June 08, 2001 09:29am
Gay Porn Defended by Canadian Media
(TORONTO, Canada) -- At first blush, the stakes don't seem high. Glad Day Bookshop, a Toronto gay and lesbian retailer, is on trial for selling a video not approved by Ontario's censor board [http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca]. Yet this case has the potential to profoundly alter the way the entire country regulates sexual expression.
In court last week, the chairman of Ontario's censor board insisted it performs a necessary service. Screening videos before they reach the public, banning some and ordering scenes snipped from others is necessary, he says, to prevent "harm to society's vulnerable people, especially children."
A few days ago, I watched the video in question. Titled "Descent," it was released in the United States by Hot House Entertainment [http://HotHouse.com] in 1999 and is, by far, the best porn film I have seen.
Having long complained about how unappealing the guys in male-oriented and couples porn are, I now realize I've been renting from the wrong section of the store. While a segment of the gay market goes for pretty boys à la Leonardo DiCaprio, this film doesn't fall into that category. Instead, with their barrel chests, powerful legs and genuinely handsome faces, the dozen decidedly grown-up men featured in it are my kind of eye candy.
"Descent's" production quality is well above the industry's average, its music is interesting rather than cheesy, and the narrative is less embarrassingly bad than usual. Like vacant apartments, however, adult videos usually promise more on paper than they deliver and this is no exception. The marketing blurb that describes "Descent" as a "sexually controversial" film that "cuts down through layered strata of pain and pleasure" overstates matters considerably.
I can name a dozen "hot" romance novels (a highly successful category of mass market female-oriented fiction) that contain more sexually controversial material than does this video -- including kidnapping, physical coercion and restraint, non-consensual sex and drugs to ensure sexual compliance. I've written articles for this newspaper about the raunchy content of books such as these, and it's worth observing that the world has not collapsed even though provincial censor boards pay them no mind.
Approximately 10 of Descent's 90 minutes contain scenes showing three of the actors bound elaborately with rope, with their mouths taped shut. But few people who've seen Madonna's grittier music videos would be shocked by these scenes [http://MadonnaMusic.com].
The reason Glad Day has decided to go to court over this matter is because this country's regulatory systems are hopelessly behind the times. Canada Customs [http://www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca] still spends tax dollars inspecting sexually explicit videos prior to their importation, looking for reasons to reject them based on the Supreme Court's 1992 Butler decision [http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca] (which says even though there's no proof certain kinds of pornography cause harm, the fact that many people believe in such a link makes it OK to restrict what free citizens see).
Historically, provincial censor boards spent their time looking at porn because it was felt British Columbians might tolerate different kinds of sexual expression than Nova Scotians. Butler changed all that. Tossing out the community standards model, this decision said porn should be prohibited only if it might lead to harm.
Because bureaucracies almost never declare themselves redundant, provincial authorities a decade later are still subjecting films already cleared by Canada Customs to a second, wholly unnecessary, inspection. Adding insult to injury, Ontario charges an onerous $4.20 a minute inspection fee for English and French films, and $78.75 a minute for those in other languages. Other provinces, such as Quebec, charge flat fees. Manitoba is the exception. It stopped censoring films in 1972. And, as was admitted in court last week, there's no evidence the social fabric has suffered.
But there's an even bigger reason why inspections such as these are a waste of time: the Internet. Every Canadian with a computer can download, 24 hours a day, a wide range of material that would never make it past government censors. Not everyone is happy about this, but unless we're prepared to become a police state, that's life.
In an electronic world, trying to prevent people from looking at certain kinds of images by inspecting only imported videos is like trying to stave off a flood with a single shovel. Provincial censor boards are a relic of the pre-Butler era. Butler is a relic of the pre-Internet era. It's time to join the 21st century. -- Donna Laframboise