Censorship of the Arts in Australia
October 4, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

"Not since the days of Mike Brown’s conviction of obscenity over 50 years ago have Australian police successfully prosecuted an artist over such charges. These repeated failures have not, however, stopped the police from trying."

"Informing the police that an artist is exhibiting “child pornography” in order to put pressure on the council to stop funding the gallery was a very costly exercise. It cost the taxpayers in days of court time, more in delays, and the expenses of the prosecution and defense. It cost an artist and the Linden Centre their reputations. And it cost Australian art and culture by instilling the continuing threat of persecution and the chill of self-censorship."
posted by showbiz_liz (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
The installation/artwork in question is called: "Everything is Fucked".

Considering the response, I think it appropriate.
posted by Fizz at 2:30 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


On June 1st, St. Kilda officers cut seven pieces out of Paul Yore’s installation with a box cutter, effectively censoring the exhibition and creating their own collage of evidence

wow, that is an aggressive approach. I hope there is a counter suit. Frustrating that this has to do with cuts to arts funding at the core.
posted by jonbro at 2:48 PM on October 4, 2014


I like that the prosecutor insists children's safety trumps other concerns, and then provides nothing to show children are at risk.
posted by squinty at 2:58 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


cuts to arts funding at the core.

Literally.
posted by Fizz at 3:04 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hysteria about "Child porn" and "sex offenders" is more necessary than ever for those in power- How else to keep people silent as they slowly criminalize unpopular speech and thought? (See also: "Material support for terrorism," where "terrorists" are anyone the government dislikes this week.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:14 PM on October 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


>Mr. Smith said an artwork had merit if it was produced by an artist of merit.

And how do you recognize an artist of merit? Why, by the artwork of merit that he produces!
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:22 PM on October 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


Australian censorship law is incredibly stupid. For example: all of the online services that sell PC or mobile games (Steam, Google Play, the Apple Store etc) are breaking the law by selling games that haven't been officially classified by the government, which costs hundreds or thousands of dollars and has to be re-done every time a game is patched. It's rarely enforced and is slowly being reformed, but there are too many people in power who like the idea of police marching into galleries and cutting perverted art down from the walls for the system as a whole to really be fixed.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:26 PM on October 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


all of the online services that sell PC or mobile games (Steam, Google Play, the Apple Store etc) are breaking the law by selling games that haven't been officially classified by the government

I really struggle to understand how this works. If I make some shitty pathetic Javascript web game and make it available for people to play, why do I not have to get it past the censors? What if I charge a buck to play? Do I have to get it past the censors then? What defines something as being a "game" anyway? What if I make a funky Excel spreadsheet macro that emulates Tetris and make it available here in Australia? These are serious questions - I literally don't understand what criteria they are applying before deciding a game / movie / whatever has to get rated.
posted by Jimbob at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seeing the name 'Adrian Jackson' in the second link was a jolt back to my tween and teenage years when I regularly read all the letters to the editor in the tabloid newspaper my parent bought (and still buy) daily. He would have a letter appear most weeks. Glad to see he is still recreationally outraged twenty year on.

There is something about funding the arts at all that absolutely incenses a sizeable sector of the community (unless it is for a bronze statue of a racehorse or footballer). Earlier this year I was involved in an arts festival in a regional area that received a tiny amount of funding from our local council. Tiny. That money mostly went to other community orgs to pay for their time (having first aid on site etc). Works on display were all contributed by volunteers. Crew and management were all volunteers. The local paper took a photo of a sheela na gig style figure on display and made a clickbaity article for all the Adrian Jackson types who didn't attend the festival to lose their minds over. Not only should all of our funding be revoked, but were should all have been beaten apparently. Of course, without arts projects to engage young people in socioeconomically depressed areas there is a good chance that is what would have happened to us that night in the park anyway.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:29 PM on October 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


How is it even legal for the cops to cut up their art like this?

Why not just take high resolution photos, and tell them "yea, you can't display this and have to put it in storage until it's resolved?"

Because... now what? I know you can't really sue the police and expect to win a lot of the time, but if they destroyed a $50,000 artwork lets say, and it was determined that nothing about it was criminal and no crime took place, then who pays for that? The taxpayers?


I'm also utterly not surprised that this was all started by some piece of shit "starve the beast" type who thinks the arts center is a waste of public funds. Definitely nothing new there.
posted by emptythought at 6:46 PM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Australia is currently closed for business. We're working on it. Please come back in 18 months time, when we've rectified the issue.
posted by a non e mouse at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


I really struggle to understand how this works.

It doesn't work. None of your questions have sensible answers because the system was designed for physical distribution and has never been updated for online distribution, even though it clearly does apply to the Internet. It's not even a single system - it's a slightly different one in each State or Territory, with the Commonwealth's overarching framework hovering nonsensically in the background. The only good thing about it is that it's so obviously unworkable that it is almost never enforced against anyone distributing stuff online other than obvious porn. Much easier to waste everyone's time harassing art galleries and film festivals because some sex-obsessed pensioner wrote a letter to their MP.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:56 PM on October 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd not previously understood why it is that Australia is the only place, so far as I know, that has spawned an entire political party devoted to supporting the arts, but perhaps this kind of thing is part of why that is. FWIW, The Arts Party.
posted by motty at 8:14 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


None of your questions have sensible answers because the system was designed for physical distribution and has never been updated for online distribution, even though it clearly does apply to the Internet.

So it was designed for physical distribution of games? Were the tapes filled with shareware/homebrew games stuck on the cover of Amstrad Action for my Amstrad CPC back in the 80s and early 90s subject to this regime? Or were games just ignored as an art/creative medium back then?
posted by Jimbob at 8:19 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or were games just ignored as an art/creative medium back then?

Yep, games weren't subject to classification until around 1994. There was some kind of law reform project (from the ALRC? I forget) which predicted most of the problems with the current system and recommended that they be censored in the same way as literature, which doesn't need to be classified unless it's particularly explicit. But that was too sensible for a world living in terror of a generation twisted by Doom and crappy CD-ROM multimedia experiences, so games ended up in the same category as films meant for cinema release or VHS (minus the R and X ratings).

I don't think anyone ever bothered policing coverdisks, though. As long as the big publishers paid the fees and put the right OFLC tags on their retail boxes it kind of looked like the system was working, from a distance.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Who do these Australians think they are? Swedes? (Shitty art is shitty art, but imprisonment (and destruction of the pieces, too, IIRC) seems to be a extreme response).
posted by bouvin at 3:00 AM on October 5, 2014


Shitty art is shitty art

I dunno, when the shitty art consists of putting photos, names and phone numbers of real people on "our nigger slave has escaped" posters or depicting them strung up under a bridge, it's perfectly fine to use a stronger word than "shitty".
posted by effbot at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Informing the police that an artist is exhibiting “child pornography” in order to put pressure on the council to stop funding the gallery was a very costly exercise. It cost the taxpayers in days of court time, more in delays, and the expenses of the prosecution and defense.
Blaming the crank who complained seems inappropriate. Cranks gunna be cranks. It was the mechanism of the state that followed through that was the awful thing.
posted by el io at 12:46 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I find it newly amazing every time I am reminded of the fact that Australia has an official censorship board and that there isn't the basic legal assumption there that speech/press/games/net/whatever is to be free. Instead Australia has the basic assumption that speech/press/games/etc are forbidden and only by groveling to the appropriate censors (or rating board or whatever they call it) can you get permission for your peasant words to pollute Australian ears.

WTF Australia?

I get, I think, that the original idea was that the rating board would apply a rating and thus people would know what they're getting. But over time it appears to have become a de facto censorship panel, with anything refused a rating simply illegal. As is anything not rated.
posted by sotonohito at 8:00 AM on October 6, 2014


sotonohito, the world is (remarkably) much more nuanced and complex than the arbitrary duality that you have expressed. We have been over this ground many a time, and yes, Australia does not have an expressed, constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech, and no our heads do not explode and mostly we like it just fine, and we're no more oppressed than artists and anyone speaking/writing/performing publicly in your country. Very occasionally, we get edge-cases like this that are obviously a bit shitty. But on the other hand, you have Westboro. We feel we're rather ahead of the game.
posted by wilful at 4:15 AM on October 7, 2014


« Older Why War?   |   Of course, everyone knows about levers... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments