Back in your box,
Mr Censor

While Big Brother may be crap television, it isn't up to John Howard, the state or the Christian right to decide what we watch, writes Kelly Boundary.

The alleged sexual harassment episode on Big Brother and the subsequent expulsion of two housemates from Big Brother revealed the imminent danger of Australia becoming a nation of wowsers, while the state continues to kneel to Christian influence.

The country's most well-informed arbiter of taste, radio personality Alan Jones, was safe and sound at Wimbledon, so with the Parrot unable to squawk about the "turkey slap" that enraged and engaged the nation, the pollies were all over it like a projectile vomit at Schoolies Week.

The reaction - to call for more stringent regulation of internet and live-streaming content - smacks of an inability to grasp technology and an indifference to the sexual politics at large. It also shows that the political mainstream's knee-jerk reaction is to ban and proscribe. It all shows that we are developing a collective amnesia concerning the Orwellian origins of Big Brother.

John Howard and Kim Beazley (and, of course, Family First) took turns calling the show "stupid" and "silly" and bleated for the axe; however, public debate has revealed the Big Brother incident  is no more offensive to some sectors of the community than a wet T-shirt competition or a pissing contest, which is, essentially what Big Brother is. So why the untold uproar?

It is difficult to ascertain whether the enormity of coverage and comment was due to the alleged mistreatment of the female contestant, the presence of an erect penis or the fact the relevant watchdog hadn't viewed the incident before it entered the public domain (and even that, given its subscriber-only nature, was by default).

Regardless, any knee-jerk cry for regulation must be viewed as nothing more than doublespeak for a turn of the screw in censorship.

The government's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) hardly monitors the content of movies, books and magazines out of the goodness of its heart - works are scrutinised by the board at a prescribed monetary rate - and if a "majority of the board" deem an item outside its rating, it must be amended and resubmitted for classification.

As is the case with bureaucracy the world over, turnaround is not speedy, and classification "advice" is notoriously non-specific. It is neither OFLC policy nor style to recommend alternative creative scenarios, so a film scene or pictorial containing nudity or sexualised content may be rejected several times due to what the board may view as severity of "impact", pursuant to its guidelines.

In a user-pays environment, the OFLC can afford to be vague, in much the same way its clients cannot afford to argue and will concede artistic defeat due to mounting classification charges and pressing production deadlines.

For this reason, nude women over the age of 18 continue to appear in non-wrapped (or unrestricted - available to readers 15+) men's publications minus labia majora, a digitally doctored Barbie-Doll "seal" in its place. (For naked men, the penis must not be discoloured or be displayed in excess of 45 degrees.)

Falsifying the natural appearance of vaginas in order to conform to government standards has had an impact of its own - scores of young women consulting doctors in the fear they are "abnormal" in the downstairs department; the sexual insecurity of young women not educated enough to realise the anatomical ruse shall surely be the stuff of future theses.

The aforementioned guidelines are but a case in point - the larger issue being the irony contained within the Big Brother debate: the program the critics say no one watches has spawned the desire of moralists and the Christian right to police popular culture - especially sexualised culture - with renewed zeal.

The federal government's proposed internet legislation would open yet another platform of providers submitting media for classification, but given the immediacy of live-stream internet (and the current slug's pace of the government's regulatory body), pundits of new media have been quick to point out the government is pursuing the impossible.

And so when Communications Minister Helen Coonan announced the government's intention to "provide safeguards comparable to those in place for traditional media", one wonders if there will be a taxpayer-funded Tardis at the censors' disposal.

When discussing these proposed "safeguards" within "reality television" (a term coined by network executives so the masses would know what stations meant when they broadcast live-to-air hopefuls competing for prizemoney) regulation of content is impertinent by definition.

Big Brother's contestants are motivated by notoriety and capital gain, and selected for their ability to deliver to this proviso. The majority of youth culture adore the ensuing narcissism, be it an opportunistic grope, an enthusiasm for nudity or a direct-to-camera character assassination in the "diary room" (read: lagger's lounge).

Whether this makes for "good" television is entirely a matter of personal taste, and it must be said the "car crash" element is a viewing drawcard for some. But for the government to infiltrate and regulate such a made-for-TV environment, where star-struck simpletons ham it up for the viewers at home, is ludicrous.

The goings-on in the BB compound are serious if the claims of sexual harassment are true (all involved parties have denied harassment). That the alleged victim of the episode was made to feel guilty by the explusion of the supposed perpertrators reveals a sick hypocrisy at the centre of sexual politics in this country.

Yet the whole issue fades in comparison with other news items of recent note, such as the disgraceful evidence regarding the death of Dianne Brimble aboard the P&O Pacific Sky amid a culture of predatory intimidation and harassment towards women. And yet, it took a number of years for the Brimble case to make headlines, and for the government's opinion to be sought.

The government attempting to regulate - or censor - new media is as futile as women moving to ban the turkey slap or blokes declaring a moratorium on menstruation. The government should be far more concerned about the reality of its future if it continues to sideline society and mollify the Christian right.

Further reading

Mark K on the excellent AusWatch blog

Quarterly Essay 22

Jack Marx's blog on the SMH website


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