If you’re looking for some unconventional reading material this week, this list of the Canada Border Service Agency’s Prohibited Titles from October to December of last year is a fairly interesting browse.
The list is linked from a recent article in Xtra last week about gay porn studio Lucas Entertainment’s battles with CBSA over their line of fetish films (titles include “Piss!” and “Farts!” — I’ll leave the details to your imagination).
Censorship is full of grey areas that make it hard to come down on one side or the other of the debate, and it’s particularly complex from a queer perspective, because it hasn’t historically been in our interests to advocate censorship (Little Sister’s bookstore in Vancouver had a much harder time of things than Lucas Entertainment; their troubles with the CBSA span more than two decades), but there are queer groups out there advocating for the censorship of homophobic speech.
The most high-profile example is the campaign against “Murder Music” — Jamaican dancehall music by artists including Sizzla, Elephant Man, Buju Banton and Beenie Man — that contains violently homophobic lyrics. Stop Murder Music, who have been leading the campaign in Canada (and OutRage! who are doing the same in Britain), claim that these songs constitute hate speech and have been putting pressure on HMV and iTunes to stop selling their albums. The artists have had to cancel shows in Britain and the US because of the success these groups have started to have in their campaign.
I have nothing to say in defence of songs like Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye“, and I’d be behind SMM 100% if it wasn’t for my suspicion that rallying in support of any form of censorship would come back to bite us in the ass.
In some ways, Murder Music is a bad example because the SMM campaign argues that Elephant Man’s lyrics, for example, are not only distasteful but socially irresponsible, and that they actively contribute to a culture of violence in which gay people are profoundly unsafe. But ultimately, it all comes down to the same thing: the policing of the entertainment industry.
Honestly, I have a hard time formulating an unproblematic defense of Lucas’ fetish films. The only argument that has real force for me is that if you ban out-there fetish porn, you’re going to set a precedent for banning less extreme porn. And that seems like a dangerous road.
When I hear dancehall tunes calling for the violent murder of gay people, instinct tends to take over. I want to draw lines, bold lines in black Sharpie that stop this sort of thing from ever reaching my, or anyone else’s, ears. And when I read that fetish porn I personally find entirely unappealing isn’t making it to the shelves of 24-hour video stores, I find it hard to get too riled up about that.
But none of these things happen in a vacuum. Murder Music attacks a minority that is still fighting for its right to exist and to be free from danger: that’s the context that makes it absolutely indefensible. Banning it outright is a limitation of the rights of artists to speak their minds. And I can’t help worrying that there will come a point at which limiting the speech of people we don’t agree with starts to impede on that of people we do.
Cate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.