Safe for public consumption

[Notice. This is mostly about imagery rather than language.]

Max sent me a hot-hot man-man postcard, a reduction of a photo by Tom Bianchi. On the back she wrote:

Love this photo, and it is, I believe, amazingly, safe for public consumption according to the US Post Office.

And indeed it came through the mail unscathed and unremarked on. So I’m assuming that it can be exhibited on this blog. That’s one of my topics for today: what’s allowable “in public” — without occasioning sanctions, like having this particular posting deleted by WordPress or having my whole blog closed by them or having me barred from posting anywhere on WordPress, or corresponding actions by Apple’s MobileMe, where my images are currently stored. (Note similar issues about text, like my fiction and poetry.)

I’ll start with an appreciation of Bianchi’s photo and go on very brief comments on this issue and several others.

Ok, you’ve had enough time to cover your screen or decide to postpone looking at the photo until a private moment. Here it is:

When I got the postcard, I was sure I recognized the scene. It’s from Bianchi’s On the Couch, I thought (displaying men sexually — solo, in pairs, and in threes — on a couch in Bianchi and his partner’s house in San Francisco). But then I saw that the couch was the wrong color (black rather than the brown in the book), and discovered that this photo was indeed not in it.

Not to despair. The book I have is volume 1. Not only is this photo in volume 2, it’s on the cover:

(Yes, colors vary a lot depending on the way they’re reproduced.)

It’s a splendid composition, the downward diagonal axis of the two interwined bodies intersecting the lines of the couch, the men (who I’ll label Ash, on the left and underneath, and Rick, on the right and on top) supporting themselves and each other in affectionate contact (the arches of Ash’s feet fitting neatly onto Rick’s calves, Ash’s hands cupped on Rick’s shoulders, Rick’s hands levering on Ash’s hips) while they gaze into each other’s eyes, mouths slightly open in arousal and in anticipation of their kissing.

There’s no mistaking what these guys are up to — Rick is within inches of penetrating Ash — but the photo doesn’t show the operative parts (the “private parts”, including the anus) of either guy, so it gets through the U.S. mail uncovered, and Bruno Gmünder can put it on the book’s cover (where anyone could see it without opening the book), and I can show it to you on my blog.

That was topic 1.

Topic 2 is the giant set of issues surrounding “pornography” and “obscenity”: What counts as pornographic or obscene? To what degree are such judgments dependent on aspects of content, form, source, audience, setting, history, cultural status, and so on? Who is entitled to regulate such things, and for what purposes?

Bianchi’s male photography — figures artfully placed in the frame, photos gorgeously reproduced, in books that are a pleasure to hold — strikes some observers as porn, some as art, and people actually get into discussions over whether it’s porn art or art porn (echoes of fictobiography versus biofiction here). And some observers find the photos offensive because their subjects are so beautiful, so perfect, so self-absorbed.

Bianchi sees himself as demonstrating the sacredness of gay sexuality. From the intro to Couch 1:

I have come to see our sexual energy as a vibrant aspect of our inner Godliness. I wanted to create an erotic record that demonstrates this truth.

Ouch. Somehow this sort of thing works better when Allen Ginsberg pours out mystic-oceanic writing about sex and his poetry. I’d excuse it in Bianchi as the over-earnest posturing of a young artist (after all, people are forever asking artists to explain what their work is about, to justify what they do, so you’re under pressure to say something), except that he’s only about five years younger than me.

He’s certainly fending off the criticism that his photography is intended to do nothing more than arouse gay men sexually (as if this were automatically damning), and protecting himself from charges that all he’s doing is hawking dirty pictures to deviants.

Topic 3 is another giant set of issues, having to do with “public” versus “private” things. The U.S. mail counts as “public”, very public, while the net and cable tv are still public, but less so, so you can show private parts and talk about them in plain terms, while network tv is really really public, so that in the U.S. there’s legal controversy over whether even “fleeting obscenities” can be tolerated.

Topic 4 is still another set of issues, having to do with what’s “offensive” (from whom, to whom, and on what occasions) or merely “tasteless”. In particular, how does homosexuality color all these things?

There are vast territories here, which I’ve just barely explored. Though I certainly care about them, as the maker of collages many of which I cannot show you here (and cannot exhibit without elaborate protections for those who might see them) and as the writer of material (fiction, poetry, fictobiography, memoirs) some of which I cannot publish here (though I’m always pushing the envelope).

3 Responses to “Safe for public consumption”

  1. Censoring web images « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Safe for public consumption […]

  2. Like/unlike « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] from my posting “The Truly Huge” (on gigantically muscular men in gay porn) and my posting “Safe for public consumption” (on an arty Tom Bianchi man-on-man photo that stays just […]

  3. X or not? | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] been in this territory before, with respect to a Tom Bianchi  photo that has no “private parts” visible, but is clearly a photo of one naked man about to […]

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