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Prudery is not decency

by Caroline Gaudriault

Eighteen hours. It took Facebook eighteen hours to censor an artistic nude photograph that can be viewed in museums around the world. The photograph by Gérard Rancinan currently on display at the Beaux-Arts in Lille representing two naked women kissing was, it seems, censored first by Instagram before, in spite of insistent objections on the part of the author, being removed after a few hours by Facebook.
The same fate has befallen a number of artists. Several web users have attempted to get around the censors. The German artist, Olli Waldhauer, posted a photo of a couple, featuring both nudity and a racist act. The image was accompanied by the following caption: “One of these people is violating Facebook’s rules”. He simply requested to be censored on account of the racist act depicted rather than for the nudity. Two hours later the photo was taken down on the grounds that it featured nudity.
Meanwhile, a Swedish artist published photos of female nudes in which women’s nipples were replaced by men’s nipples. The images were accepted due to the fact that they were humorous. Are we, then, to surmise that the female body can be seen only if some sort of joke is involved.

At the same time, the most appalling pictures and videos of Kalashnikov-wielding Jihadis, screaming their threats, laughing at the world and dragging the corpses of “infidels” behind them, were still visible on these social networks. In the current climate, this raises a number of questions.

Attacked by the French justice system for having censored Courbet’s painting, “The Origin of the World”, Facebook revised its rules and rendered them more “flexible”: “We will censor certain images of the women’s breasts if the nipples are visible, but we will authorize photos of paintings, sculptures and other works of art featuring naked women”. It would appear that an image of a naked woman can be shown if it is ancient, but that contemporary women can only be shown fully clothed, or veiled, or even entirely hidden by a niqab or a burqa. This begs the question of relativism. Who is shocked by what? For American social networks, whose global influence is undeniable, it is evident that a bare-breasted woman is more shocking than an entirely covered woman. For others, however, a woman who accepts her essence is less shocking than a woman who denies it.

But beyond this relativism of perspectives, there exist, of course, in parallel, other images. And it is here than things become doubly shocking. There are photos of armed Jihadis. There are videos of Imams, like the Imam in Brest in the west of France, making a number of suggestions to French children about the attitudes that they should adopt. There are videos of certain radicalized Muslims who invite their viewers to strike the same radical stance. There are links to comments made by, amongst others, the fundamentalist preacher who, at the Salon de la femme musulmane (“Muslim Women’s Trade Show”), held in Pontoise, near Paris, in September, opined that, “If women display themselves without honour, they should not be surprised if women abuse them” (!). And there are also, quite simply,
portraits, accompanied by their biographical details, of the terrorists who so recently bloodied and traumatized all France, terrorists sadly, but inevitably, presented as heroes. (In Roman times, when a criminal committed a crime his punishment consisted in his name never being mentioned and his portrait never being shown again, thereby plunging into total anonymity and rendering his act deafeningly futile).
And yes, images of this kind appear on Facebook. Still online when photographs of nudes are banned. Yet, in the rules of social networks, hate crime is forbidden in the name of respect for others (!).

When we think of the international reach and the quasi-monopoly enjoyed around the globe (with China, which has developed its own national network, a notable exception) by the American social network, it is legitimate to question its influence on mentalities of people the world over. It is difficult not to conclude that, in dictating their rules in an authoritarian manner in line with their own, unique criteria, these new media, as powerful as traditional press organs, are imposing on us all their own thought, their
own vision of the world.
Social networks are part of our homes and our private lives. They partake of our most intimate confidences. Insidiously, perniciously, this form of programmed censorship has become a habit, gradually changing the behaviour of users who are unable to rebel. For this censorship is clear cut. Accounts are blocked, and if people persist in their wrongdoing, their accounts are entirely deleted.

What is the worst thing about all this? In answering this question, reasonable people will reply that they find artistic nude photography less sordid than Jihadi images and videos. Prudery is not decency. And, in certain circumstances, and particularly today, as French men and French women, it is better to be decent than prudish.

The ZigZag team invites you to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille to view the exhibition “Joie de Vivre”, which runs until January 16, an exhibition where culture is not gagged. There, you will be able to see the real photograph – “girl meets girl (2001)” – by Gérard Rancinan, along with Picasso, Veronese, Murakami, Koons, Mapplethorpe and the others …

© Gérard Rancinan, Girl Meets Girl

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