What are community standards on erotic films?

If you want to see the film Viva Erotica be grateful for federalism. The Sydney Morning Herald puts the situation this way:

AS SEX films go, Viva Erotica is tame: 28 minutes of sex and no violence. But because the sex is real, it is classified X18+, a rating that means it is banned from sale in all states.

All states, yes. But not all territories. Our-not-quite-so-conservative-as-it-seems federal government has declined to use its power to over-ride territory laws permitting the sale of X-rated videos or to instruct its wholly-owned corporation Australia Post not to deliver them around the country. But porn peddler Adultshop is seeking to overturn the X classification of Viva Erotica on the grounds that it does not offend ‘community standards’. After all, R-rated real sex is currently showing at your local art house cinema in Shortbus. But under the Office of Film and Literature Classification guidelines (pdf) Shortbus‘s real sex is not the same as Viva Erotica‘s real sex because the former has bothered with a plot and the latter has not.

To help its case, Adultshop had ACNielsen conduct a survey.

Explicit erotic films: Films and videos primarily involving various forms of actual sex, including close-ups, involving consenting adults, with no coercion or violence. In the ACNielsen survey, Australian Adults were asked: Do you personally find this content offensive (ie does it cause feelings of outrage and/or disgust)?

Apparently only 30% of respondents experienced outrage or disgust, and vast majorities thought that these films should be available to adults (though with interesting gender differences, 70% of women, 82% of men). In Helen Vnuk’s book Snatched: Sex and Censorship in Australia she cites several other surveys with similar results: in 1994 two-thirds for X-rated videos being available, 83% in 1997, and 73% in 1999. In the Sex in Australia survey, they found that 37% of men and 16% of women had watched an X-rated video in the last 12 months.

However, this opinion seems to be conditional on the material being kept out of the public realm. The Australian Election Survey has been regularly asking questions about the ‘right to show nudity and sex in films and magazines’. In 2004, half its respondents thought that this right had gone too far, while only 10% thought it had not gone far enough. Perhaps there are concerns about how easily children can access this material.

I’m not convinced that these polls show that the ‘community’ would approve of Viva Erotica being given an R rather than X rating. In theory at least, it would mean that Viva Erotica could turn up in mainstream cinemas that also show films for children and don’t seem to check which of the sometimes numerous cinemas you go into after showing your ticket. It could also be made available through mainstream DVD outlets. Allowing X-rated videos to be sold legally around the country in shops children are not permitted to enter more obviously fits with the ‘community standards’ recorded in these polls.

20 thoughts on “What are community standards on erotic films?

  1. Viva Erotica is actually a quite amusing Hong Kong comedy about one man’s attempt to make a skin flick! It used to appear once a year as a Saturday night feature on SBS. I didn’t think it was any more offensive than Hollywood movies.

    Off thread, I’m sorry.


  2. It’s bizarre. We’re happy to let people see splatter movies, but can’t bear the thought of them seeing people bonking. But we’re happy to let them see people *pretend* to bonk.

    Personally I think the values promoted to kids in everyday TV shows and ads are more pernicious than those in most X-rated films.


  3. Who cares about community polling? You’re too obsessed with polls, Andrew.

    Let the market decide. Cinemas can choose to screen this movie or not. Those cinemas which don’t make adequate provision for ensuring that kids don’t sneak in to watch this movie will see bad publicity and parents voting with their feet. Others may not care if the same cinema that screens Harry Potter may also screen this because they’re confident enough their kids are well supervised by them. Other cinemas to avoid such fallout may just install partitions. Ditto with video stores. This is a non issue.

    In the absence of a puritanical socialistic waste of money like the OFLC movie theatres will install their own rating system.


  4. The polling is interesting in two respects.

    As far as the procedure under existing law goes, this polling may be evidence the classification board must take into account when making its decision. However I’m not familiar the Act, Code and/or guidelines though.

    Its also interesting if you want to take a practical, pragmatic view of the world for a moment and consider what could be achieved to expand liberty and what measures may get up in the current political environment.


  5. Slightly off topic, but still on movies and community standards. I let my young children watch ‘Pirates in the Carribean’ rated M (or something). My nephews (approximately the same age) are not allowed to watch the movie, because it is rated M. Their parents agree that there is nothing harmful in a pirate movie, but argue that with an M rating it is not appropriate for children to watch. All the children asked me, and my sister-in-law, for an explanation. SIL “It’s got an M rating, you’re not watching it”. Me “I don’t let the government do my thinking for me”. Eight year olds don’t understand my logic – my children can watch when their nephews aren’t around.


  6. Not off topic at all, Sinclair. Why let a bunch of god-botherers or busybody schoolmarms or whoever else happens to be sitting in the OFLC at the moment do yout thinking for you and even worse enforce it on cinemas which are private property, not the ‘public realm’? You have a wealth of information to guide your decision making. Even Google will do.

    Damned, back in my childhood days when nanny statism wasn’t so prominent I was reading about people dressed in tights bashing up other people dressed in comic books. Now we’re saying children can’t watch pirate movies? What do people think Treasure Island is all about? I was reading that at roughly the same age. What is the world coming to?


  7. ……..I agree with Sinclair and Jason, but I note that as a parent I find useful the sort of advisory notices you get before TV programs – eg contains “strong sex scenes” or “strong violence”. This allows me to make informed decisions about suitabi;ity for children, but the system is one of self regulation- the TV channels keep my business (me viewing) and hence their advertising revenues providing that they don’t surprise me with nudity etc etc.


  8. “god botherers and busybody schoolmarms”
    The OFLC are statutory officers who are required to follow detailed guidelines in making their decisions in accordance with the law. Your abuse would be more appropriately directed at the legislators or their constituents.


  9. I think there are several issues here. First, the OFLC has censorship powers. Censorship is everywhere and always wrong. If censorship is their function, they should be scrapped. We should not compromise with iniquity. Second, the OFLC provides consumer information. So ‘Pirates’ is rated M, because it has ‘supernatural themes’ [spoiler warning] – the crew of the Black Pearl are cursed to be ghosts until they return the gold they stole. Fine, the Omen and the Exorcist have supernatural themes too. Are they rated M? Or M+15 or what? There is nothing rong with consumer information before TV shows as Jimmythespiv indicates. If the OFLC play a consumer information role, they need to lift their game and provide finer classifications. (To the extent that producers have an incentive to provide consumer information, the OFLC would really be an auditing function). But everytime I go to the movies (once or twice a year) and the OFLC blurb before the shorts, I think ‘Fascists – big brother is here telling me what to do and what to think’.


  10. Sinclair, on regarding your first comment, I would always behave like you and would allow my child to watch any movies which I consider OK, regardless of the rating. I have trouble understanding your nefews’ parents logic. Maybe it is similar to the street crossing on red light – even in the absence of any cars in the vicinity. In my view though the harm from movies is much smaller and therefore such precautionary policies are disproportional to the threat, in my opinion.


  11. “First, the OFLC has censorship powers. Censorship is everywhere and always wrong. ”

    I am not sure what exactly you mean. Apart from erotic aspect, there are other areas where restrictions on publication of certain material are in force:

    – state secrets;
    – insults;
    – defamation;
    – reporting names of suspects under age of 18;
    – reporting names of victims of crime (such as rape);
    – publicity that can prevent a future prosecution (“someone cannot be named for legal reasons”).

    I don’t know if censorship is the right word but there are certain types of information that would have been published if market forces were the only mechanism, but whose publication is restricted by law.


  12. I’m not convinced ‘censorship’ is the correct word for some of those categories – but even there I’m not sure why we wouldn’t want to reveal that information (victims of crime under the age of 18 I can understand, but not criminals under the age of 18).


  13. Sinclair, I am not talking criminals, we are talking about suspects. If and when they are convicted, their names are published.

    As to the vistims of crime, this should be regardless of age. Just like private medical records.


  14. I understand why victims might not want to be named. But if individuals are accused of a crime, they are accussed in open court – I do think think the court process should be open and transparent (as far as possible). I am sympathetic to the notion that, in some crimes, where the names of the accussed and accusor be suppressed until after the court case, but not entirely convinced. Again, I’m not sure this is censorship.


  15. Porography is the last frontier in the demise of civilisation. All the other taboos have been transgressed. A strong censorship authority is essential to a healthy society preventing the final slip into anarchy. A strong censorship authority is also good business providing employment for good upright men and women that can make a real contribution to the communities morals. Censordhip standards send a clear message to us all to lift our game by not descending into the gutter. Tight censorship tells film makers and publishers not to parade their dirt in public if at all. Porn is unhealthy and can lead to brain cancer. Human sexual activities need to be kept under cover and children should never be expoxed to such filth. The sexual act can and will be finally overcome with the help of invitro fertilisation and original sin can be banished from mankind forever. Transgressors showing nudity filth are criminals and need to be sent to prison to prevent them infecting our children.


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