Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get a life over Rent-a-Wife

The decision of a Belgian court to ban an ironic advertising campaign on the grounds of sexism reveals a patronising view of men and women

Welcome to Belgium, where the drive for `sexual equality' is now getting beyond a joke. A government-run equality institution has forced a DVD rental company to stop an amusing advertising campaign on the grounds that it is sexist. But the patronising view of women endorsed by this decision, and the chilling effect the ruling will have on other advertisers, is far more offensive than the highly ironic campaign.

The advertising campaign in question was launched in early 2007 by the Belgian DVD rental company DVDPost, and consisted mainly of the website Rent-a-Wife where one could supposedly rent `women' as one can rent DVDs. To illustrate the powerful search engine and sheer variety of the DVD rental service, customers could search from 9,500 `wives' by hair colour, measurements, age, eye colour and ethnicity. Visitors to the website were also allowed to swap `wives' and exchange them at any time. A short clip (see below) illustrated how the rental service worked: the customer wraps the `woman' he no longer needs and puts her in a box, the postman arrives to deliver the new `woman' and picks up the box containing the `used' one, and all this at the simple click of a button! In short, the website illustrated - by means of this catchy and rather funny un-PC example - how the DVD rental company worked and the advantages to be obtained by signing up for the service. Pretty clever, huh?

But the Belgian Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEWM) was not amused. A federal government institution, established in December 2002, the IEWM's broad responsibility is `ensuring and promoting equal opportunities for women and men and to combat any form of discrimination and inequality based on gender'. To this end, the Institute is authorised, among other things, to handle complaints on the basis of the discrimination legislation and to take people to court if and when it sees fit.

So the IEWM decided to have it out with Rent-a-Wife which they accused of being `discriminatory' and `sexist' and demanded that the website be taken offline. When the companies involved failed to comply with this demand, the IEWM sued them and won the case. The companies were also fined and ordered to publish the verdict on the once-hilarious website, where it can still be found. The DVD rental company also had to pay for the IEWM's victorious press conference. But was this website ad really so bad and sexually discriminatory? And why did the court rule that it should be banned on the grounds of harassment and incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence?

According to the IEWM, the advertising campaign was discriminatory since `women are depicted as mere merchandise, that can easily be exchanged, with men as their users' and that the `use of such stereotypes, that might be considered as sexist, goes against the discrimination legislation'. They claimed that the company behind the adverts was guilty of sexual harassment and incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. Surprisingly, the court went along with this point of view. Concerning harassment, the judge considered the website and its movie, as well as the dissemination given to it by the defendants, to constitute `a scenario of which no-one in their right senses can gainsay that it. satisfies this provision impeccably'.

The court also found the defendants guilty of incitement, agreeing with the IEWM that: `the entire discourse of the website' treats women as `merchandise, as a sexual object', which is `moreover emphasised by the exchangeability'. The judge also added an argument of his own. He quoted a `famous movie actor' from the US, who once was `presented with the question: "Can one laugh at everything?"' According to the judge, this actor answered `in a wise yet nuanced fashion: "Yes, but not in front of just anyone."' This too led the judge to conclude that the prohibition of incitement was breached `since the campaign involved was aimed at just anyone'.

Leaving aside the fact that anecdotes about American actors aren't generally considered sources of law, there are several other issues arising here with the way in which the incitement provision is applied. The Belgian Constitutional Court has stipulated a number of criteria for attributing incitement, with the most important of these being `special intent' - in other words, aside from the fact that the content of words and expressions must in fact incite or provoke hatred and discrimination, it must also be demonstrated that such was the defendant's malicious intention. Nowhere does this ruling attempt to demonstrate anything of the sort though, and it is thus unconstitutional. Moreover, even on the level of mere content it does not demonstrate that the campaign actively incites anything other than renting DVDs.

On the question of harassment, the relevant provision, based on European anti-discrimination law, was initially designed for the workplace. In Belgium, the prohibition of harassment has been broadened to cover the entire scope of the Anti-Discrimination Act: and it is therefore also applicable to the domain of goods and services, as in this case. However, the law requires that the action or behaviour entails an infraction of the dignity of one or more concrete persons, not just an abstract group such as women in general. In other words, it's not intended to cover this kind of (alleged) `group defamation'. It only covers social situations in which someone is the direct object of harassment or intimidation, and that is not the case here at all. In other words, the ruling is legally indefensible as well as being ridiculous.

The verdict also fails to offer any clear criteria as to what is and what is not permissible. Judging from this case, it looks like just about anything un-PC could pass for harassment and incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. In which case, why not ban a whole lot of other Belgian commercials too? Why not start with the classic `Les Hommes Savent Pourquoi!' (`Men Know Why!)' ad for a major beer brand? And what to do with: `It's Prohibited For Women to Drive a Hyron'? What to think of the information campaign that was recently launched by the regulatory body of the advertising world, the Jury for Ethical Commercial Practices (JEP)? The JEP asks: `Why Can't Women Put On Mascara With Their Mouths Closed?' accompanied by the image of a sexy women who is indeed donning her mascara with a suggestively open mouth. And what about the ad for the touring male stripshow, the Chippendales? `Feel the Heat!' it says, next to a larger-than-life photo of a `six pack' - with significant `insight' into the genital area.

The above examples all appear to be just as `guilty' of `sexual discrimination' as Rent-a-Wife. Ironically, the IEWM's patronising view of women - so vulnerable that they would feel harassed and discriminated against by a funny commercial - is much more offensive a view of women's intelligence than the jokey packing'n'posting antics depicted in the Rent-a-Wife commercial. Moreover, since the Rent-a-Wife ruling says nothing about the way in which we can decide what is and what is not allowed, this sort of verdict tends to result in a high degree of uncertainty about the meaning of the law and has a chilling effect on all kinds of legitimate forms of expression.

The Institute's campaigns don't end here. They're now bent on banning a commercial for the traditional Belgian beer, Kasteelbier, because it depicts: `stereotypical gender roles'. In this rather anodyne commercial (see below), a middle-aged man sporting an oversized Bismarckian moustache, relaxing near the fireplace in his dressing gown, exclaims: `Wife, I don't know what it is, but something's missing.' Instantaneously, his ever-smiling, sexy, young and obviously psychic wife appears with a glass of beer on a tray, and seductively says: `Your Kasteelbier, of course!' `Dazzit!', responds the man, visibly pleased by so much womanly understanding. Clearly overjoyed, he drowns his moustache in his refreshing beer, while the voiceover closes: `Kasteelbier, pleasure at home.'

Pleasure? The IEWM begged to differ: `Such a commercial of barely half a minute where the old, traditional, stereotypical gender roles are portrayed, nullifies our sensitivisation campaigns. We are looking into ways to tackle such ads. If we receive an official complaint, we shall undertake further steps.' The IEWM has officially placed a `Wanted' sign on this ad: all the Institute needs now is a complaint to act. No longer satisfied with battling `sexist' advertising campaigns, the IEWM's new mission is to challenge `stereotypical gender roles' through advertising regulations! This is no longer a `slippery slope': we've slid all the way down the slope, and the water's rising well above our heads.

Not only does banning a commercial do nothing to change male and female roles in society, but these sort of cases have also been shown to erode public support for anti-discrimination legislation in general. A study commissioned by the UK Equal Opportunities Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission), the closest British equivalent of the IEWM, demonstrated that the public at large is very dismissive of equality claims that are perceived as trivial or overly politically correct - and rightly so. It's hard to think of better illustrations of this than than the Rent-a-Wife and Kasteelbier cases. The report in question, entitled Talking Equality, concluded that cases that are experienced as insufficiently serious have a significant adverse impact on the public basis for the legal struggle against discrimination in general. It is no coincidence that opponents of discrimination legislation have specialised in consciously advancing all kinds of petty and futile cases.

Worse still, both the complaints and the ruling seem to deem people as unwitting idiots, unable to tell the difference between genuine oppression and a funny website commercial. Throughout the Rent-a-Wife trial, the IEWM seriously questioned the capacity of people to grasp the fact that the website was in fact an ironic DVD commercial: `That this commercial wishes to prompt people to rent DVDs online is not clear initially and the alleged ironic nature of the site will therefore escape many people', they said. Hilariously, the director of the IEWM added, with great concern: `It appears to really be about renting women.' This line of reasoning is also clear in the ruling: the `contested commercial' was, according to the judge, liable to mislead the public `for the reason that the offer consists in female companions. while in reality it concerns renting DVDs.' That famous, fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, would surely be proud of such analytic insight.

The court's ruling suggests that Belgian citizens are basically in need of state protection from horrible advertising campaigns that either mislead them into thinking they were getting a brand new wife or reinforce their horrible preconceptions about gender roles! If the outlandish idea of renting women did not by itself give away the joke, the numerous plays on words, typically referring to video and DVD (`done watching?'; `no late fees'; etc.), would have. If all else failed, the explicit reference to the fact that the site concerned a commercial campaign - `ceci est une publicit‚' - should have made it clear even to a child. All this does not mean that ads such as Rent-a-Wife are tasteful. Maybe it's time for Kasteelbier to join everyone else in the twenty-first century rather than trading on tired stereotypes. But these matters should not be the stuff of court rulings.


Britain: How a Sensitivity Stasi is eroding artistic freedom

Citywide bans on the `wrong' kind of music; poets put under house arrest; plays pulled lest they stir up violence. what's going on in modern Britain?

Imagine a country where city officials could take it upon themselves to ban art exhibitions, pieces of music and other performances that might, in their view, provoke violence. Where a pub, club or gallery could be threatened with having its licence revoked, and effectively be forced to close down, if it played music or displayed art that has been blacklisted by officialdom. Imagine a country where a young woman could be put under house arrest for, amongst other things, writing poetry judged to be `dangerous'. Imagine a country where the strictures on what you can and cannot say are so stifling that arts institutions censor themselves, sometimes withdrawing potentially inflammatory plays or exhibitions in order to keep sweet with the powers-that-be.

Surely no one would put up with such a regime? Even in Eastern Europe in the dark days of Stalinism, individuals protested against dictators who sought to control art and curtail artistic freedom. Yet all of the things listed above are happening right now, here in Britain, and people are putting up with it.

Today it is reported that Brighton and Hove in southern England might soon become the first city in Britain to prohibit art that `incites racist, homophobic or sectarian violence'. Ostensibly, Brighton council's target is `murder music': Jamaican dancehall and rap songs that have anti-gay lyrics. If the council's proposals are ratified next week, then any venue that plays `murder music' will have its licence revoked.

Decreeing that a certain kind of art is inflammatory, and therefore must be censored, is the start of a very slippery slope. Indeed, the London Evening Standard reports that the music of mainstream artists such as 50 Cent and Eminem, which is considered by some to be homophobic, could also fall foul of Brighton's new licensing regime and find itself banned. The Times (London) reports that Brave New Brighton plans to censor any kind of art that incites `hatred' against minorities, including art exhibitions and plays. Maybe the council should start by outlawing performances of The Merchant of Venice, which some people consider to be anti-Semitic. Or by restricting access to TS Eliot's The Wasteland. Surely every copy of that long poem should be purged from Brighton's bookshops and libraries lest it stir up feelings of hatred towards Jews in the hearts of its readers?

Dee Simson, chairman of Brighton council's licensing committee, says: `I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech but I'm against the incitement of hatred against minorities.' In truth, Brighton's new licensing policy is a spectacular assault on artistic freedom. Yes, the short-term consequence might only be that Jamaican dancehall is banned - but the longer-term implications of Brighton's meddling in the arts are chilling indeed. In interfering in the world of art, music and performance, Brighton officials, like little Stalinites, are sending out a clear message about what is `acceptable art' and what is `unacceptable art'. In threatening venues with closure if they display art or play music that incites hatred against minorities, Brighton is sending a message to artists themselves: `There are certain areas of life you must not touch upon, and certain things you must not express.' Any musician or artist who wants to play or be displayed in Brighton might in future have to purge his or her work of anything that could be interpreted as promoting hatred.

Indeed, in arguing that `hatred' in art is a terrible thing, Brighton officials are even decreeing what kind of emotions artists can express in their work and induce in their viewers or listeners. Much of the greatest art evokes feelings of fear, anxiety and, yes, hatred. Think of Edvard Munch's The Scream, or even Alan Sillitoe's popular short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in which the lead character says all the `coppers, governors, posh whores, army officers and members of parliament' should be put against a wall and shot dead. That certainly evoked feelings of violent anger in my 14-year-old self when I first read it. Aren't `posh whores' (aristocrats) a minority these days? Should they be protected from expressions of hatred in art? If Brighton and Hove had its way, perhaps all art would first be submitted to a focus group wired up to brain sensors to ensure that it only evoked feelings of moist joy and happiness rather than anger or spite.

Brighton is doing so much more than simply messing about with its licensing laws: it is using its power to define what is socially responsible art, and to circumscribe the artistic imagination itself. The gay-friendly city on the coast, with its hippy-chick shops, cool cafes and cannabis dens, is frequently described as Britain's most open and bohemian city. Yet one could now argue that artistic freedom no longer exists in Brighton. If the authorities control what music is played and what art is displayed in the city, through a system that amounts to licensing law blackmail, then Brighton is no longer a free city.

Also today, Samina Malik, or the `lyrical terrorist' as she described herself, was given a nine-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service. Malik has been under house arrest at her home in London for the past month. Her crime? She was found guilty of possessing material that might prove useful to a terrorist. That material included her own awful poetry. One of her poems praised Osama bin Laden and another said `Kafirs your time will come soon, and no one will save you from your doom'. Malik was found not guilty of the more serious crime of possessing material with the intention of committing an act of terrorism, and she was not even accused of inciting terrorism. She merely had in her possession pro-jihad poetry, some of it scrawled on the back of till receipts from the WH Smith's store in Heathrow where she worked, and various jihadist documents downloaded from the web. These included The Al-Qaeda Manual, which I once also downloaded - for research purposes, I swear, your honour.

Malik is no TS Eliot, or even Pam Ayres. Her poems were childish and crude; she says she wrote them to be `cool'. Yet her arrest and conviction for downloading written material and for writing dodgy poems is an assault on freedom of thought. Malik has effectively been convicted of a thought crime; she has been punished by the law for what she thought and wrote rather than for anything she did. It took Malik herself, who is clearly not the brightest nail in the nail-bomb, to point out to her judge: `To partake in something and to write about something are two different things.' When someone can be convicted for writing dodgy or dangerous poetry, then the realm of free imagination is itself curtailed: everyone's ability to explore and discuss ideas that are controversial, extreme or just plain absurd is circumscribed.

In the serious art world, self-censorship is rife. At a time when the government has outlawed religious hatred, and when the authorities make wild exaggerations about the problem of `Islamophobia', arts establishments are increasingly editing or withdrawing anything that might be judged irreligious or anti-Muslim. A report by the New Culture Forum listed recent instances of religious-conscious self-censorship in the art world: the identity of terrorists in an episode of the hospital drama Casualty was changed from Islamists to animal rights extremists after pressure from BBC chiefs; a play called Up On Roof, due to be performed by the Hull Truck Theatre Company, was rewritten after the Danish cartoon controversy - its Muslim character was changed to a Rastafarian; the Barbican in London cut out sections of its production of Tamburlaine the Great for fear of offending Muslims; the Royal Court Theatre, also in London, cancelled a reading of an adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata which was set in a Muslim heaven.

The decisive factor behind such self-censorship is not any hard evidence that mass Muslim outrage is brimming under the surface of British society, but rather caution and cowardice on the part of the art world. Only tiny handfuls of Muslims protested over the Danish cartoons and the Pope's supposedly Islamophobic speech; probably even smaller numbers would bother to kick up a stink over a performance of Lysistrata at the Royal Court. Yet arts institutions are sensing that certain things are unsayable and unacceptable today. In our censorious climate, where the government outlaws expressions of `religious hatred' and city councils ban art that `incites hatred', artists and arts practitioners are starting to self-censor anything that might potentially be construed as disrespectful or hateful. In The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's brilliant film set in East Germany in 1984, a Stasi officer lives in the attic of a playwright's apartment and spies on him and his liberal artistic friends. Such an intrusion is not necessary in contemporary Britain; instead, arts institutions have a `Stasi of the mind', a censorious official in their brains telling them to err on the side of caution and ditch anything that might cause a fuss.

Artistic freedom is under assault in Britain. Thankfully, we don't have a Stasi here; but we do have a kind of Sensitivity Stasi - local and government officials who see it as their job to protect fragile sections of the public from offensive, outrageous or hateful art. Authoritarian governments have always interfered in the work of artists. They have always been suspicious of that `Kingdom of Freedom' where individuals have experimented and taken risks in their creation of works of art, free - well, almost - from the demands of the market and the strictures of contemporary morality. Such an arena is an anathema to nervous governments, who prefer to keep everything under their watchful eye and influence. Anybody who values freedom should defend the realm of art and thought from such state interference. As Leon Trotsky and Andre Breton argued in their manifesto for art published in the 1930s, in art there should be `no authority, no restriction, not the slightest trace of compulsion'.


Big loss for false rape accuser

It's starting to happen and none too soon. Considering the dire consequences if an innocent man were convicted -- as has happened -- a prison sentence for false accusers would be more appropriate

LORD of the Dance star Michael Flatley has won more than $10 million in damages from an American stripper who claimed he raped her. The judgment was a long-fought victory for the 49-year-old multimillionaire father-of-one, who filed the lawsuit against his accuser and her lawyer almost five years ago.

The woman, 35-year-old Tyna Marie Robertson, had claimed in her original action that Flatley raped her in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2002. Flatley, however, insisted that sex between the couple, which he did not deny had occurred on two occasions, had been entirely consensual.

It was after their second encounter that Robertson went to the police in Las Vegas to make allegations of sexual assault, in an attempt to extort millions from him and destroy his reputation. Although she lost her case in September this year, the dancer had to wait until Friday to learn the size of the sum he would be awarded by the California Supreme Court.

"Ms Robertson tried to extort money from me by spreading lies and the court sent a message that it will not tolerate these schemes," Flatley said.


Australia: No prison for statutory rape??

It pays to be black in this day and age. The idea that a 10-year-old girl is capable of informed consent to sex is thoroughly rejected by the law but that is apparently for whites only. Below is a pic of the stupid female judge concerned

NINE men who pleaded guilty last month to gang-raping a 10-year-old girl at the Aurukun Aboriginal community on Cape York have escaped a prison term, with the sentencing judge saying the child victim "probably agreed" to have sex with them. Cairns-based District Court judge Sarah Bradley ordered that the six teenage juveniles not even have a conviction recorded for the 2005 offence, and that they be placed on a 12-month probation order, The Australian newspaper reported this morning.

Queensland's attorney-general is meeting with the state's prosecutions boss to consider the possibility of lodging an appeal against the sentence. The appeal period has lapsed, however it has been reported that the state could apply for an extension.

Judge Bradley sentenced three men over the age of consent of 16 - aged 17, 18 and 26 - to six months' imprisonment, with the sentence suspended for 12 months. Judge Bradley said from her Cairns home yesterday that she considered the sentences "appropriate" in the case because they were the penalties asked for by the Crown prosecutor. "I am not in a position to comment and I refer you to my sentencing remarks," Judge Bradley told The Australian.

Family supporters of the child victim warned that violence and murders could follow the judge's decision not to jail any of the offenders, and they questioned what message the ruling sent to the community. When sentencing seven co-accused on October 24 at Aurukun, Judge Bradley noted: "The girl involved was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you."

The four juveniles are aged 14 to 16 years. They and the adults come from some of the most prominent and powerful Aboriginal families on Cape York. Two more juveniles pleaded guilty on November 6 to raping the child, and were also given probation with no convictions recorded. The child victim, now aged 12, does not enjoy the elevated family status of her attackers, and has had to be removed from Aurukun and put with foster parents.

News of the non-custodial sentences has added to the violent hatreds that exist in Aurukun between families and tribes and which have played a part in recent brawls involving dozens of assailants, many armed with sticks and spears.

Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine said last night he had called for an urgent meeting this morning with state Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare, who, it is understood, was not told of the submissions made by her prosecutor for non-custodial sentences for the rapists. Mr Shine said he needed to receive a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the sentencing, including the prosecutor's submissions. "I have been made aware of this tragic event this afternoon and have had an opportunity to read the sentencing remarks," Mr Shine said. "I'm truly horrified by the circumstances of these offences. The circumstances of this case have not previously been brought to my attention, and nor has there been any communication with my office with regard to an appeal. "Rape, particularly of a 10-year-old girl, by numerous offenders, is to my mind horrific in the extreme. "It therefore appears to me that what I consider to be a particularly lenient sentence needs explanation."

One of the adult rapists is on the Australian National Child Offence Register following a conviction on March 29 last year for unlawful carnal knowledge of a female child - an offence committed after he was charged with the rape of the 10-year-old girl. Judge Bradley said the man was the oldest and should have known a lot better. "You cannot have sex with anyone under 16," she said. "However, as I said before, I am not treating anyone any differently in terms of being a ringleader, and in your case, again, I will impose a sentence of imprisonment but it will be wholly suspended so you do not go to jail today. "But if you get into more trouble in the next year, you could end up in jail." The man had been arrested on August 7, 2006, and the judge said the 14 days he spent in custody awaiting his sentence was to count as "imprisonment already served".

When sentencing the juveniles, Justice Bradley said: "All of you have pleaded guilty to having sex with a 10-year-old girl and (one of the juveniles) has pleaded guilty to having sex with another young girl as well. "All of you have to understand that you cannot have sex with a girl under 16. "If you do, you are breaking the law, and if you are found out, then you will be brought to court and could end up in jail. "I accept that the girl involved, with respect to all of these matters, was not forced, and that she probably agreed to have sex with all of you. "But you were taking advantage of a 10-year-old girl and she needs to be protected, and the girls generally in this community need to be protected. "This is a very serious matter. It is a very shameful matter and I hope that all of you realise that you must not have sex with young girls. "Anyone under 16 is too young. Some of you are still children yourselves. Others of you are adults but I am treating you all equally in terms of the behaviour. "I am not treating any of you as the ringleader or anything like that."

She asked each prisoner to stand up and said she hoped they would realise it was wrong to have sex with young girls. Justice Bradley then offered them probation and when each agreed to accept that, she said she would not record a conviction. To one of the juveniles, she said: "You are still a child. You have pleaded guilty to one offence of rape. "You have been in a lot of trouble in the past, though, and you still have some community service to do. "You have not been doing that well. I am prepared to offer you probation but you have got to stick with the rules of probation." The juvenile agreed and was then placed on 12 months' probation, with no conviction recorded.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: