Apr 252013
 

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The following is a copy of an email I sent to Pinterest after they removed one of the images (replicated above) from my BDSM History board.

To whom it may concern:

On April 25, 2013, I received an email informing me that one of the images in my Pinterest account had been removed. The explanation was, “The reason is, it looks like the pin may have had nudity on it.”

The image in question was created and distributed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and features actor Jensen Ackles nude and kneeling in such a way that his arms and hands obscure his genitals, wearing chains and with a whip on the floor. The copy reads,  “Whips and chains belong in the bedroom, not in the circus.”

PETA has a long history of using sexually suggestive or explicit imagery in ads and publicity stunts to advance its animal rights cause, though many have questioned the efficacy of this tactic. I chose this image to illustrate PETA’s use of sadomasochistic imagery, part of a recurring trend of sadomasochistic imagery being used in persuasive media such as advertising and propaganda. This is part of my historical research.

A cursory search of “peta” on Pinterest will display numerous other examples of PETA’s advertising, featuring nude or nearly nude men and women (mostly the latter) in sexually suggestive images. This is in addition to countless other pins featuring nude or nearly nude adults in sexually suggestive or explicit settings.

I am at a loss as to why this particular image in question was removed. The only way it differs in degree or kind from many other images on Pinterest is that it features a nude male in a vulnerable position. Am I to understand that an unclothed man is somehow more nude, or the wrong kind of nude, compared to an unclothed woman? Even if the people are posed in such a way that their genitals are not visible?

I understand the necessity of enforcing rules regarding sexually explicit imagery on a service such as Pinterest. However, I do not understand the logic of this particular instance of enforcement, and I do not consider this removal to be just or fair or consistent with the content of Pinterest.

Please explain to me why this particular image is not permitted. I have attached a copy.

Examples of other PETA ads found on Pinterest.

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Don’t confuse your Sams or your Gargoyles

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Mar 022012
 

Betty Page holding whip in magazine advertisment

Vintage Sleaze has a fun tidbit of kink history. Sam Menning, an actor who also worked as a photographer, took fetish pics, including the great Betty Page.

Menning eventually became the “house” photographer of sorts for Gargoyle, a distributor of 4 x 5 nude photos with a fetish bent. Mind you, they were 1950’s photos of a fetish bent…which meant play-acting with rather dim and confused models being asked to look tough…dramatic to this day, but little more than lingerie ads with the models in black. Not MY cup of tea, but someone’s.

Meanwhile, Senator Estes Kefauver was gunning for porn publisher Samuel Roth, particularly for the fetish/kink pictures Kefauver thought were published by Roth.

It turns out that Kefauver and his puritan goons had confused Sam Menning, photographer for Gargoyle Sales Corp, with Samuel Roth, publisher of Gargoyle Books. This mistake wasn’t revealed until Kefauver had Roth on the stand testifying.

Mar 022012
 

The history of obscenity and censorship is the history of drawing and redrawing very fine lines in the ever-shifting sand, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Consider the recent case of Michael Peacock in the UK, charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for distributing allegedly obscene DVDs. (Peacock sold DVDS via Craig’s List and his own website and magazine ads, which seems like an oddly old-school way to do a porn business these days.) The Crown Prosecutor presented two lists, one of things that would probably be prosecuted (“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”, “fisting”, “torture with instruments”) and those that usually would not (“mild bondage”, “fetishes which do not encourage physical abuse”)

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May 282010
 

Perhaps I was too hasty in my previous post. Recon.com, a hookup site for gay men into fetish wear, somehow got sex-and-queer-unfriendly Apple to approve their iPhone app.

From Queerty:

So how did Recon get on there? By “invest[ing] a lot of effort in designing an application that ensures that [they] walk the right side of the line as far as content and imagery is concerned,” says the company.

Or maybe it’s because Recon’s iPhone app is really just a geo-locating chat app, like Grindr. There’s no obvious sex going on in user profiles, but it sure is suggestive.

This doesn’t change my opinion of Apple. It just shows that their authority is arbitrary and has no transparency in their decision making process.

May 282010
 

Prism Comics, about LBGT issues in comics, has a great post on the impact of Apple’s content policies on comics in general and specifically LBGT themed comics. Even fairly mild stuff

“My problem with Apple banning [Jesus Hates Zombies] is simply this,” says Lindsay. “They allow the Marvel book Kick-Ass. How in God’s name is my book worse than Kick-Ass when it comes to content? The simple answer, it’s not. But because Kick-Ass is a Marvel book, it gets a pass.”

The experience of smaller publishers producing books with LGBT characters and situations also seems hard to reconcile with Murphey’s assessment of Apple’s guidelines.

Tom Bouden’s adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected as an iPad app for the App Store, again due to “materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” A handful of sexually suggestive images depicting men, some extremely mild, were specifically flagged as problematic in the 80-page graphic novel.

A few lessons from this situation:

1. Media and standards and platform, and especially who controls them, matter to content. Censorship (public- or private-sector) is often not so much about controlling content but about controlling the medium itself. When new forms of media appear, which put words and images in new places, censorship kicks into high gear. Walled-garden content systems like the iPhone/iPod/iPad or the Amazon Kindle are a reaction to the wide-open Internet, reassuring big media companies that they will retain control.

2. If you’re a big, established company, like Playboy or Sports Illustrated or Mavel comics, the standards for judging your content is different if you’re somebody publishing an indie comic off your laptop. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition will net more revenue to Apple than some little swimsuit company’s illustrated catalog app. Money talks, “community standards” walks.

3. People will find a way. Even if your LBGT indie comic doesn’t get into the iVerse, it can still get into the iPhone via the Amazon Kindle app. The question, however, is how level will the playing field be. Amazon takes a 70% cut, while Apple takes a comparatively mild 30%.

4. It’s still censorship when non-government parties do it, and even worse in a way because there is no system of appeal or open standards. Apple and Amazon, being corporate entities, can do it purely by fiat.

5. That the violence of eroticized-yet-plausibly-deniable violence of Kick-Ass gets a pass and two men making out doesn’t speaks volumes about our culture’s twisted view of sex and violence.

6. Watch out for chilling effects and pre-emptive self-censorship.

I’ve often imagined an alternate history of American comics in which the Comics Code Authority of 1954 never happened, and the medium matured, gaining respect and credibility until it equaled film or television. It surely isn’t coincidence that the most heavily censored medium is also the one that struggled longest for critical respect.

May 172010
 

Gawker has an email exchange between Ryan Tate and Apple head honcho Steve Jobs that’s partially about the technical/business issue of why Flash won’t be allowed on the iPad, but also about the issue of porn on the net.

Jobs:

Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom.

And you might care more about porn when you have kids…

Aha, I thought, here’s the nub of it. Jobs employs the old “won’t somebody think of the children” canard, situating the iPad in a purely domestic environment where children are central, and nothing that could potentially or purportedly harm them must be allowed it. As Walter Kendricks pointed out in The Secret Museum, censorship requires the idea of the “vulnerable person” who must be protected from the influence of pornography.

From a strictly business point of view, this attitude may hamstring the Apple iEcosystem. If the goal is to create a walled garden, people may simply not show up and go elsewhere because they like their porn, among other things.