The recent discussion in the thread Community Standards for Virtual Spaces was spurred by, among other posts, my post of Elle Mehrmand's performance fauxlographic. The post contained an image from the performance which contained nudity, and therefore the HASTAC site admins edited my post to remove the image and link to the UCSD Visual Art Department's website which is hosting the image. I wish that this wasn't two weeks before the end of the semester and I didn't have two papers to write, on top of conference papers, publisher deadlines and deadlines for galleries for spring shows, so that I had more time to respond. Still, I am eager to post a few thoughts in response to the very rich discussions which have taken place in the standards forum.
First, I want to state in response to Fiona's self described "disjointed" comment, which was actually very compelling and apparently very heartfelt, that I love HASTAC. I have met some of my nearest and dearest colleagues in academic thanks to HASTAC, as well as developed sone wonderful friendships. I even met my current PhD advisor, Jack Halberstam, in the HASTAC forum on Queer and Feminist New Media Spaces. I am joining in this discussion with the best of intentions, in order to participate as a HASTAC scholar in making HASTAC as amazing, participatory and transformative as I believe it can be. I am so grateful to the HASTAC scholars, to Fiona and Cathy and everyone who makes HASTAC possible and holds open this space for artistic, academic and theoretical experimentation.
Second, I am very concerned about the suggestion that the legal Terms of Service be used as the basis for the Community Standards document. Among other things, the Terms of Service prohibits posting any material which is "offensive... vulgar, obscene, profane, or is racially, ethnically or is otherwise objectionable;... (iii) Content that is pornographic, sexually explicit or contains nudity; ... Content which contains software, software viruses... links to other websites that contain Content not in compliance with the Terms of Service" These restrictions, as I understand them, could be easily interpreted to disallow Critical Code Studies discussions of software code for computer viruses, The Queer and Feminist New Media forum's discussion of Monica Ong's skin whitening remedy for asian women, Alexis Lothian's vidding discussion which links to erotic (possibly pornographic) vid remixes of Battlestar Galactica, and a whole host of other very important discussions on HASTAC regarding the intersections of digital culture with art, race, gender, sex and ability and how those intersections inform our understanding of comtemporary power and social control.
The point made by John Carter McKnight is central, I think, in that the real problem here is self-policing at the risk of preventing important discussions of contemporary issues. I cited Ai Weiwei's recent tweet saying "if they see nudity as pornography then china is stuck in the Qing dynasty" not to be snarky, but to point to the fact that these issues are very contemporary and global. The removal of Elle Mehrmand's poster for fauxlographic cannot be separated from the fact that her performance is about Iran and Wikileaks. Her body parts as covered or uncovered in that flyer are a direct response to the headscarves worn by Muslim women and the perception of certain types of bodies as terrorist bodies, the agency of women to choose to over or uncover themselves and the rhetorics of American exceptionalism which would present the US as a rational place of democracy in contrast to an oppressive regime which forces women to cover their bodies in order to justify military action against Iran.
By removing her flyer, HASTAC is reproducing the act of forcing women's bodies to be covered up which Iran and other middle eastern countries are accused of as a justification for war, and doing so under a heteronormative rhetoric of protecting the children. The legal argument about minors seeing the image does not hold up, because the Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California (1973) specifies that:
Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. Roth v. United States, , reaffirmed. A work may be subject to state regulation where that work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
As such, anything posted on HASTAC, in a post by a scholar, not in a malicious spam post for example, has "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" for being placed in a context of academic discussion. By following the rules of the Terms of Service, crafted by lawyers to cover all possible legal issues, we would not even be able to link to respected journals such as GLQ which do contain images and language which may contain nudity or be considered "offensive".
I am also very leery of having some areas of the site hidden from those who do not have logins, as this makes posting here much less valuable to the bloggers. A simple warning in the footer or front page can suffice. One tact which may be useful is to create our own terms of service based no our own goals and desires, like Zach Blas' transCoder license agreement, which uses the language of license agreements but modifies them in a queer way.
Ultimately, though, I feel that regardless of the text of the Terms of Service, it is up to the HASTAC administration to defend the space of HASTAC as a place where "humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and engineers" can engage in rich intellectual and artistic discussion. To follow on what McKnight said, I think that the bloggers on the site should not have to be the ones making these arguments, we should be coming up with amazing, challenging, rich, interesting discussions and content and if someone like the university adminsitration where the site is hosted wants to come and interfere with the discussion, I think the HASTAC administration should be the ones defending the valuable work being done here and standing up with all the reasons that it is perfectly appropriate to post photos of nude bodies, even those engaged in having sex, to this site for discussion and analysis.
I myself am poblishing a chapter of a book in the spring entitled Porn After Porn: Contemporary Alternative Pornographies, based on my paper "Queer Porn as Postcapitalist Virus", which was accepted for the Marxism and New Media Conference held at Duke in January, and I hope to be able to post my paper here for discussion. Duke has supported my erotic artwork extensively, with a performance I did with Elle Mehrmand entitled technésexual which was supported by The Experiencing Virtual Worlds Working Group, Information Science + Information Studies, Art, Art History and Visual Studies and Women's Studies. A video of the performance is here and was followed up by a discussion with a class and an artist talk at Duke's Nasher Museum.