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BAISE-MOI BANNED - READERS RESPOND

20/6/2002: In last week’s edition, Andrew L. Urban called into question the banning of films, in this case Baise-Moi, when public opinion does not support such a ban, and making the classification system subservient to blatant censorship. Readers responded robustly: “Baise Moi? No, f . . . you!”

Ed Hotan writes:
Andrew, About your words on censorship: "The danger of outright censorship in this instance is that it encourages the illogical, intemperate and narrowminded view to hold sway over enlightened attitudes. If we don't strenuously object, Government ministers will continue to act like puppets, manipulated by narrow interest groups whose agenda leads to the opposite of tolerance. And boy, do we need tolerance in this community! I just wish I had some left over for these people."

As one of "these people" I really don't understand what is "enlightened" about watching degrading sexual and physical violence as entertainment on the cinema screen. I, too, wish you would display some tolerance – on behalf of decency, dignity, respect and true artistic endeavour which aspires to the higher values human beings are capable of, rather than wallowing mindlessly in filth. 
Baise Moi?
No, f . . . you!

Andrew replies: 
Value judgements about artistic endeavour are not the issue here: the human condition includes beauty, dignity and decency; it also includes decay, corruption and violence. The logical conclusion of your argument is that all films (and tv shows, presumably) which do not portray decency etc are banned. Big Brother, everything. My question is, who should be the arbiter of what you see on screen; you or the State? And if it’s the State, which individuals get the right to make the decisions where to draw the lines? On what basis do the decision makers base their judgements? Why did no-one try and ban 40 Days and 40 Nights, or a dozen other teen comedies full of gross vulgarity? There wasn’t a murmur about the recent film, Van Wilder: Party Liaison, for example, in which some students for a prank masturbated a dog and used the semen as filling in some cream buns they handed out to fellow students. That film doesn’t even have the defence of tackling a serious socially valid subject as does Baise-Moi. In other words, there is a selective sense of decency at work.


V. Klestadt writes:
Andrew - I did not see Baise-Moi. I chose not to, although I had ample time (being a fairly prodigious movie-goer). I agree with everything you have said. It was MY decision. NOT the Attorney-General's. 

Malcolm Lithgow writes:
Dear Andrew, The article "Ban of film = loss of tolerance" starts off with a completely inaccurate analogy and unfortunately continues in the same tone.
The example in Case Study 1 is of a product that is on the market for its scientifically-tested beneficial effects. Because it is potentially dangerous when misused (like almost anything), it carries warnings. 
The example in Case Study 2 is of a product that is on the market despite scientific concerns that it has NO beneficial effects, and is always harmful, to a greater or lesser extent. (Note the word "concerns" which I use to indicate that there is no definite proof either way.)
A better example for Case Study 1 would be a GM food that contains a vitamin supplement, but which no-one really knows whether it is beneficial or not.
Once this analogy is corrected, it is easier to understand the behaviour of organisations like the Australian Family Association, is it not? They can read, but yes, they do have an agenda -- the desire to protect people from harm. To use the (corrected) analogy, they believe that they have discovered that the GM food is, in fact, dangerous, and so are campaigning against it.

Your response to Kephan's comment indicates that you have no understanding of the significant body of thought beneath the simple words, "standards of decency." It is well documented (read anything about New York's Zero Tolerance policing policy, for example) that standards of decency, and therefore tolerable (ie. non-destructive) behaviour, are determined by the little things. Whether movies are in this category is still debatable (though most independent evidence -- ie. not commissioned by the studios -- seems to indicate that they are). But you don't seem to think so. You assume that the question has been settled. Care to show us where?

Your attempt to demonise censorship to the point where it is a worse evil than any movie can ever be is undermined by an incorrect assumption: ignorance is not the basis of prejudice and hatred (and never has been), fear and pride are. If ignorance were the basis of prejudice and hatred, then the war in Israel would certainly be far less vicious, and the Balkan wars of the 90s would hardly have happened at all. How many times have you written about the wrenching experience of watching films documenting the terrible wars between "brothers"?

You then accuse censorship of encouraging "illogical, intemperate and narrowminded" views, but since this is based on the completely incorrect assertion that ignorance is the basis of prejudice and hatred, you need to rethink what the danger of censorship really is. We certainly need tolerance in this community, and encouraging people to rush out and immerse themselves in intolerable behaviour (which this film, from your accounts, is filled with) seems a strange way to encourage it!

In conclusion then, I suggest that you look at some of your assumptions, and question them a little more carefully before launching a broadside at those you disagree with. Apart from these occasional diatribes, I really enjoy your site, and find the reviews a great guide. Keep up the good work!
Regards,

Andrew replies: Thanks for your thoughtful, balanced and valid arguments. I’ll take up your suggestion for a rethink and perhaps rephrase my arguments in opposition to censorship, which remains firm.

Published June 13, 2002

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