The Vancouver Maritime Museum is currently hosting an exhibit called Tattoos & Scrimshaw: The Art of The Sailor. Scrimshaw can refer to any decorative object made by sailors, but in this case describes engraved and inked whale bone or teeth. Some of the engravings contain what might be considered “mature subject matter,” and the museum has taken care with the display and offers a warning on their website:
***PARENTAL ADVISORY: Some of the objects in the exhibit contain imagery not suited for young audiences. Parents strongly cautioned.*** There are apparently more explicit scrimshaw objects not displayed.
One museum visitor has complained publicly and in multiple venues that the material is not appropriate. The controversy has been covered with varying degrees of humor and patronizing by The National Post, Jezebel, and other sources. I’m doing it too, of course, with the Simpson’s clip above. The visitor’s children are apparently 2 and 3 years old, and unlikely to have been harmed by the exhibit, so it is difficult to take the complaint seriously. However, the complaint and coverage raise a few issues.
1. As usual, requesting censorship has resulted in increased publicity.
2. Canada has government censorship of movies and hate speech laws, so we should be comfortable with the notion of censorship. Why do media make fun of people requesting censorship?
3. We generally accept the notion that people under eighteen must be protected from viewing sexual imagery. However, the age of consent is lower than eighteen. So for teens, it’s okay to do it, just not view pictures of other people doing it. Or whale bone engravings that show “A Whaler’s Hope of the First Night Ashore.”