Censorpedia: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

CYBERSPACE—Since the birth of Wikipedia in 2001, dozens if not hundreds of institutions and interest groups have formed their own Wikis, whether they be political in nature like WikiLeaks or malicious like PornWikiLeaks. But now, the National Coalition Against Censorship has formed a new Wiki that could be very useful to free speech advocates: Censorpedia, a crowdsourced online database of censorship cases within the arts and in culture.

"Censorpedia aids the fight for free expression by providing a repository of incidents involving information about what is vulnerable to censorship, and about the strategies and tactics that have defeated previous censorship attempts," the site's main page states. "Essentially, its articles document censorship outbreaks by providing the who, what, when, where and why. Researchers can search for a specific case, year or keyword using the search box, as well as browse by medium, by grounds for censorship, or explore a random case. Activists can search for ongoing cases or contribute a case that is ongoing or recently resolved."

AVN decided to check out the current entries for film/video, and since Censorpedia is fairly new, the pickings are a bit sparse. Almost needless to say, there's one for Deep Throat, which is described as "the most financially successful pornographic film ever made," and states that the film "was the target of more prosecutions than any film in the United States since Birth of a Nation in 1915." The entry goes on to note two court cases surrounding the film: a prosecution in Georgia in 1975 which found the film to be obscene, and another one in 1976 in Memphis, Tenn., which charged star Harry Reems, 11 other defendants and five corporations with obscenity—the first time an actor had been so charged. The case formed part of the basis for the recent David Bertolini play The Deep Throat Sex Scandal.

Interestingly, the only other XXX film to make the grade so far is Digital Playground's Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, with the notation that the film "became part of a controversy when the University of Maryland, College Park's student union intended to screen the film. After state Senator Andrew P. Harris offered a budget amendment to strip all public funding from any institution airing pornographic films, the university announced that it would cancel the screening. Had the Senator's demand been carried out, the university would have been forced to forfeit $424 million in funds." The result of that censorship attempt, as reported on the site, was, "The students screened the film anyway on the evening of April 6, 2009, in a lecture hall on campus, after consulting with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a panel discussion on First Amendment rights. The new screening was organized by the Student Power Party and 200 students, as well as administrators, professors, and numerous media outlets were present for the screening. The film was shown at other colleges including University of California Davis, University of California Los Angeles, and Carnegie Mellon University without controversy."

But the films are hardly the only other adult industry-oriented entries. There's one for Extreme Associates, detailing the federal obscenity case against the company and its principals Rob Black and Lizzy Borden (a bit out of date, since the pair eventually pleaded guilty, served their sentences, and got out of prison). There's also a brief entry for the Adult Film Association of America, the industry group which eventually led to the formation of the Free Speech Coalition; and a website, YouPorn, an early tube site based in Singapore, which was banned by that city's Media Development Authority.

Of course, XXX films are hardly the only moving media that have been censored. Censorpedia also reports on the suppressions of such films as Lolita (whose distribution contract gave censorship powers to the Catholic Legion of Decency); Salo, Or 120 Days of Sodom (the anti-fascist work of Pier Paolo Passolini which gets three entries, two of which deal with its being banned in Australia); The Tin Drum (targeted in 1997 by Oklahomans for Children and Families, which claimed that showing the protagonist, a child, in situations involving adult nudity violated Oklahoma's obscenity laws); and ... 1934's Tarzan and His Mate (whose nude swimming scene with star Maureen O'Sullivan was cut before the film was widely distributed).

There's also an entry for former adult star Annie Sprinkle, whose stage and screen performances were cited by the American Family Association as reasons to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, and Porn'Im'Age'Ry: Picturing Prostitutes, an exhibition at the University of Michigan which featured documentary photography, video, and installation work by Carol Jacobsen (who curated) and six other artists, including former adult performer and Club 90 member Veronica Vera. A video titled Portrait of a Sexual Evolutionary, which contained sexually explicit material, was included in the exhibition, and fell afoul of then-UM Prof. Katharine MacKinnon and censorious crony Andrea Dworkin.

The above barely scratches the surface of what Censorpedia has to offer, not to mention what a valuable resource it will be for scholars of free speech. And since it's crowd-sourced, it's ripe for academics and others who have chronicled the legal battles involving the adult industry to help create an outstanding database of such fights that can provide insights into the adult entertainment industry unavailable from any other source. (And yes, they accept money donations as well.)