Last week, two legal actions broadly redefined the landscape concerning the kind of media Australians are allowed to possess and view. Although both actions were taken in isolation, their combined impact has made a mockery of laws intended to protect us. Beyond ridiculous, our laws are so out of sync with the world at large, they have now become unenforceable.
In the first of these legal actions, Sydney judge Michael Adams ruled that a pornographic cartoon featuring the likenesses of cartoon family The Simpsons constituted child pornography, even though these representations were not in any way resembling of real people. Apparently the pornographic cartoon could "fuel the demand for material that does involve the abuse of children".
Which begs the question: has Judge Adams ever watched The Simpsons? The casual, almost reckless child abuse that occurs every time Homer strangles Bart is precisely the sort of "abuse" that judge Adams seeks quash. As near as I can tell, television brodcasters and everyone who watches any episode of The Simpsons where Homer throttles Bart (there are many, many such episodes, plus last year's feature film) have violated Australia's laws concerning the distribution and viewing of materials which depict child abuse.
And let's be blunt: Homer does abuse Bart. There's no other rationale for Homer's behavior. It is child abuse. And any materials which depict child abuse in any way are wholly illegal under Australian law.
So that's it for The Simpsons. They'll be leaving Australian television screens a few minutes after this piece gets published, when everyone realises that we've been broadly complicit in criminal behavior. With luck, the court will let us off with a warning. If not, Australia is going to need a few more prisons.
And don't think that you can get your Simpsons fix off the Internet. The second of last weeks' criminal actions has seen to that. Queenslander Chris Illingworth was arrested by police for simply redistributing a video he saw online.
The video - of a man swinging a baby rather violently (though apparently to the baby's enjoyment) - has been classified as "child abuse" by Queensland authorities, and Illingworth has been charged with using the Internet to access and distribute child-abuse materials. Never mind that this video was freely available online, had been viewed by hundreds of thousands of individuals, or that it had been broadcast by American TV stations. None of that matters. Nor do police seem interested in the context of the video, reported to be a Russian circus family having fun with the baby. It is child abuse, and even watching the video is illegal in Australia.
Which means that viewing a clip of The Simpsons on YouTube will soon be as illegal as watching it on television. In particular, videos showing the various times Homer has strangled Bart - which exist - would be very illegal, the equivalent of the most severe child abuse materials. And God help you if you should flip a link of that video to one of your friends. That'd be "distributing" child-abuse materials, because, where we are now, distribution has expanded to include link-sharing.
Not copying, not uploading, just link sharing. That's where we are, and that's just how ridiculous things have become.
Underneath all of this - and the Government's proposal to filter the Internet - is the belief that somehow the distribution of all media can be controlled. This was easy back when Literature & Classification only had books and films to worry about. But those days are long over. Yet there's Senator Conroy, doing a fair impression of King Canute, trying to command the tides.
This battle has already been fought, and it's already been lost. When I first moved to Australia, five years ago, television programmers treated Australian audiences with complete contempt. They'd reschedule series, or cancel them halfway through, or simply wait years to run a series that had already run in America. All of this contempt only created an audience who immediately took up peer-to-peer distribution technologies, like BitTorrent, as soon as they became available.
Today, the commercial networks tout their series as coming "Direct from America", broadcast here just a few hours after they air in the US. The commercial networks lost control of distribution, and were forced to change their practices. If the broadcasters - who built their entire economic models on being the gatekeepers - can't maintain control of their distribution channel, how can the Government ever hope to control the distribution of anything, anywhere?
The age of gatekeepers is over. There are no gatekeepers anywhere. There is no way to keep someone from downloading the horrific child abuse that is The Simpsons. There's no way to keep them from telling others about it. There's no way to keep them from sharing it. Yet we're hamstrung by legal processes and a Government which are completely desynchronised from the world at large.
Something's going to give. And I doubt it'll be The Simpsons.
Click to view image: 'Simpsons & Baby Swinging'
Tags: Biggles9, Baby Swinging, Simpsons, Internet, Censorship, Task Force Argos, AFP, Australian Federal Police, Stephen Conroy, Internet Filtering, Law, Freedom of Speech, Civil Liberties, Socialism, Spies, Kevin Rudd, Australia, China, Broadband, Filtering, Telecommunications,
Location: Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia (load item map)
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