Hard News by Russell Brown


Rain on his parade

I have never met Steve Crow. I have no particular wish to do so. He strikes me as an unpleasant, cynical man with whom I would have little in common. His claim in court yesterday that his Boobs on Bikes parade was only "loosely connected" to his commercial porn show was disingenuous to the point of absurdity: the event is quite clearly a large, live advertisement for the Erotica Lifestyles Expo. It seems odd that such an advertisement should be allowed to stop traffic and hinder everyone else going about their business

And yet I am glad that Judge Nicola Mathers yesterday struck down an Auckland City Council injunction and thus gave Crow the go-ahead for his parade. The councillors' action in devising themselves a bylaw by which they could, on hazy grounds, deny permission for a public event they deemed "offensive" was a retrograde step. As No Right Turn points out, it is not against the law for women to bare their breasts in public.

Essentially, we don't elect city councillors as moral arbiters. In years past in New Zealand we've allowed any number of officials and elected members to over-reach their roles and the result has been a mess; a frequently ludicrous mess.

In 1954, MPs in the grip of the moral panic that accompanied the Mazengarb Report (and seeking to stem the tide of comics reckoned to be corrupting the youth of the day) passed a stinkingly awful amendment to the Indecent Publications Act that effectively let nameless Customs officials decide what anyone could read.

The amendment was struck out in 1958, and the Indecent Publications Act received an enlightened revamp in 1963. And yet, the following year, Customs tried to prevent the University of Auckland receiving two psychology texts and a nameless senior officer explained that "It was impossible to leave such matters entirely to the Indecent Publications Tribunal."

The grey men of Customs made their own rules. They would stop what they saw fit to stop, and anyone who didn't like it could take it up with the tribunal at some later time

"Nobody questions the good faith and integrity of Customs officers," wrote Monte Holcroft in the Listener, "but it's time we remembered that public interest includes the defence of freedom as well as protection from pornography."

Things were not all that different in 1972, when police officers to fit to arrest and charge Germaine Greer for uttering the words "fuck" and "bullshit" indoors.

Even in 1994, the moral guardians of the Auckland City Council made it their business to try and frustrate the Hero Parade -- although even they didn't award themselves extra powers: they simply refused to fund the clean-up afterwards. The council of 2008 went further than that; it went too far, particularly given that, as the judge noted, a great many ordinary citizens seem to regard Boobs on Bikes as harmless fun.

It's certainly not my style. I certainly don't have a problem with women's breasts: they're basically awesome. Not only are they profoundly, fundamentally functional, I find them attractive. Of course, the breasts on display today won't be real ones: they'll be as fake and tacky as the commercial porn they were made for. Their public presentation as some sort of ideal doesn't seem very healthy. It seems a long, dulling distance from the authentic night-time naughtiness of the Hero Parade. I suppose that's an aesthetic rather than a moral judgement.

I'm very relaxed about what consenting adults do and how they express themselves, and I consequently don't have a problem with pornography per se: it's just that Crow's thing seems to me to represent the joyless end of the form. (I remember Steve Simpson and Jeremy Wells broadcasting their bFM show from the Exotica show floor one year and becoming palpably depressed by what was around them and deciding to just go home.) And anyone who thinks Crow is just a bit of a wag has presumably forgotten his attempt to include the birth of baby in a porn film. I can think of few things more indicative of a contempt for life that that.

In the circumstances, I agree, again, with No Right Turn that the answer to objectionable speech is more speech, in the form of protest -- but I fear that the women protesting will be so earnest (marching in front of the parade with a banner reading "Pornography Fuels Sexual Violence Against Women and Children") as to simply invite mockery, when the more effective message would be mockery of Crow himself. But perhaps the weather will do the job. This is one parade it would be most amusing to see rained on, literally.

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