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Obscene Publications Act

Tuesday 28 July 2009, 14:00

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

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As Lars Von Trier's new work Antichrist continues to raise the blood pressure of the sort of tabloid type whose career is predicated on finding reasons to raise their blood pressure, it seems appropriate to note that this is the week of the 50th anniversary of the Obscene Publications Act which defines in law something as obscene: "if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it."

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    Comment number 1.

    Very good point. As I think you've said, most of the furore over Antichrist is from people who haven't seen it but have heard what happens in it, therefore are making a theoretical tick on their checklist of things that they think are wrong, rather than seeing those scenes in context and considering the work as a whole.

    A favourite thing that a university lecturer I had would say was that there was a popular musical that dealt with pornography, drug abuse, prostitution, and murder, and that musical was 'Oklahoma!'. That is a technically correct statement, and it just goes to show how something can be completely misrepresented through describing it rather than people seeing it themselves.

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    Comment number 2.

    Dear Mark,
    Good argument and valid point as always, but a thought occurs to me on the certificate system. In your recent reviews of both Bruno and Antichrist, you commented on how hard it is for a film to get an 18 certificate these days, and how in the case of Bruno it only takes a few (morally ambiguous) snips to pass it off as a 15.

    It was less than 30 years ago that the 'X' certificate was replaced, which I read more as an opening of minds than any kind of moral collapse. So two points. First, do you think that the 18 certificate will soon become redundant; and second, how long do you think it will be until Antichrist can be seen uncut by a 12-year-old? I'm not trying to make a moral point, i.e. luring you into saying something and then holding it up as an example of falling standards (which is nonsense), I'm just interested to know your view.

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    Comment number 3.

    There is a somewhat obvious paradox in determining if a film is morally corrupting: in order to make that determination, you have to see the film in the first place, by which time, if it passes the test, you've been morally corrupted and the damage has been done. Yet if you don't see the film, people criticise you for judging it presumptously and they'd be right. It's a tricky one, that.

    Personally, I'm for the repeal of the Act and against a checklist system. What I believe in is greater transparency, with websites like the BBFC providing detailed information on a film's more contentious aspects. I just don't think there's any reliable way of legislating on this issue.

    And there's also the question of whether we need protecting from being morally corrupted, which is, itself, a very sticky issue.

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    Comment number 4.

    Surely the film that will be most likely to morally corrupt it's target audience is Transformers 2?

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    Comment number 5.

    It is a difficult one.

    As a father I want my children to be protected where possible (arguably the job of the BBFC).

    As an intelligent human being I want to have the choice to be morally corrupted (or not) as I see fit.

    At the end of the day it comes down to the fact that I should be the one who chooses what my family and I subject ourselves to. If as my children grow older they wish to subject themselves to morally depraved cinema going then so be it. It would be as much my failure as anyone else's. But if not me, then why should someone else get to make this choice?


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