older men fulfilled my desire for an authority figure, and that was sexy enough for me. Submission has always done it for me. We pretend that children have no sexuality, but I’m willing to say that I most certainly did, and that I consented to having some dirty talks with older men on the internet when I was a  young teenager. I don’t know whether that would be considered a crime now – “grooming” perhaps, but, at the time, I wasn’t aware of this, seeing as I couldn’t imagine that something I was choosing to do could get someone else into trouble if I’d told anyone else. Fortunately I don’t tell my parents anything, so it was never an issue. I think it’s just outrage from parents at having someone incite sexuality in their child, their beautiful little belonging, when, in my case, it obviously wasn’t this at all. I was the unacceptable face of childhood, the sort of girl who is now branded as a myth in order to give out the right message. Of course I’m not saying that all children are the same as I was, but why do we take the stance that experimenting with sexuality in a safe environment, with pornographic images or a bit of dirty talk on the internet with someone you’ll never meet, is inherently harmful? I really don’t think it is. I wish that I’d seen pornography earlier than I did, because I would have had more knowledge about things earlier, and I would have had so many more years to work on my shame issues.

Obviously there’s no point in trying to argue any of this, because we’ve already decided as a collective conscience that young people don’t have a sexual thought until they’re 18, have no desire to view others having sex until they’re 18 even if they’re allowed to actually have sex themselves when they’re 16. And that obviously it should be criminal to take a picture of yourself having legal sex as a 16-year-old – you need the extra 2 years to make sure that you don’t regret the dirty, horrible, soul-destroying act.

But surely people can unite in saying that they don’t want our internet to be a short step away from the internet of China, or various Islamic states. If you start blocking something, saying people can opt in, how far away are you from just blocking things? This is a matter of preserving rights and freedoms. Why should people have to change how they live their lives in order to protect children, which you individually may not even have? I do not like children, I have no desire to have children, and I have absolutely no interest in protecting the spawn of people who can’t be bothered to learn how to use internet filters by throwing away my rights as an adult to view whatever I want.

I’m just so tired and stressed I can’t think. Want to write down the stuff from my tutorial today, so I have some recollection of it, but feel so tired I feel ill.

Showed some of my photos and videos in a tutorial… I think I’m picking out all the worst things that were said. I’m not sure I even remember there being anything good, although it didn’t feel so bad at the time.

The comments that interested me most were on the videos, which were ridiculously hard to share. I put together something last night… well, until 4 in the morning… that I thought would be reasonably well received seeing as it makes no sense, but it was a tutorial with a different staff member, so the criteria was all different again. I was surprised at how positive he was about it all though. Anyway, I made a video that has all the typical documentary-style filming – closeups of typing on laptop, filming the screen as the words appear, wringing hands, fiddling with jewellery, playing with hair, etc. I’m not really sure why I tried to make it like this, it just seemed apt. From watching videos of myself sped up, I’ve noticed the sort of actions that I continually do, and I wanted to slow these down and make them very deliberate, and thought they were the sort of things that emotive documentaries would focus on. I wrote some text, that is true and my own words, but translated it into Russian, then put it through a text-to-speech synthesizer, so all the images have Russian speech over them. I was surprised that one of the comments wasn’t that it came across as racist. I’ve picked up on using Russian language because of how it’s often insisted by customers that I cannot be British, I’m lying, I must be Russian. I think I use different languages, or a complete lack of speech, to get across the idea that, from an outside view, I appear to have no power. I don’t want to have character either, because of the idea that a group of people who have nothing to do with me can speak for me, and that makes me generic and voiceless. A symbol rather than a person. I wonder about working more specifically with my own experiences because I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to speak for anyone but myself. Really I just want to get across my perspective, seeing as I feel like people are completely unwilling to listen to me because it’s supposedly in my best interests that I have no say, and I don’t want to become that oppressor to other people who don’t agree with me.

p

One comment I found really interesting about this video was that the word for ‘prostitution’ was picked out, and so the assumption was that it was about prostitution, and because I was using an image of myself, I was a ‘character’. He was fair in saying that he wasn’t sure, because he didn’t understand the language and didn’t know what the text was saying, but asked whether I was a representation of a prostitute. I explained that it wasn’t about prostitution, it was about something that the government had termed ‘indistinguishable from prostitution’, and that the images of me weren’t intended as a stereotype. The video of myself was actually just made of me looking into the camera, and I happen to still be wearing the things that I’d put on for the previous videos I’d been making. It was just an experiment to see how pixellated I could make the video look, for looking into the idea that pictorial representations cannot be ‘selling yourself’ – it’s a representation of your image, made up of pixels.

Anyway, he said that the images of me looked like a disguise, like a character, like I was performing. I’d like to look at the line between performance and reality, because the ‘character’ of me as a sex worker (I need a better word for sex worker, because it doesn’t encompass what I actually mean) was seen as fake, completely fictitious, presumably that I was just taking media stereotypes and playing off those to make something totally unreal. The reason it was seen as a disguise was how much makeup I was wearing. What makes this video fake, as compared to when I am infront of my webcam, dressed up in ways that I maybe usually wouldn’t be, for what would be seen as reality? I think if I were to say to my parents that I strip on webcam, the boundary between fantasy and reality wouldn’t be understood – it would be no defense to say “but it’s not real”, because physically it is real. But what makes this different to acting? If you’re on stage and you do a certain action, it’s acting, not reality, but you did really undertake the action. I suppose it’s just the motivations behind doing it, I dont know. I always have a character when I’m being watched – it’s natural, I think everyone does – so why is that a part of who I ‘really’ am, whereas in video made specifically for art, it’s theatrics? I don’t make up a character for when I’m on webcam, but I do have a different name, and it’s therefore a bit of an alter-ego. I don’t want to use that name in my schoolwork, so it gets further removed and my alter-ego has an alter-ego. I use the name Natasha when it’s for school work, seeing as it’s the generic label for the face of the feminisation of poverty. The Natasha trade and so on. I use the surname ‘Dobycha’, because it was the phoenetic spelling of a Russian translation of ‘victim’ or ‘prey’, and then when I translated it back, it came up with all sorts of other words that I felt were fitting – ‘trophy’, ‘loot’, ‘plunder’, ‘kill’, ‘capture’, ‘spoil’… I explain this in the video, using images of translations, so I thought it made some sense even without knowing what the voiceover was saying, but it’s probably not all that clear. I’m never really sure whether to just tell the truth, share my actual experiences of creating what is seen as a ‘character’ academically, and what is sometimes assumed to be real at others, and to present my findings of my own work, or whether it seems too uninteresting to others. I’m the sort of person who adores documentaries for their anthropological and sociological value, but I don’t know whether I’m really that interesting to share findings that are to do with something I’ve done. At least I’d be talking about something I understand, but at the same time it makes me vulnerable, and maybe I seem self-centred.

The other video discussed was an experimentation to do with depicting the idea of rescuing women, and that whole moral crusade to ‘better’ women, as degrading and abusive. Because it is. If anything is abuse, it’s that, because it’s non-consensual and completely denies any rights or autonomy. So I made a video, using cameraphone and torch-light again, where I’m stroked and patronised and infantilised, and the speaker oversteps all the boundaries, all with the best of intentions. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, even if I haven’t found the right way of presenting it yet. The ostensibly reassuring words are contrasted with the torch-light on my face, which I’ve tried to use as a means of objectification – that the torch shows where the viewer, both in and outside of the video, are looking at the time. I don’t know whether I made the right choice in having imagery that looks ‘traditionally abusive’, like smeared makeup, and eventually tape over my mouth, but the makeup was smudged from trying out more aggressive actions previously, and my original idea was that I wanted it to be filmed visually quite like amateur horror, but then there is no violence or abuse or overt sexuality – there are just sickly kind words and invasion of personal space in the aid of being positive and comforting.

Again, I didnt want any sort of voice… I spoke in the original, but have edited out almost all of my speech, because I don’t want that sort of power. This sort of behaviour is abusive precisely because it claims to speak for people without a voice, while ensuring that the people actually involved are discredited and seen as poor little things that may not ever recover, may never be able to be taken seriously. The main thing that came up about this video was that it mentions child abuse, and that will make viewers not listen, or upset them, etc. I’ve been trying to think about this, and I do feel that the lines about abuse are important. I realise that they can be taken the wrong way, but  that’s only from misunderstanding the piece. The actual line used is “Were you abused when you were a kid?”, in the original I say ‘no’ but this is obviously edited out, followed by “maybe you’ve just repressed it”, showing that the only response I could have given was negative. It was suggested that it seems like I’m pretending that I’ve been abused. I think it’s well within my rights to freedom of expression to make a video saying I’ve been abused when I haven’t, but that’s not what this particular video is. I’m not even saying that the on-screen character has been abused – the answer, through reading the responses of the speaking character, must be no. And I feel that this is an important thing to raise, because it’s a way of discrediting people. It’s also a way of justifying ‘deviant’ behaviour – it can’t just be that this person is an individual with varying fantasies, it’s that there must have been something bad that happened that caused them to become like this. Even when categorically saying that you were definitely not abused, people will still claim to have more knowledge about yourself than you do, through playing the repression card. It happened, but you don’t remember it, you poor, traumatised thing. And the scary thing is the amount of material claiming to be feminist that puts forward this view, telling women that there’s a good chance they’ve been abused but just don’t remember it, especially if they have positive feelings towards ‘abusive’ fantasies, or negative feelings towards ‘normal’ sexual activity. I haven’t quite decided how much I want to push to cling onto the abuse lines, because I don’t think they’re the most important part, but they do most definitely highlight a theme that is significant.

I know that the ‘characters’ expressed on these videos aren’t me in my natural state, but are they really characters? To me, they are a lot more just how I react to the stimulus within the videos, and that the reactions are the real reactions to how I myself behave towards the things that are happening while also being infront of a camera. Obviously some of the things I’m responding to can only be acting – when I’m being patronised and infantilised, the person saying the words doesn’t really mean them, but it still felt bad to have them said to me, while being touched so delicately, and the feeling that that character was overstepping my personal boundaries by demanding to hold my hand and such like. So the person I’m reacting to is a character, but a character based on reality, seeing as there are so so many people who’ve made me feel uncomfortable with this sort of ‘affection’ in my life. One thing I’m considering making is something to do with the non-consensuality of being touched as a child. Not sexually, but ‘affectionately’, by relatives, generally because you have to have them touch you or you touch them to pretend that you love them, because they’re giving you money or a birthday present or something. How is that not prostitution?



  • fred whitacre jr: they don,t have any sex invaled why are we so againce children being nude in pictures because of alll the sick fucking rapetist out there children
  • fred whitacre jr: she only 12 but it is not porn at all it is nude only only a sick person would want to fuck her not me but i will tell you the true she is a very hot
  • fred whitacre jr: i see noghting wrong just a nude girl no porn that would be wrong with a child but not worng with a grown up only nude pics of children is ok if no se