Sunday, July 22, 2007

Statement on Pornography

 hate the word pornography, pornography is a word that carries legal and social baggage.  Porn is by its meaning something wrong, something to be censored.  But the word is commonly used and the concept of pornography needs to be refined, so the word needs to be retooled in the age of self publishing.

I have learned, through travelling around the world and living in 3 countries that one can always tell just how democratic nation is by seeing how hard or easy it is to find pornography.  This is an empirical observation I have made over the years.  And one that I have followed through with a great deal of study which is long winded, boring, and most certainly wrong.  But the nature of collective knowledge construction is that poorly formed ideas are made public and refined by finer minds until they are more useful.

Perhaps there is a mind listening out there who can take my poorly formed ideas and express them as something more useful. 

But I can only speak for my own ideas. 

On a recent trip through Greece I had the opportunity to observe the art and culture left over from the first efforts by humans to grant power on to the “demos”.  The concept of a human in Classic Athens was by no means perfect, it excluded women and slaves.  But it was an effort to move from the dictatorships and aristocratic rules of earlier time to one which each member of the republic had a share in the power of the state.

During this period of moving from the archaic age to the Classical age we see a radical transformation in art.  Archaic culture, as reflected in Homer, was dominated by power held by warlords, and its art was dominated by geometric patterns.  This age was followed by a period of chaos and colonisation in the Greek states which saw in Athens the emergence of a new order in which the citizens of the state were given the powers and duties of the collective power.  This was also accompanied by a change in art, art became both more naturalistic and nude.  Sexual content in writing and graphic art increased.  Plato was so dirty it was not until recently students read proper texts of him in translation.

Roman Republic, though containing more slaves than free men was also dominated by naturalistic images of nude bodies.  Free men create naturalistic nudes.

When a new dictatorship was formed at the end of the Classical period and the new dictatorships emerged in Europe new levels of censorship emerged.  It is interesting to note that during the wars with Spartan the destruction of penises on statues in Athens was a crime.  In the early Catholic new central power classical statues had their penises knocked off.

I had the chance to be in Ireland in the early 1990s.  Ireland had been a “democratic” state for 70 years before that, but a study of the 20th Century Irish society shows it in fact was dominated by the Catholic Church and not very free or democratic.  Some Irish would even say that the priests were a kind of secret police dominating the state.  Sexual expression and sexual practices were gravely restricted until the late 1980s.

Naturalistic Nude is called, in our time and society pornography.

Again when Ireland reformed itself and its economy in to a more democratic and richer state condoms and pornography suddenly emerged in the stores.

In my travels in Japan and Korea I noticed Japan, which had been democratic since the end of WWII had plenty of pornography.  It was very easy to find.  In the mid 1990s Korea was just emerging from a long period of dictatorship.  Democracy was still rather new and as it spread in the society pornography began to show up in the corners of stores, some films were even showing.  I am sure as democracy becomes stronger pornography will become more common.

Thinking about it I can only think that sexuality is central to the identity and meaning of people's lives.  Just about everything that means anything to us is sexual.  We are men or women, but gender is a sexual construct.  We are gay, bisexual, or heterosexual and these meanings are key to our identity.  We may decided to be sexually active or to be married with children and true to one person, and these are sexual as well.  Its hard to think of things important to how we define ourselves that are not attached to sexuality, and even concepts like race or class get tied with sex.  American obsession with race is tied in with sexual fears about black males.  Social class in Edwardian England was tied in with sexual exploitation of lower classes by gentlemen.

When sexuality is keep secret these key issues are kept from playing a key role in our culture, existing categories gender, race, identity and family can not be discussed.  No discussion not discourse, no discourse no democracy. 

Pornography is the discussion of sexuality.  Where it is banned there is no democracy.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hong Kong: the Flickr'd photo that got blogger Oiwan in trouble

Hong Kong: the Flickr'd photo that got blogger Oiwan in trouble

Yesterday I blogged about the case of Oiwan Lam, a well-known blogger in Hong Kong (Links: 1, 2, 3, 4) who's facing the possibility of a year in jail or a $HK 400,000 fine for having linked to an image deemed offensive by authorities. That image (a non-pornographic, artistic nude) was shot and published by none other than Jake Appelbaum, whose work has been blogged here on BoingBoing many times. Cropped detail of the offending image shown above, click here for the full photo (hazmat warning: contains breasts).

Oiwan reached out to Jake for help via Flickr mail. She blames the photo-sharing site's recently implemented content rating/blocking system in part for the legal situation she now faces in Hong Kong.

Jake believes the program, as implemented, amounts to censorship, and that it helps governments which are already unfriendly to online free speech limit that speech more efficiently. He writes:

The photo in question is mine. It is this url. This comment was left shortly after the linking. I believe this is the original article in question. Sadly, the key part of that comment is this:

Lam said that the photograph was taken from the international photography site 'flickr' (see Nude and Captured") and was an art photograph around which the discussion was totally technical in nature. "It will not arouse immoral, obscene thoughts." Flickr itself has not received any complaints to have the photograph removed. Lam said that she will not remove the photograph, although the InMedia editorial board has not reached a decision yet. She said: "Whether something is a work of art should be determined subjectively instead of just counting how many naughty bits is being exposed."......

Why is this sad? Because recently, I was contacted by Oiwan Lam. I was told that because my account is now rated as 'unsafe' by flickr, this seems to render their previous argument about obscenity inaccurate. It's considered obscene by both the Chinese government censors and the censors at flickr.

Quoting Lam:

however, when flickr introduced its filtering system around mid june, they have flitered away your photos in hk. and the local authority put back the case to the tribunal for classification in june 22. where, they have classified it as indecent.

As I understand that statement, it is because of Flickr censoring my account that the tribunal moved forward with their prosecution. A direct result of censorship on Flickrs part. Flickr doesn't like the word censorship but that's just what they're doing.

Let me be clear: Flickr is instituting a global censorship program that allows for regional censorship of photos. As a Flickr user, I was not informed that I fell into such a program or even in fact that such a program existed.

Flickr won't even respond to my emails about the specific problems with my account or as to why it's being filtered. It took outsiders contacting me before I realized I was being censored. I managed to get a form letter about how I could go through all of my photos and ask for a re-review. I did this and most, if not all of my photos are properly tagged. Still, I wasn't told of any specific offending photos. My re-review included the the previously mentioned photo that's causing Lam so many problems. After writing several more emails, I am still waiting to hear back. Flickr doesn't seem to care.

As I'm currently traveling in Romania, I don't have time to write them daily. My connection here is limited. Their censorship of over 17,000 of my photos is absurd. I don't have 17,000 photos of porn. I have hardly any nude photos at all by comparison to the larger body of my work hosted on Flickr.

First it was journalists who used Yahoo! mail and now it's people who merely link to their property. Though this is certainly a case of an unintended consequence of being a censor, it's important to understand the wide ranging issues behind becoming a censor. They're about to be complicit in putting another (Thanks Yahoo!) Chinese citizen behind bars as an unintended consequence of their attempts to grab foreign markets. Their desire to internationalize has caused them massive problems in Germany.

I personally know two dozen Germans that cannot access my work, the same is true in Austria. The reason according to Flickr is that they have to comply with German law, so naturally they just include Austria as collateral damage. Imagine the joy this causes as I am a member of monochrom and work in Vienna with various groups such as the Metalab. Why does flickr subject Austrian users to German law? A glitch? The law? Or a taste of what's to come? Is this so called legal compliance or just a broad stroke of the censor?

Until users create new accounts with fake addresses outside of Germany, Austria or Hong Kong, they can't even view my photos if they wanted to do so. No amount of clicking about. This is probably happening in more than these three countries but I can't confirm it. A Canadian friend of mine reported some problems but it was just the new default filter system and it was possible for him to click through eventually. He merely had to dig through his preferences to find that Flickr had helpfully enabled filtering of all the photos he could see. To be clear, this was new. Now by default, everyone (and not just new accounts) has a filter enabled that blocks so called 'unsafe' accounts. It may also block 'moderate' accounts, I'm unsure. All of this was without notice and all of this goes without direct comment beyond some simple nonsense form letter about reading their community guidelines. I've read them, I tag and flag my images. I think it's silly but I've tried to play by the rules.

However, I find all of this extremely frustrating. I do not like that my choice in photo hosting is now possibly going to cost a person their freedom. I don't care why they linked to my photos, it's a hyperlink to some conceptual art. Yes, it has nudity but it's clearly labeled as such. It's not pornography, it's art. This photo was specifically chosen because it was tastefully created by working with a professional model, a professional rope rigger and myself, arguably, a professional photographer. This isn't pornography or obscenity by any reasonable measure of either.

It's made me seriously question why I'm using Flickr at all. I am a paying customer but I don't think I'll be renewing my account now that I realize how unreasonable they are. I know Flickr (as well as Yahoo!) has some amazing people on staff and I'm aware they're doing some interesting stuff. The jailing of journalists in China was the line crossed by Yahoo. This censorship crosses the line for Flickr.

Flickr should make this right for everyone involved. They should unfilter my account (as well as the rest of the flickr users), properly apologize in public for censoring me and help Oiwan Lam with the legal assistance needed to stay out of jail. This may mean paying the insanely high fine. I think that's a reasonable way to resolve it considering the moneybags parent company Yahoo. The bottom line of their company shouldn't be censorship of so called questionable material to attract a larger market. They should actually support their so called community. They claim they're complying with local law but really, they're doing so much more as we can see. They're directly affecting local law. They're becoming the judge and jury about what was obscene or what is obscene. They're complicit in an even larger censorship system and this is outrageous.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Decline of Second Life

Virtual marketers have second thoughts about Second Life

Others just want to access a larger community than Second Life offers. Between May and June, the population of active avatars declined 2.5%, and the volume of U.S. money exchanged within the world fell from a high of $7.3 million in March to $6.8 million in June.

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