Censorship of a peculiar kind

You’ve heard me gripe about the peculiar brand of censorship, book banning and proscribed books that they have in Malaysia, where the righthand hasn’t a clue what the lefthand doeth, and nobody gets told what’s going on – not the author, the bookshops nor the public.

And of course, no reasons are ever given for decisions. Of course, I could say that last is because there just isn’t a reason that makes the slightest bit of sense, so, if you try to explain yourself, you end up looking even more like an idiot. (I mean, how could you ever explain the banning of a book about collecting Chinese teapots??)

Now, however, I have heard about an even more bizarre kind of censorship. And it comes from Australia. There are some interesting observations on Neil Gaiman’s blog.

Basically, a judge with a appeal before him turned down the appeal and stated that yes, an internet cartoon showing characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson engaging in sex acts, is child pornography.

Now as weird and distasteful as I think such a cartoon might be (and as annoying as it must be to the original authors of the cartoon), it’s a long stretch to think it’s a form of child pornography.

Where is the child involved? Come to think of it, where is the human involved? How can a static picture that involves neither child, nor human, nor movement, nor action, nor anything real that ever happened anywhere to anyone – how can that be child porn worthy of a fine of $AUD 3,000? And presumably a criminal record as a child pornographer??? What child was harmed? What child was endangered? What child posed for the drawing? What child was depicted?

I love Neil’s comments, including this:

I should warn members of the Australian judiciary, fictional characters don’t just have sex. Sometimes they murder each other, and take fictional drugs, and are cruel to fictional animals, and throw fictional babies off roofs. Crimes, crime everywhere.

The ability to distinguish between fiction and reality is, I think, an important indicator of sanity, perhaps the most important. And it looks like the Australian legal system has failed on that score.

If I have one of my characters indulge in child rape (as I have done in “The Tainted”), am I guilty of being a child pornographer? Am I safe because I didn’t draw a sketch of it, but only used words? If so, why? How is what I did any different from this case, except for the artistic medium I use?

The Judge said Australian law on child pornography was, among other things, …calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which “can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children” and this was the reason he was approving the fine.

So, have I fuelled the demand, simply by writing about it? Did the man charged fuel the demand simply by having a cartoon on his computer? Because that’s what the judge said. How do you judge that it would fuel a demand for the real thing?

I think the judge – and those who brought the original charge – should come and give lessons to the Malaysian Ministry for Home Affairs on how to be really, really bizarre.

What do you think?


Censorship of a peculiar kind — 7 Comments

  1. I think there a dozens of cases where authors could be accused of child pornography – I am reading Shadowbridge at the moment, what about all the little boys being fed on by afrits, doesn’t that constitute pornography too? Judges can be bloody ridiculous but so can the average Joe. You have a lot of it in Malaysia, but I guess there is lots of such stupidity everywhere.

    If you read my blog (do you?) I have also read David B. Coe on your recommendation. Much enjoyment, thanks.

  2. Yes, I noticed that – I am about halfway through the last book now. And I still haven’t a clue who will make it, and who’s going to die…
    I met him at Worldcon, btw.

    Among other things, I think it is a great study in prejudice and hatreds and tolerance.

  3. You are right, I hadn’t thought about it being a study in prejudice. Mind you the Qisi (sp) aren’t doing anything to improve that with their murders and conspiracies. But I suppose one can’t blame them totally after 900 years.

  4. My first thought, when I saw this in the media, was that the decision was wrong on several counts, not the least of which is that the Simpsons’ characters only have the appearance of children.

    The Simpsons are now broadcasting their 20th season, having first aired in 1989. All of the ‘children’ are now well in excess of the age required for sexual activity. They just seem to suffer from a medical condition that prevents them from appearing older. (Otherwise know as “it’s only a cartoon, chum”)

    In short, this decision isn’t just strange because the images derive from a very stylised representation of humans in cartoon form, it’s not just strange because this is supposed to encourage other people in bad behaviours somehow based on their fascination with yellow animate characters but it’s incredibly strange because the decision seems to stem from the fact that it is the appearance of being a child that is the important issue here.

    In other words, it’s child pornography if someone looks at it and thinks it’s child pornography, even if all of the participants are overage. I don’t follow these cases very often – maybe this is always the way it’s interpreted?

  5. Well, I’d certainly dispute the idea that the young Simpson’s look anything like kids,(more like plastic bath toys??) and I suspect that even the voice overs for the TV version are adults!

    So we have a drawing of weird looking figures, 20 years old…what’s the problem again, your honour?

  6. I can see both sides here… Glenda, you put your side very well, so I won't elaborate. As for the judge… the last thing he wants is a child pornography website which is legal by his definition because the images don't contain real children, however real or unreal in appearence the images are. It's somewhat ridiculous when you consider how common other images showing fantasies that involve breaking the law are… and think about all the computer games involving stealing and murdering people =/ but this is a very sensitive subject atm…

    there is a little bit more to it than saying Bart, etc aren't children… they are representations of children. So should people legally be allowed to do whatever they wish with representations of children? I guess they should, since you're allowed to show images of a representation of a child with its head cut off or whatever, but I really can't see what images like these (without a greater story) add to the world. Anyway you could argue that saying the cartoon was ok encourages child pornography.

    there is a bit of a difference between your book and the cartoon… your book isn't about (representations of) children "engaged in sexual acts" or whatever the quote was… the cartoon is. The cartoon isn't about consequences or moving on.

    I don't envy the judge, especially as he can't just say "well, this image is ok, but anything more realistic is illegal" & I think he was going to get quite a bit of attention whatever he decided. Perhaps he erred on the side of caution, but I think most people do that where children are concerned.

    hope I've added something to the discussion anyway 🙂

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