Baby Doll (1956)

Baby Doll is a 1956 American film based on a pair of one-act Tennessee Williams plays. It’s a steamy love triangle between a young virginal wife, her husband, and his rival. Although passed by the Production Code, it was condemned as immoral by the US Roman Catholic Legion of Decency, and banned in several areas. Time magazine described it as “possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited” (December 24, 1956).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, presumably a more moderate organization than the League of Decency, rated it L, for “problematic content many adults would find troubling.” It’s not clear when this rating was assigned. (The Catholic News Service still reviews movies for their artistic merit and moral suitability.)

With the exceptions of British Columbia and Alberta, there’s little information available about how Canadian film censors responded to the film. Most list a rating on their websites, but in some cases this appears to be the original rating, while in other cases it appears to be updated. Classification standards have changed over the past 60 years, and older films sometimes get new ratings. None of the online ratings show if the approved version was cut, though it likely was. Even today, most agencies do not indicate if a film has been cut for approval or for a specific age rating (the British Board of Film Classification is a happy exception). Dates of classification are often incorrect for older films.

The current ratings are:

  • Maritimes – Restricted (under 18 requires adult accompaniment) and 14A (under 14 requires adult accompaniment)
  • Quebec – G (all ages)
  • Ontario – Restricted (under 18 requires adult accompaniment)
  • Manitoba – PG
  • Alberta – A (under 16 requires adult accompaniment, a classification no longer used)

Alberta has records showing the cuts that were made. The cuts related to sexual imagery and dialogue, such as the line “Your husband sweats more than any man I know. Now I can understand why.” The print approved, in July of 1957, was publicly identified as cut. Advertising included “This motion picture was reconstructed and edited to meet the requirement of the Alberta Censor Board.” This open approach was very different from the practice in Ontario at the time, where the Chief Censor once wrote: “At all times the Department attempts to avoid censorship which is apparent to the patron, since it would defeat the purpose of censorship.”

British Columbia does not list ratings for older films on its website, but there is some correspondence from the period, which shows that the film was initially approved, then rejected, rejected again, and finally approved.

In January of 1957, the Chief Censor wrote to the distributor, and referred to earlier correspondence:

You will recall that when I granted approval for this picture I insisted upon very conservative advertising that would avoid any reference to the current controversy about it. In this you have most certainly cooperated.
At the same time, I pointed out that should I get a larger number of complaints…I would have to withdraw the approval. Unhappily the situation has developed where I feel I must take that action.

In October of 1957, a revised version of Baby Doll was submitted for approval. From looking at the dates, this may have been the version that had been approved in Alberta in July. (Keep in mind that at this time, there were usually only one or two prints of a film circulating in western Canada, landing in British Columbia after doing a circuit of theaters in Alberta.) The censor noted that the “eliminations that have been made have greatly changed the picture.” However:

If it were not for the enormous publicity which accompanied our decision when we first viewed it; especially here in Vancouver, and the publicity that is bound to recur in mounting intensity should it be shown, I would have been tempted to approve it. People who would now go to see Baby Doll would be seeing a picture which has a tradition of cheap sensationalism behind it. I feel very strongly that it is not in the public interest to show such a picture.

As always, the censor reminded the distributor of their right to appeal, and the film was passed by the Appeal Board in January of 1958.

The reviews were good, and the film was nominated for several American Academy Awards, American Golden Globe Awards, and British Academy Film Awards. Director Elia Kazan won a Golden Globe for best director, and actor Eli Wallach, playing against Karl Malden, won a British Academy Award for “Most Promising Newcomer to Film.” Box office receipts were modest, but the film popularized the existing name ‘baby doll’ for the short nightgown which was worn by Carroll Baker’s character.

In our less innocent age, these once shocking films are no longer disturbing. Wallach noted “People see it today and say, ‘What the hell was all the fuss about?’” The director made a similar comment in his autobiography: “If you were to look at the film now, you’d see a rather amusing comedy and wonder what all the fuss was about.”

Defending the Courts against Self-Defense

Self-Defense is a 1932 western/melodrama from Monogram. Katy owns and runs a gambling bar in a small town in northern British Columbia, but has sent her teenage daughter, Nona, to a boarding school in California. Nona believes her mother runs a high-end hotel, and Katy doesn’t want Nona to learn the truth. A local trouble maker makes trouble for Katy, including arranging for Nona to come to town. This leads to a confrontation between the bad guy and Tim, a friend of Katy’s, where Tim shoots and kills him. At the trial, Tim pleads self-defense, but cannot give all the details, as that would reveal the truth about Katy’s establishment, and Nona is present. The trial concludes in an unorthodox manner. A full synopsis is available at Turner Classic Movies.

When the film arrived in British Columbia, provincial censors were concerned about the portrayal of the court system, and ordered the removal of all references to the province. This consisted mostly of mentions of going to Prince Rupert, as well as visible BC license plates on cars. It’s entirely possible that the story was set in BC in the first place, rather than a western state, in order to avoid problems with American censors. They were concerned with negative portrayals of the USA. For example, in the mid-1920’s the Pennsylvania Board of Censors ordered that a location title be changed from “Deep in the fastnesses of the great California forest” to “Deep in the fastnesses of the great Canadian forest,” suggesting that the lawlessness of that film’s characters was more appropriate to exotic Canada.

In addition to the cuts, a title disclaimer was added at the start of Self-Defense, for its showings in BC.

This picture is purely fiction and deals with a romantic story of the far North in the early days. It must be understood that no Courts in Canada under jurisdiction of British Law were ever conducted as depicted in this film.

This picture is purely fiction and deals with a romantic story of the far North in the early days. It must be understood that no Courts in Canada under jurisdiction of British Law were ever conducted as depicted in this film.

Negative portrayals of any institution, including colleges, the police, the church, and hospitals, were frowned upon, and could result in a film being banned. It’s not clear if this disclaimer was requested by the censor, or volunteered by the distributor, however the record of the addition was added to the file later. Disclaimers like this were not unusual at the time. As the film showed cars (with BC license plates), stating this was “the early days” may not have been effective, but anachronisms were common in period films, especially westerns. Now it’s anachronistic to be concerned about protecting the reputations of our institutions, and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Film Sound and Censorship

Censoring of silent films required removing scenes with offensive imagery, and removing or replacing title cards. This was easy to do, by physically cutting out the offending strip of film, and splicing the sections before and after the cut. When done well, a viewer would never even know a cut had been made. In some cases the censor office would make the cut, and advise the distributor, but in other cases the censor would request the cut, the distributor would make it, and sometimes send the censor office the offending section of film as proof that it had been removed. While cutting did require some work, keep in mind that there was often only one copy of a film circulating in a province. As late as the 1950s, censors would note if cuts had been made to a second or, rarely, third print. Although silent films often showed people talking, censors did not lip read films, and occasionally a film with mouthed  profanities did slip through, such as What Price Glory (1926).

The arrival of sound in the 1920s meant everything spoken was recorded, including double entendres and other objectionable dialogue. Cutting audible dialogue posed problems. The first commercially viable movie sound system was sound-on-disc, basically a large (16″) record that was played along with the film, one record per reel. A reel of film was about eleven minutes, and the technology of the time required the large record to store eleven minutes of sound. Not all censor offices could play the record, and even if they could, and did hear something objectionable, it could not be cut.

Vitagraph, the developer of sound-on-disc, tried to prevent the need to censor sound by claiming sound was not really part of a film, and therefore not subject to the film censorship requirements. The issue came to court in Pennsylvania, location of one of the more aggressive state censors, and the state supreme court ruled against Vitagraph. (Vitagraph was bought by Warner Brothers in 1925, which christened the sound-on-disc process VitaPhone. The term was later used for any sound film, and into the 1960s was used for shorts.)

Fox (which merged with Twentieth Century in 1935) also opposed censorship of sound, and also lost in court. In their case, Fox refused to submit written copies of the dialogue, an aid to censors. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that printed dialogue submission was required.

The film companies accepted that sound in films was subject to censorship, and supplied printed scripts to censors. Dialogue cuts were handled by instructing the projectionist to turn down the volume when necessary. For example, the 1931 comedy short Hello Russia includes the 1917 song “You’re in the Army Now” (one of many film appearances of this song). A line in the song starts “You’ll never get rich” and ends with either “you son of a bitch” or “digging a ditch.” It’s not clear which version was in the film, but according to archival records in British Columbia, the line had to go in order for the film to play in that province.* The local office of Canadian Universal replied to the censor’s request, confirming the arrangement:

Please be advised that owing to censor cut of dialogue in the two reel talking comedy, entitled HELLO RUSSIA, as follows,

“You’ll Never Get Rich – ”

whenever this subject plays a disc account a letter will accompany same, instructing the operator to pull the fader and thereby eliminate this dialogue.

Projectionists could lose their license for failure to observe censorship instructions.

Image of film showing soundtrack. By U. S. Navy. Photographed by Cmacd123 at en.wikipedia - 1959 U.S. Navy training film. Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Stef48 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4313272
An old US Navy film, with the analog optical soundtrack visible on the right edge. Public domain image.

In the early 1930s there was format war over film sound, and the less cumbersome sound-on-film system won. Sound-on-film is an optical process. A light shines through a small section at the edge of the film (the soundtrack), where there is a line that varies in thickness and shape. A sensor registers the light variations and they are converted to sound. With sound on film, cutting the film to remove an image would also remove the sound. However, sometimes only the dialogue needed to be removed. This could be done by obscuring the soundtrack. Censor records sometimes mention that dialogue was “zaponed.” It’s unclear exactly what this meant, but it probably refers to applying a coating to obscure the optical soundtrack. Zapon used to be a brand name for a cellulose nitrate varnish, a coating similar to nitrate film stock.

Analog optical soundtracks are still used for films, but usually supplemented by one or more digital optical soundtracks, resembling tiny barcodes. Sound on disc also made a comeback of sorts, in the form of a proprietary system that used CDs for film audio, synchronized with the film by (digital optical) codes on the film.

Actual film has become rare. Halifax has 45 commercial theatre screens, and only one can show films. Most movies are distributed to theatres as digital files, which are much larger than the files used for home viewing. Digital files make censoring easier, and have the potential to make it as invisible as it was in silent films. At home, ClearPlay allows viewers to stream or view their own discs, with dialogue and scene censoring on the fly, according to their own personal preferences. However, this has not happened (so far) with theatrical releases. Classification agencies no longer review scripts or demand dialogue cuts, and anything potentially objectionable is simply taken into account when assigning the rating.

A legacy of sound-on-disc is the frame rate of films. Silent films were projected at various speeds, usually between 20 and 26 frames per second. The projector operator might run the film faster or slower to enhance the comedy or drama of scenes. However, the need to synchronize the film and the record, and the greater sensitivity of the ear to variation in sound frequency than variation in image frequency, meant that sound films had to run at a constant fixed rate. Vitaphone set this at 24 frames per second. This is still the standard for film projection, and most digital projection, though higher frame rates are becoming more common.


*British Columbia was not necessarily stricter than other provinces, but they appear to be the only province that kept records of censorship requests.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This review contains spoilers.

Rogue One is another disappointment in the Star Wars franchise.  It doesn’t have the excruciating moments of the prequels, it’s well made, and there is an assortment of cameos and references to other films, and not just Star Wars film. However, the referenced films include Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now, which are appropriate for this film’s dark tone. It’s not a fun film, and that makes the more humorous references and occasional jokes hard to enjoy.

The story emphasizes a series of battle scenes, and is not so much a glorification of war as a celebration of sacrifice. None of main characters survive: all of them have no regrets about their actions. This is a great propaganda film, showing beings of different species, races, ages, and genders all uniting to fight a common enemy.  It might be moving if the sacrifices had any value, but they don’t. The mission of our heroes is to advance a plot to destroy the Death Star. We know the plot works, from Part IV A New Hope. We also know it didn’t work that well, because the Death Star is back again in Part VI, Return of the Jedi. An even bigger Death Star is central to Part VII, The Force Awakens. Perhaps the message is you cannot stop evil?

We also know that our heroes are not necessarily good guys, and they admit as much in this film. Meanwhile, the anonymous and purely evil bad guys of the original film have, by now, been well established as individuals, who are not all bad. We’ve seen Darth Vader as a whiny child, moody adolescent, and redeemed father. We’ve seen a Storm Trooper reject his path in The Force Awakens, and a former Empire pilot and his robot join the rebels in this film. This film also shows us that the architect of the Death Star was coerced into designing the weapon.

Finally, after seeing eight films, I’m starting to wonder just how bad the Empire is. Sure, at the top, they are evil and power hungry, but power is usually a means to an end, and it’s not clear what that end is. The Empire is dedicated to wiping out the rebellion, and the rebellion is dedicated to bringing down the Empire, but apart from that I’m not sure what either side wants. Why do we fight? Given that both sides have vague goals, the individuals on both sides have moral complexity, and we know this is just one meaningless effort in a war lasting generations, it’s hard to find the long battle sequences anything but dreary.

To add to the unease, one sequence takes place in a vaguely middle eastern setting (some of the filming was in Jordan), and another sequence takes place on beaches and among palm trees, referencing both WWII and Vietnam. Thanks to the magic of CGI, the characters played decades ago by Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher appear to be performed by the same actors, as they appeared back then. This is a disturbing use of effects, and not necessary. It’s easier to accept different actors playing the same character  (such as James Bond), than it is to accept that an actor has not aged, or, in the case of Cushing, can appear in a film twenty-two years after death. Spaceships and monsters are products of the creative imagination, but re-animated actors are a denial of time and humanity.

Film classification agencies do not care about tone, or possible propaganda aspects of films. During and after World Wars I and II, these were important considerations. During the wars, films that humanized the enemy might be banned, but in the 1950s, war films that dwelt on past hatreds could also be banned. Until the 1960s, censors, for better or worse, tried to ensure films were good for society. That’s no longer part of the job. As per regulations, classification is based on objective measures such as how much violence or sex is shown.

Rogue One has no sex, though Ontario spotted a little cuddling. I was grateful the characters had that moment. What it does have is plenty of violence, of the more or less bloodless variety. Several agencies note “science fiction violence” because people being killed by lasers is somehow different than people being shot or blown up (which also happens a lot ).

The ratings are consistent across Canada and in most other jurisdictions. The consensus is that this is a film for the 12 and up set, though younger kids can go. In a couple of cases they can only go with their parents. Much of what is in the trailer is not in the film, which lets one wonder how much of that was deliberate misleading and how much was last minute editing. However, it’s a fair portrayal of the action scenes and other imagery.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes pg Parental guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence
Quebec generalq The film is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages. Déconseillé aux jeunes enfants Dans l’espoir de sauver sa famille, le scientifique Galen Erso consent à se rendre aux soldats de l’Empire et à travailler à l’élaboration d’une arme capable d’anéantir des planètes. Malheureusement, seule sa fille Jyn parvient à échapper à l’ennemi et est élevée par un rebelle, Saw Gerrera. Des années plus tard, le pilote Bodhi Rook réussit à porter un message de Galen destiné à sa fille, qui lui donne la clé pour détruire sa création. Jyn, repérée par les forces de l’Alliance, accepte de joindre l’équipe du capitaine Cassian Andor, formée, entre autres, de Bohdi et du robot K-2SO. Ensemble, ils devront affronter les sbires d’Orson Krennic qui, au service de Darth Vader, se révélera impitoyable envers les opposants à l’Empire.
Ontario pg Parental Guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence,
Not Recommended for Young Children
– Scenes containing some grotesque images in a fantasy, comedic or historic context
– Scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear
– Limited embracing and kissing
– Restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence
Manitoba pg
Theme and content may not be suitable for all children.
Violence,
Not Recommended For Young Children
Frequent non explicit violence
Alberta pg Parental guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence,
Not Recommended For Young Children
Science Fiction/Action. Based on characters created by George Lucas. A disparate group of individuals (Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, voice of Alan Tudyk) are drawn together to steal the plans to a powerful weapon.

Content Elements:
Frequent portrayals of gun, weapons, and hand-to-hand violence in a science fiction context – little blood or detail

Thematic Elements:
Good versus evil
Dedication and persistence
Parent/child relationships

Classification Rationale:
Rated PG for frequent portrayals of violence in a science fiction context.

British Columbia pg Parental guidance advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children although there is no age restriction. Violence The following were determinative to the classification decision:

Several scenes of violence depicting physical assault, weapons and/or injury.

MPAA (U.S.A.)  PG-13 Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
BBFC Cinema release suitable for 12 years and over icon No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. Moderate violence
Some versions of this film are displayed in the 3D or IMAX format and some younger children may find them a more intense experience.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is a sci-fi action adventure in which a team of rebels embark upon a dangerous mission to steal the plans to a powerful weapon.

Violence: There are frequent gunfights, use of hand-held weapons, explosions and aerial dogfights between spaceships. Blood and injury detail is limited and brief.

Occasional scenes of mild threat include an interrogation and gun threat.

Australia m-au Children under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category. However, M classified films and computer games may include classifiable elements such as violence and nudity of moderate impact that are not recommended for children under 15 years. Science fiction violence Australia Ratings Grid
Ireland 12Afilm.jpg Films classified 12A have been deemed appropriate for viewers of twelve and over. However, they can also be seen by younger children – provided they are accompanied by an adult who has deemed the film appropriate viewing for that child. Ireland Ratings Grid
New Zealand M label

Films and games with an M label can be sold, hired, or shown to anyone. Films with an M label are more suitable for mature audiences.

 M-V  Violence
Hong Kong IIA Not Suitable for Children Contains some extended sequences of mild violence and mild shocking scenes.
Korea  Viewing for 12 years and over Theme, Violence, Horror
Dove Foundation (USA) Dove “Family-Approved”
For Ages 12 and Over
Sex: None.

Language: None.

Violence: Several explosions, dog fights between space ships; Imperial Walkers destroy buildings, ships and people; people are killed with laser blasts with very little blood seen; people are choked; a light saber is used to repel weapons firing and the repelling kills some people.

Drugs: A cantina scene where it is possible some of the drinks are alcoholic beverages.

Nudity: A character is seen in a fluid tank and just his upper chest and face is seen.

Other: Betrayal by some characters; death and grief; tension between characters.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

Christmas Vacation (1989)

It’s almost December, it’s snowing, and I’m in the mood for a holiday film or two. The reviews for Bad Santa 2 are not encouraging (“Bad Santa 2” is vulgar, nasty and offensive, but it has flawed aspects also) so it’s time to look at the classics. My list of holiday classics includes the delightful Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol (1951, must be watched in black and white).

My list does not include It’s a Wonderful Life – it’s no more a Christmas movie than Die Hard, and there are many reasons to dislike it. It was panned when it opened, by both the New Yorker and the New York Times, though arguably neither publication appreciates small town life. Here’s a slightly more recent critical review, which focuses on the problematic Pottersville sequence.

Another personal holiday classic is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s sweeter and more sentimental (relatively) than the original Vacation film, as benefits a family holiday film. While Vacation is a mock heroic quest, Christmas Vacation is structured like a classical Greek old comedy, complete with all the rivals on stage for the big final number. Since the big final number is singing the American anthem, that probably would have been cut by Canadian censors in the 1920s and 1930, as they were sensitive to gratuitous displays of American patriotism. And what did the censors, now classifiers, think of this film in 1989? Can it be called a family holiday film?

Classification agencies usually have web sites that provide details about films’ ratings, but of course these sites did not exist in 1989, and while most agencies have put their old records online, they either did not capture additional details, or have not put those online. With the ability to post information about film ratings online, most agencies now provide a lot more information about the film, and how the rating was determined. However, the actual ratings for older films are available, and for most of Canada, Christmas Vacation is PG. Quebec, as usual, is  more liberal, giving a G rating, although there is no PG in Quebec. The Maritimes have the stricter 14A. The Americans are somewhere in the middle, at PG-13. That’s stricter than PG, but without the legal restriction of the 14A.  The few international ratings I found are similar, and the one noted concern is language. It’s worth noting that the ratings for Christmas Vacation are generally lower than the ratings for Vacation.

Most agencies do not state if ratings change, so it’s possible these are not the original ratings. Also, some agencies re-rate films when they come out on video, and some do not.

The British ratings are interesting case. In 1990, they gave the home video a PG rating. In 1998, a 2 second cut was required to keep that rating. This is the opposite of traditional ratings creep, a well documented tendency for the same classification to gradually allow more challenging material. A 2013 version, with additional material and commentary, is rated 12, meaning no one under 12 may rent or purchase. (BBFC does not use adult accompaniment ratings for home video, but if this was a theatrical release, the rating would be 12A, meaning adult accompaniment required for children under 12). Other agencies also request or suggest cuts to obtain a specific rating, but the information is rarely publicized. The distributor may also cut a film before rating, in which case the agency may not be aware of the cut.

Due to the lack of information available from official agencies, I checked a few other ratings sources. The experts who contribute to Common Sense Media and the surfers who contribute to OK.COM both agree this film is suitable for 13 and up. Finally, I checked the Catholic News Service. The influence of the Catholic church on the original MPAA production code is well known. Less well known is that since the early 1930s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and later the Catholic News Service, have been providing their own classifications, rating films for  “artistic merit and moral suitability.” On the artist merit side, “Director Jeremiah S. Chechik keeps the gags moving quickly past the double entendres and gets some laughs from Clark’s bumbling attempts to enjoy Christmas.” On the moral suitability side, this film is suitable for Adults, on the following scale:

A-I:  general patronage;
A-II: adults and adolescents;
A-III: adults;
L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
O: morally offensive.

Gather round, for some more or less inoffensive family fun.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes 14a Suitable for viewing by persons 14 years of age and older. Persons under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Quebec generalq The film is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages.
Ontario pg Parental Guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children.
Manitoba pg
Theme and content may not be suitable for all children.
Language Warning
Alberta pg Language Warning
British Columbia pg Parental guidance advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children although there is no age restriction. Coarse language
MPAA (U.S.A.)  PG-13 Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
BBFC BBFC - PG General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Unaccompanied children of any age may watch, but parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive, children. Contains mild comic violence, sex references and language  2 second cut. See notes above.
Australia m-au Recommended for Mature Audiences Occasional Coarse Language
New Zealand  PG-L Coarse Language
Common Sense Media 13+  Minimum age for which the film is developmentally appropriate. Silly humor for the holidays; some iffy stuff.
OK.COM  13+  Crowd sourced minimum age.
Catholic News Service A-III  Adults Some rough language laced with vulgarities and sexual innuendoes.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

Suicide Squad

I confess that a) I have not seen Suicide Squad, b) the trailer left me with no desire to see it, and c) I still can’t remember which comic characters are Marvel and which are DC, let alone what they did in their last movie.  That said, I did find Deadpool a guilty pleasure, so maybe this would be fun. Meanwhile, let’s look at the ratings.

It’s PG across Canada, except Quebec, but there is no PG there, so this is as consistent as we can get. All agree it’s not for young children, and language and violence are the concerns. Both within and outside Canada, agencies aren’t sure whether there is any sexually suggestive content. South of the border the rating is up a notch, as usual.

Other agencies are split, with some recommending no children (Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa), some requiring adult accompaniment for younger children (Ireland, Brazil), and some prohibiting young children (United Kingdom, New Zealand). Hong Kong offers two versions, both with the same rating, but one apparently removes the coarse language.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes pg Parental guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence
Not Recommended for Young Children
Language May Offend
Quebec generalq The film is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages. Déconseillé aux jeunes enfants Le sort de l’humanité repose entre les mains d’une armada de crapules de la pire espèce. Inspirée de l’univers sombre des bandes dessinées de DC Comics, cette œuvre réunit les ennemis habituels de Superman et de Batman dans une aventure fantastique qui mettra en valeur leurs dons individuels. Malgré son humour et sa fantaisie, cette production présente des affrontements, parfois intenses, avec des créatures qui pourraient heurter la sensibilité des jeunes enfants.
Ontario pg Parental Guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence
Language May Offend
Not Recommended for Young Children
– Scenes containing some grotesque images in a fantasy, comedic or historic context
– Use of expletives
– Mild sexual references
– Limited use of slurs
– Scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear
– Embracing and kissing
– Mild sexual innuendo
– Restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence
Manitoba pg
Theme and content may not be suitable for all children.
Not Recommended For Young Children
Violence
Language May Offend
– slurs/sexual references
– use of expletives/profanity
– frequent non explicit violence
– torture
– scenes may cause children brief anxiety/fear
– alcohol use
Alberta pg Parental guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children. Violence
Frightening Scenes
Not Recommended For Young Children
Synopsis: Action/Fantasy. Based on characters from DC Entertainment. A government agent (Viola Davis) prepares for super-powered threats by assembling a group of criminals (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and a soldier (Joel Kinnaman) to fight for her.

Content Elements: Frequent use of scatological slang; infrequent use of cursing, profanity, and vulgar expressions. Frequent portrayals of gun, weapons, and hand-to-hand violence in a genre context – little blood or detail. Infrequent portrayals of transformations and frightening imagery in a genre context – little detail. Infrequent portrayals of alcohol use in a recreational context – little detail.

Thematic Elements:
– Unlikely alliances
– Distrust of authority
– Moral relativity

Classification Rationale: Rated PG for genre violence, frightening scenes, and coarse language.

British Columbia pg Parental guidance advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children although there is no age restriction. violence; coarse language The following were determinative to the classification decision:
Several scenes of violence depicting weapons, injury and/or physical assault;
– Approximately 30 instances of coarse language.
Suicide Squad does not contain nudity or sexually suggestive scenes.
MPAA (U.S.A.)  PG-13 Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.
BBFC bbfc_15_150px-height_0 Under 15 not admitted. sustained threat, moderate violence Some versions of this film are displayed in the 3D or IMAX format and some younger children may find them a more intense experience

SUICIDE SQUAD is a fantasy action thriller about a group of super villains who are recruited by a secret government agency to carry out dangerous missions.

Threat: Scenes of threat occur regularly throughout. These include characters in prison facing harsh discipline and punishment, and other characters being placed in life-endangering situations in the course of conflicts between good and evil factions embedded in the story. In spite of the obvious fantasy and comedic elements, the sustained sense of threat gives a dark and sometimes unsettling tone to the action, with some characters displaying a relish in their potential to cause pain and mayhem. Threat also takes the form of horror in the appearance and actions of characters with supernatural powers.

Violence: There are scenes of violence, which mainly take the form of sustained set-piece battles characterised by noisy, explosive action. More personalised violence is also present – for example, the cold-blooded shooting of a character. The violence is generally undetailed and lacking in bloodshed or aftermath injury detail. The most notable damage to combatants is incurred by an army of fantastical statue warriors which disintegrate into chunks and clouds of dust after receiving impacts during fights and battles. There is also a focus on weapons such as guns, knives and baseball bats throughout.

There is infrequent strong language (‘f**k’), with milder bad language including uses of ‘bitch’, ‘dickhead’, ‘balls’, ‘crap’, ‘shit’ and ‘ass’. There are also infrequent moderate sex references.

Australia m-au Recommended for Mature Audiences Fantasy themes, violence and coarse language australia
Ireland 15afilm-ireland Appropriate for viewers of fifteen and over. However, they can also be seen by younger children – provided they are accompanied by an adult who has deemed the film appropriate viewing for that child. ireland
New Zealand labels-r13-373-nz Under 13 not admitted.  VHC  Violence, Horror, and Cruelty
Hong Kong IIA Not Suitable for Children Contains frequent mild violence and shocking scenes – 115 minutes
Contains frequent mild violence and shocking scenes,and coarse language – 123 minutes
South Africa 10-12PG
L V
 Not suitable for under 10; 10-12 parental guidance recommended Language, Violence Language: Mild to Moderate, Fairly Frequent
Nudity: None
Prejudice: None
Sex: None
Violence: Mild to Moderate, Frequent
Blasphemy: None
Drug Abuse: None
Comments: Complex and mature themes in a fantastical context relating to superpowers, crime, covert missions, terrorism, teamwork, redemption and good vs. evil. Such theme could be upsetting, confusing or disturbing to viewers under 10, while those ages 10-12 would benefit from parental guidance.
Brazil Brazil - 1212
Adult accompaniment required for children under 12 Violence,
Inappropriate Language, Sexual Content
See comments for credit.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, is of course the sequel to Neighbors, with a sorority instead of a fraternity. As the classification advisories/presence of Seth Rogen make clear, there is the usual crude comedy, however this is a rare case of a sequel improving on the original film, not just echoing the story. The added complexity comes from addressing some of the sexism around greater restrictions on partying at sororities, the rapey nature of frat parties, and broader issues of consent. These ladies want to party on their own terms. There’s a fun montage of parties, including a historical feminist party (featuring several different versions of Hillary Clinton), and a party to celebrate the loss of a character’s virginity (where the presumed male is never seen). It might be a stretch to call this a feminist film, but it has been praised for its approach to gender issues.

The arc of reinforcing conservative attitudes remains even as the film embraces newer values. For example, a same sex relationship for a former frat brother is treated as a source of sentiment, not humour, but the men have a traditional proposal and wedding. The realism of a character’s inability to work, due to his criminal record, is happily overcome by entrepreneurship. The core of the plot is a growing family’s desire to move to the suburbs. However, as crude comedies go,  Neighbors 2 is relatively liberal and enlightened. Just as the original was also released as Bad Neighbours, this has been released as Bad Neighbours 2 in some areas. The trailer gives a poor sense of the film, and several of the gags shown are not in the film.

Across Canada, the classification agencies were consistent in their ratings and advisories. Quebec wasn’t particularly worried about the drug use or sexual content. BC was busy counting the swearing – this only a 92 minute film. Other countries were slightly more restrictive, with the Americans giving an R rating, and several agencies not permitting any viewing by younger teens. That’s unfortunate, because they’d love the crude humour, and need to hear the messages about acceptance, independence, and consent.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes
Quebec c13 Under 13 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Langage vulgaire
Pour l’arrivée de leur deuxième enfant, Mac et Kelly mettent leur demeure en vente afin d’emménager dans un autre quartier. Malheureusement, celle-ci risque d’être compromise lorsqu’une nouvelle association étudiante succède à celle de Teddy et s’installe dans la maison à côté. Sous la direction de Shelby, de jeunes filles décomplexées, revendicatrices et fêtardes enchaînent les soirées endiablées. Déterminés à vendre leur résidence, Mac et Kelly se tournent vers Teddy, leur ancien ennemi, pour qu’il les aide à se débarrasser de leurs tumultueuses voisines.
Ontario 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Coarse Language
  • Sexual Content,
  • Substance Abuse
  • Coarse language
  • Slurs
  • Sexual references
  • Nudity in a non-sexual context
  • Illustrated or verbal references to drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  • Crude content
  • Scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear
  • Substance abuse
  • Embracing and kissing
  • Implied sexual activity
  • Restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence
Manitoba 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Crude Content
  • Coarse Language
  • Substance Use
  • slurs/sexual references
  • frequent use of expletives/profanity
  • non-sexual nudity
  • brief non explicit violence
  • implied sexual activity
  • occasional crude/disturbing/offensive scenes
  • alcohol use
  • substance use
Alberta 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Crude Sexual Content
  • Coarse Language
  • Substance Abuse
Content Elements:

  • Frequent use of the sexual expletive, some in a sexual context; frequent use of scatological slang and vulgar expressions; infrequent crude sexual references – some detail
  • Infrequent portrayals of sexual activity in a comic context – no nudity, little detail
  • Brief male genital nudity in a comic context
  • Frequent portrayals of and references to illegal drug use and misuse – some detail
  • Frequent crude references to bodily functions – some detail

Thematic Elements:

  • Independence and maturity
  • Perspectives on parenting
  • Gender and sexism

Classification Rationale:
Rated 14A for frequent coarse language, crude sexual references, and recreational drug use in a comic context.

British Columbia 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment. coarse & sexual language; sexual content The following were determinative to the classification decision:

  • Approximately 170 instances of coarse and/or sexual language
  • Five scenes depicting sexual content.

Classifiers also noted the following:

  • Several scenes of violence depicting beating and/or electrocution
  • Two sexually suggestive scenes
  • Two scenes of drug use involving marijuana
  • Scene of nudity, depicting genitalia, in a non-sexual context
  • Two scenes of crude content depicting vomit and/or bodily fluids.
MPAA (U.S.A.)  R Under 17 requires parent or guardian. Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying.
BBFC 15 Under 15 not admitted. strong language, sex references, drug misuse Language: There is frequent strong language (‘motherf**ker’ and ‘f**k’), much of it used for comic effect but some also spoken in an aggressive manner.

Sex: There are frequent strong sex references, both verbal and visual, with one running joke focusing on a toddler using a large pink dildo as a toy.

Drugs: There is frequent drug misuse and drug references, with a group of girls setting themselves up as the purveyors of marijuana and also shown smoking the drug on regular occasions.

Australia  MA 15+ Under 15 not admitted. Strong sexual references, drug use and coarse language See chart for details.
Ireland 16 Under 16 not admitted. Very strong crude and offensive humour. Frequent drugs references. Strong language and sex references. Violence: Mild

Drugs: Strong

Sex/Nudity: Strong

Language: Strong

New Zealand R16 Under 16 not admitted. Sex scenes, violence, drug use and offensive language
Hong Kong IIB Not Suitable for
Young Persons and Children
Contains drug content, sexuality, sexual references, nudity, strong language and dangerous behaviour.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

Paint Drying

Paint drying on a brick wall.
Still (or possibly a screen capture) from Paint Drying, Charlie Lyne.

Paint Drying (2016) is a film created solely to annoy British film classifiers. This 607 minute epic shows paint drying on a wall. For ten hours and seven minutes. Nothing else. Fourteen hours of footage was shot, however the final cut depended on the funds available to cover the per minute cost of classification. The funds were raised through a Kickstarter project. The BBFC duly reviewed and classified the film as a documentary, suitable for all ages. It’s unclear if this film was also intended to be a reboot or sequel to Paint Drying: The Movie (2009), a 90 minute film available from Amazon.

The idea is amusing enough, and got social media support from people opposed to classification systems, but as a protest it’s not very effective. Film classifiers, depending on the country, are either working for the government or working for the film industry. Either way, they have no say in the laws or corporate agreements that require classification systems. In addition, classifiers in countries that require all films to be classified are used to watching enormous amounts of straight-to-video horror and porn (although, at least in Ontario, classifiers fast forward through porn films). They would probably find watching ten hours of paint drying a welcome break.

More significantly, opposition to classification systems tends to ignore the public demand and support for these systems. Democracies that run film classification and censorship systems do so because elected politicians brought in and maintain laws requiring these systems. In countries such as the United States, where classification is run by the film industry, the intention is to make it unnecessary for the government to respond to the public demand. These systems receive complaints for being too restrictive, particularly from artists and academics, but they also receive complaints for not being restrictive enough.

It’s not just overprotective parents who support classification systems. Theatre owners and video retailers support them. In Canada, distributors of exempt material, such as TV shows, obtain classifications to make it easier to sell their products. Possibly the businesses that support classification are still responding to the overprotective parents, and the rationale for classifications is often based on faulty assumptions, but regardless of the source and legitimacy of the demand for classification, it does exist. Film makers need to live with it.

A key concern of this project was the cost of film classification. The BBFC cost is £121.80 ($230) to submit, plus £8.51 ($16) per minute. This is much higher than in Canada, where rates are typically $2-$4 per minute. All agencies claim to be non-profit, though some Canadian agencies have been sources of income for the government. For major studios, classification costs are negligible, but for independent films they can be prohibitive. Classification agencies, and the lawmakers who control them, need to be more aware of the heavy costs classification can impose. This is where Paint Drying, which cost £5,936 ($11,175) to classify, may be able to draw some attention. Instead of trying to annoy the classifiers, or protest classification, film makers and film viewers need to ensure the government is not placing barriers in the way of independent productions or films with limited appeal. Canadian agencies offer some exemptions from classification or classification fees, but these vary from province to province and have limitations. For example, a festival film does not require classification in Ontario, however the viewers must be over eighteen.

This is not the first time artists have attempted to stymie classifiers. In the early 1980s, a group of artists submitted the anti-pornography documentary Not a Love Story (1981) to the Ontario Board of Censors (as it was then called). The Board refused to classify the film, leading to the claim that the Board had banned an anti-porn documentary. When the matter went to court, the judge noted that the artists had no legal right to exhibit the film, and that the Board was under no obligation to perform hypothetical reviews. The myth of the ban persists. Although the artists did score an anti-classification victory with another film, most films in much of Canada are still subject to prior restraint and bans. Rightly or wrongly, there is public support for this.

Deadpool

Deadpool is a parody of Marvel films, from its mock opening credits to its frequent fourth wall breaks to its post credits non-gag. However, it remains faithful to the formula it mocks. It also continues, without irony or comment, the standard and sexist tiresome tropes of men fending for themselves and protecting women. You cannot rely on social authority, and women need rescuing. That’s not just the driver of the revenge plot, culminating in the usual mano a mano battle, but in the set up, where our hero is a member of a group of vigilantes. Although apparently set in contemporary society, police are invisible. Even after a major freeway crash and prolonged shootout, there’s not so much as a siren. The sexism (hooker with a heart of gold, gratuitous strip club scene), is hardly redeemed by two tough female sidekicks. One helps the hero, and one helps the villain. A minor subplot reinforces the message that women are prizes for men to fight over.

Then there is the violence. It’s frequent, and sometimes gory. The hero and villain are both largely immune to pain, allowing extended fight scenes, and the hero’s abilities allow him to sustain almost injury, including dismemberment, without lasting ill effects. Films featuring male action heroes being brutalized have uncomfortable messages about masculinity, and those are reinforced with the plot, character, and other elements here. I’m not sure whether the Wile E. Coyote level of injury, the jokes, and the fourth wall breaks lessen those messages or make us more susceptible to them. We are constantly reminded that this is just a movie, and it’s all in fun. It’s as playful and full of wisecracks as 1994’s The Mask, with more sex, swearing, and blood.

Film classifiers are not concerned about violence per se, let alone messages about masculinity. Their only concern is suitability for children, as per objective guidelines. Ontario and Manitoba settled on the high 18A rating, and this also makes Manitoba the only province where no one under 14 can view the film. Ontario threw in almost every content warning they have. The rest of Canada settled on a mid-teen classification, and consistently warned about violence, nudity, and sex. As usual, the Americans have the highest classification. Other jurisdictions I checked all set a mid-teen restriction, with no allowance for parental accompaniment. This makes Canada one of the few countries where a fourteen year old can see the film, unaccompanied in most provinces.

The additional details offered by many jurisdictions just list the elements affecting the rating, but Quebec and New Zealand integrate the rating into a synopsis, and acknowledge the humour. Alberta provides a separate synopsis and elements list, and also lists thematic elements. For Deadpool, these are:

  • Heroism versus revenge
  • Humour as a coping mechanism
  • Love and connection

As Pauline Kael said of The Road Warrior, “for all its huffing and puffing, this is a sappy, sentimental film,” and that’s perhaps an apt message about masculinity. The list of thematic elements are good points to ponder. I’d like to think that by acknowledging problematic messages in the film, we are less susceptible to them – and can enjoy, guilt free, a fantasy of power and love.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment. Brutal Violence, Coarse Language, Sexual Content, Nudity
Quebec c13 Under 13 requires adult accompaniment. Violence,
Langage vulgaire
Le film plonge le spectateur dans l’univers des bandes dessinées de la maison Marvel et présente un justicier qui est particulièrement grossier et cynique. Avec un certain humour, cette histoire de vengeance montre quelques brèves séquences de nudité et de sensualité. Des réflexions truffées d’expressions vulgaires, des fusillades et des bagarres violentes avec détails sanglants jalonnent le parcours du protagoniste.
Ontario 18a Under 18 requires adult accompaniment. Brutal Violence, Coarse Language, Sexual Content
  • Occasional gory/grotesque images
  • Aggressive/ frequent slurs/sexual references
  • Coarse language
  • Nudity in a non-sexual context
  • Partial or full nudity in a brief sexual situation
  • Illustrated or verbal references to drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  • Crude content
  • Scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear
  • Embracing and kissing
  • sexual innuendo
  • Implied sexual activity
  • Limited instances of brief simulated sexual activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Violent acts shown in clear, unequivocal and realistic detail with blood and tissue damage
  • Limited instances of brief, visually explicit portrayals of violence
Manitoba 18a Under 18 requires adult accompaniment. No admittance under 14. Brutal Violence, Gory Scenes, Coarse Language
  • slurs/sexual references
  • frequent coarse strong aggressive language
  • nudity in sexual situation
  • frequent explicit violence
  • torture
  • simulated sexual activity
  • occasional crude/disturbing/offensive scenes
  • alcohol use
  • frequent gory/grotesque images
Alberta 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment. Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence Rated 14A for coarse language, portrayals of sexual activity, nudity, and frequent genre violence in a comic context.

Frequent use of the sexual expletive and variations, some in a sexual context; frequent use of scatological slang; infrequent use of vulgar expressions and profanity.
Frequent sexual references in a comic context.
Frequent portrayals of gun, weapons, and hand-to-hand violence in a fantasy context – some blood and dismemberment.
Infrequent portrayals of sexual activity – no nudity, some detail.
Infrequent breast, buttock, and brief male frontal nudity in a non-sexual context.

British Columbia 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment. Coarse language, violence, sexually suggestive scenes, nudity The following were determinative to the classification decision:

Approximately 140 instances of coarse and/or sexual language;
Several scenes of violence depicting beating, shooting, impalement, decapitation, dismemberment and/or explosion;
Two sexually suggestive scenes with one depicting nude breasts;
Five scenes of nudity, depicting breasts, buttocks and/or genitalia, in sexual and non-sexual contexts.

Classifiers also noted the following:

  • Scene depicting sexual content.
MPAA (U.S.A.)  R Under 17 requires parent or guardian. Strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.
BBFC 15 Under 15 not admitted. strong bloody violence, strong language, sex references Violence: Strong bloody violence occurs throughout, including sight of blood spurts after shootings and stabbings. There is also sight of gory decapitations and limbs being severed.

Language: There is frequent use of strong language (‘f**k’, ‘motherf**ker’), as well as milder terms including ‘douche’, ‘dick’, ‘cock’, ‘shit’, ‘ass’, ‘god’, ‘damn’ and ‘Jesus’.

Sex: There are frequent strong sex references, both visual and verbal, including the suggestion of a couple using a sex toy and some crude descriptions of sexual acts.

Australia  MA 15+  Under 15 not admitted. Strong bloody violence and sex scene  See chart for details.
Ireland 16  Under 16 not admitted. Very strong violence. Strong sex references and nudity.  See chart for details.
New Zealand R16 Under 16 not admitted. Graphic violence, sex scenes and offensive language. ‘Deadpool’, based on the Marvel superhero, is not one for the kids! It’s an over-the-top superhero parody laden with crude sexual humour and graphic violence. Wade Wilson, an ex- solider now working as a two-bit mercenary, is diagnosed with cancer. He gets involved in an experiment run by the evil and sadistic Ajax who promises a cure through genetic mutation. Wade is cured but only after the ‘treatment’ leaves him hideously disfigured. Assuming the new identity of Deadpool, Wade goes on the hunt for Ajax to make him reverse the disfigurement. Helped by an unlikely band of allies, Wade confronts Ajax in a high energy showdown. ‘Deadpool’ is classified R16 because of some really graphic violence, some strong sexual content and the creatively crude and humorously offensive one liners the antihero is famous for.
South Africa  16 Under 16 not admitted.  L S V bad language,  scenes involving sex, sexual conduct or sexually-related activity, physical and psychological violent scenes
Hong Kong III Under 18 not admitted. Contains very strong violence,strong sexuality, nudity, sexual references and strong language.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

How to be an Anti-Porn Activist

I recently read Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right, (2013) by Whitney Strub. Strub discusses the origins and operations of the anti-pornography group Citizens for Decent Literature in the 1960s, and touches on later individuals and groups such as Robin Morgan and Women Against Pornography in the 1980s. It struck me that much of the rhetoric of these earlier groups is the same as that used by contemporary anti-pornography individuals and groups, such as Gail Dines and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. There are several common approaches:

  1. Do not define pornography. It can be anything that is vaguely sexual, from lingerie ads to risque TV comedies, from erotic videos to photos of child abuse, from artistic nude paintings to stolen topless selfies. It can also refer to prostitution, kidnapping, or any number of sex crimes.
  2. Declare a crisis. Claim pornography is more common than ever, due to the new technology of cheap paperbacks / storefront 16 mm theatres / 8 mm home movies / videotapes / phone sex lines / DVDs / the internet / mobile phones / high speed internet. Also claim it is more violent / explicit / depraved than ever before.
  3. Stress that this is a public health matter, not a moral or censorship issue. Pornography causes masturbation, homosexuality, communism, rape, aggression, passivity, premature sexual activity, delayed sexual activity, erectile dysfunction, cheating, loss of interest in sex, sex trafficking, prostitution, abortions, divorce, child abuse, suicide, nightmares, drug addition, racism, sexism, brain damage…
  4. Blame greed. Point out the massive profits of pornography producers, to make it clear that this is not about free expression or artistic desire.
  5. Fudge or fake data. Since pornography is never defined, it’s hard to verify if any claimed facts or conclusions are valid, but that does not stop them from getting made up and repeated. The massive profits reported in the 1960s originated in Citizens for Decent Literature‘s completely unsubstantiated claim that porn was a two billion dollar a year industry. More recently, in her book Pornland, Gail Dines lent her academic authority to the claim that porn is a thirteen billion dollar a year industry in the United States. Her source was a web page on an advertising website. There are no sources provided for the financial numbers, or any of the other shocking statistics on the page. The information is not just unsubstantiated, the source is biased: The company that maintains this page sells the internet filtering program Net Nanny. As another example of false data, many sources claim 300,000 children are sexually exploited in the United States, despite this figure being debunked. Claims about porn’s effects, contents, availability, viewing by children, and internet dominance have similarly been debunked.

If pornography is harmless, why are so many people devoted to stopping it? Notwithstanding the statements of some anti-pornography advocates, the primary concern is often old fashioned morality. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, known on Facebook as Pornography Harms, was founded as a Catholic group, and until recently was known as Morality in Media. Anti-porn groups typically stress that they are not opposed to sexuality, but the sexuality they support tends to be straight, married, and limited to procreative vaginal intercourse (pulling out is not only poor birth control, it’s apparently inspired by porn). Anti-porn feminists have dismissed gay porn as simply substituting men in the women’s oppressed positions, and dismissed lesbian porn as simply a show for men, effectively denying these sexualities.

There’s also money in fighting pornography. The many non-profits that fight porn, including Gail Dines’ own Stop Porn Culture, all raise funds to pay their staff and raise more funds. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation‘s Finances page is a broken link. Citizens for Decent Literature collapsed when its founder, Charles Keating, was jailed for financial fraud. Women Against Pornography, which actively opposed sex shops in New York’s Times Square, received generous financial support from developers eager to see the businesses shut down, so that the properties could be purchased at low prices. When it comes to academics, current concerns about campus sexual assault and providing safe spaces for students make being an anti-porn academic a safe route to publications and tenure.

An old tactic for fighting pornography is to distribute it. Citizens for Decent Literature did this, and Stop Porn Culture continues the tradition, with several downloadable slide shows on their website. This is hypocritical for two reasons. First, it presumes that enlightened anti-porn viewers will be immune to the claimed harms of the images. This is reminiscent of old obscenity laws which were intended to protect the easily corrupted (i.e. women, children, servants, the poor, foreigners, etc.). Second, the examples allow viewers to indulge whatever interests they may have in the material, in a ‘respectable’ manner.

Anti-pornography advocates do raise some valid issues about the consumption of porn. What is often overlooked is that the issues raised are not unique to porn. For example, many films and television shows promote sexual violence. Most obscenity laws and anti-porn advocates are only concerned with this when there is explicit sexuality, but studies have shown that the degree of sexual  explicitness has minimal impact on changes in attitudes. Studies have also shown that there is considerably more sexual violence in mainstream films than in pornography. In other words, if we are concerned about portrayals of sexual violence, we need to be looking at Hollywood, where most of it comes from. For the film review boards in Canada, extreme sexual violence is not a concern in widely seen mainstream films, but limited distribution porn films can be banned for simple coercion, even as mild as the ‘sex to pay for the pizza’ storyline.

There are also valid issues about production. Defenders of pornography often note that performers participate of their own free will. Successful performers sometimes promote their work as a lifestyle choice. However, many other performers, such as the countless young people in the pro-am genre, make the choice due to economic necessity and limited employment options. Some producers encourage consumers to shop for ethical porn, which acknowledges the exploitative nature of parts of the industry. Rather than attack a symptom of dysfunctional economies, efforts to stop young people from being exploited for pornography should ensure they have other options.

Anti-pornography advocates have the advantage of a simple, strong argument: Porn is bad. People who defend pornography rely on more complex arguments. They call for considerations of  cultural and media context, acknowledge social and production concerns, quote research studies, and struggle to balance sexual expression with freedom from offense. Pornography makes many people uncomfortable for various reasons, and makes a great scapegoat for social ills. Anti-porn advocates take full advantage of this to advance their own moral or financial interests. They have been making their claims of a public health crisis for more than fifty years, with false or fudged data, but there are still people happy to donate to the cause, in the vain hope that fighting pornography will make a better world.