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December 1993


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 15 Dec 1993 15:45:32 EST
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I want to endorse Doug's cogent remarks about the Canadian censorship case,
especially his thoughtful ammendments this morning. All of us in the United
States should watch this case with great interest, since it is a practical
demonstration of what happens when the Dworkin-MacKinnon position on pornography
 is encoded into law. Born of an unholy alliance between the feminist left and
the religious right, the law has immediately been applied to suppressing works
by feminist artists and gay/lesbian writers, as many of its critics have long
suggested. The incident suggests to me the problem of using legal restraint as
a strategy within what is essentially an ideological debate. A more constructive
 strategy, in my opinion, is represented by feminist interventions within
the pornography genre, either the critical interventions represented by Linda
WIlliam's HARDCORE or the production interventions represented by Fatale, Femme,
 and the other feminist porn collectives. We need to change the conventions of
the genre from within by producing new works with an alternative formal and
political structure. Going after porn with such a diffused attack that it
results in the confiscation of Duras works is obviously not a good strategy,
not to mention an outrage against free speech.
   The situation at the University of Iowa strikes me as more difficult. On the
one hand, it is probably a good idea to inform students of what they are going
to watch. As it happens, I would not refuse to watch Nazi propaganda; I have
seen TRIUMPH OF THE WILL many times and learn something each time. But, I would
like to be adequately prepared for what is going to be taught. On the other
 hand, it seems bad policy to codify what types of films require such
by instructors. In this case, the Iowa policy, as I understand it, seems
 blatantly homophobic, since it requires forwarning of gay content, and does
 not, for
example, speak to the kinds of controversial materials you suggest. Should I be
forewarned for example if the film contains religious opinions which I may find
disagreeable or if it takes a conservative political stance? Who decides which
films are potentially offensive and by what standards? It seems to me that these
 judgements are best made by the classroom teacher in response to the
 particulars of their class, rather than by a general policy statement by the
Board of Regents. By the same token, do we really want students, either
collectively or individually, deciding what films can be shown in the class or
even what films they watch in the class? Could a student decide categorically
that he did not want to see any films by women directors or minority directors?
Or is this standard only applied to films with a homoerotic content? Having
made that decision, how should the student expect the instructor to respond?
Should we wave the requirement? Should we expect the student to face the
 consequences of their choice? Should we construct an alternative assignment?
students in a classroom at a college level be protected from material that they
might disagree with or is the purpose of an education to make us confront
difficult materials and form our own informed judgements? Should the university
endorse the validity of opinions about aesthetic works which are formed by
people who refuse to watch them? Nobody is saying, I think, that being offensive
makes these works art, but there are plenty of legitimate reasons to study a
 work of popular culture besides the fact that we regard it to have artistic
 merits! We might well want to talk about the controversy itself and to color
students' response by applogizing for the film's content or otherwise
authorizing closed-minded and automatically hostile responses does not make
pedagogical sense. So, I see the Iowa case as ultimately complex but we should
err on the side of intellectual freedom.
--Henry Jenkins