US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said this phrase in 1964 describing how to define obscenity. Yeah, I looked it up because I was trying to remember how/why the phrase was familiar. I seemed to remember it in relation to either the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibitions, or with the “Piss Christ” exhibition, or was it the Tipper Gore/PMRC/Moral Majority stuff back in the day? Which time did the phrase pop up, from my late high school and early college memories? All three? Probably!
It is interesting to note that Justice Stewart said this line in a ruling about a film (“The Lovers”), proclaiming it to NOT be obscene. Film, ratings, and obscene content pop up every now and then. I’m thinking most recently of the film “Blue Valentine”. Remember Ryan Gosling criticizing the MPAA over the initial NC-17 rating? He pointed out that when men receive oral sex in film, it is “acceptable”, but when it is a woman—well much gasping and pearl clutching ensued (my words, Gosling never said “pearl clutching” that I know of, but I’d love to hear him do so!). Go back about a decade and check out the documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” for an illuminating look at the sex-obsessed, secretive, MPAA board. Filmmaker Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) makes the same point as Gosling in the first few minutes of the film. Filmmakers interviewed in the film gripe the most gruesome violence merely gets an “R” rating, but too much use of the word “fuck” and too much, or ahem, “certain”, read: gay, intimacy scenes gets you a “NC-17”. There are many gripes in addition to this—such as the accusation that the MPAA serves the big studios and punishes the small independently made films—but the pearl-clutching, community standards claim is what I’m interested here. It seems the standards—if there are any—are based on personal prejudice rather than what most of America thinks. The documentary explains all this much better than I; go check it out.
Why this musing about film ratings? Well, it is an interesting reflection of puritanical American culture. Maybe considering it can provide insight into the “tee-hee boobies!” breast cancer culture. The MPAA was established so the movie industry could self-regulate or self-censor—as abhorrent as that word is for artists—so the government would not step in. The MPAA has these guidelines so parents can make a judgement call as to whether a film is appropriate for children. Has the MPAA brainwashed us to think excessive violence is permissible, but women’s bodies and pleasure is wrong?
So this brings me to (dun, dun, duuuuuuun) the Community Standards—you guessed it, the standards and constant removal of mastectomy/lumpectomy/reconstruction or non-reconstruction photos from Facebook. This has happened before, and Facebook established guidelines. Read The Sarcastic Boob’s post about her petition, her meeting with Facebook staff, and make sure to click to the Facebook policy she includes in her post. Oh hell, I’ll save you the effort—here is the text from the page you probably didn’t click:
Does Facebook allow post-mastectomy photos? Yes. We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies.
So you see, my fuss is not with Facebook, although I agree with Beth that the staff could use some training before the removal of posts due to reporting. My fuss is with The Community, the people who report these photos. I guess they “know obscenity when they see it”?
So what is it that gets some members, but not others, of the Internet/Facebook community so up in arms about seeing photos of all stages of breast surgery? My question is rhetorical—I sure as shit don’t have the answer! I’m a pet sitter—I like animals better than humans. Perhaps some psychologist or anthropologist can tackle this topic.
But I cannot help musing on this topic. So here are my totally amateur thoughts.
My first reaction is—if someone does not like what they see, why look at it? I object to LOTS and LOTS of things, all the cancer woo woo comes to mind. I have adjusted my various social media feeds so I am less likely to run into it. I don’t “like” or follow pages of the numerous rah rah cancer organizations—if I comment about the latest nonsense, which is rare, I only found out about the latest outrage because a friend commented so it popped up in my view. Mainly, I remain blissfully unaware of stuff I find annoying. Hey, there are always cat videos I can click!!
But is simply ignoring an issue, or making my Internet world pleasing to my eyes, the equivalent of putting hands over eyes, ears, and mouth like those monkeys? Am I in, gasp, denial?! That isn’t how I want to operate. I am invested in wanting to make the world a better place, at least in some small way—tho’ I’m not convinced I have the ability to do much of anything.
That said, do people who report “offensive” images believe they are doing something worthwhile by imposing their idea of a “pleasing Internet world” onto others? Well, as my all-time favorite quote goes, “just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right,” thanks Ricky Gervais. And yes, I try to remember that quote when I get all offended at crap like the rah rah, fight like a girl cancer campaigns. I think those campaigns are damaging, but then some find solace in them, I can point out what I think is wrong, but I cannot ban those ads.
I guess my larger point is this: pictures of these scars in various stages like just after surgery, after reconstruction, or a tattoo, were helpful to me and I think they are helpful to others. An argument can, and has been, made, that these sorts of pictures should be restricted to private or closed group pages. Not sure I can get on board with that—I think I belong to only 3 cancer groups. I’m just not very social or friendly. And it took me a long time to join those pages—Hell, it took me some time to come back to Facebook, about 2 years after I began my blog! No wonder it was difficult for me to figure out what I wanted to do regarding reconstruction (I opted out)! I thought of getting a tattoo on my own, because I had not discovered groups or Pinterest boards devoted to the idea, until I really went looking. Perhaps seeing photos of others taking back control of their scars would’ve eased my time of it, who knows?
In short, what one person finds obscene another person views as something, dare I say “positive”, or at least in my case, a treasure trove of ideas, like a shopping website (although I did not use any of the tattoo ideas I saw).
So with these extremely opposing views within The Community, who has the right to create The Community Standards? What is obscene? Who defines it, and how much can it be regulated? How can the tee-hee, sexy times, save the boobies images that pop up so frequently, especially you-know-when, be acceptable and images like the ones being removed be deemed unacceptable? Why aren’t the “donate now” scantily clad women with strategically placed arms ads being removed? See, this is where I think the film industry/MPAA has maybe screwed up our views about what is “R” versus “NC-17”. I’m not saying breasts are not sexual organs, but there is something truly messed up about the display of them. It seems as long as breasts are pictured in one of these sexy ways, it is OK, but when women take control of what happened to their breasts, documenting via pictures the process—well, that just cannot be allowed!!
Again, I am not a social critic, a psychiatrist, or other professional qualified to analyze these things. I am merely a member of The Community—a community I joined NOT by choice, because Hell’s Bells, I would’ve chosen to NOT get cancer. I am a member trying to navigate these standards, but I don’t understand the rules.
Like I said, I don’t have the answer. I don’t know why this happens, or how to fix it. I just think our “Community”, both within CancerLand, and among those who may have to relocate here (as in, everyone else, since everyone is a potential cancer patient), might reconsider our definitions of obscene material. The “I know it when I see it” guideline differs from person to person. For me, I “know” obscenity when I see it too. Here is my definition: every time I see another post announcing yet another death from metastatic breast cancer.