Blanket social media censorship of nudity is forcing arts organisations to think outside the box.
A couple of months after a handful of museums threw hissy fits about having their nude paintings portrayed as erotica, Vienna’s art institutions are taking a more pragmatic approach to both bringing their attractions to the people and pointing out the shameful moralising hypocrisy that continues to dominate social media sites.
In theory, most social media sites – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the like – make a distinction between pornography and art, banning the former and allowing the latter even if – shock, horror! – it features naked people. In practice, only the very tamest art will make it past the social media censors, none of whom have the training, knowledge or – it seems – basic common sense to figure out the difference between the Venus of Willendorf and Max Hardcore. Most social media sites are controlled by people with inherent prudishness and a willingness to reduce the whole world to the censorial requirements of the most repressed nations. When paintings by Peter Paul Rubens are being banned from Instagram, you’d think that questions would be asked – but how are non-art experts supposed to make a distinction between art and porn? Where is that line to be drawn? Is it explicitness, the age of the artwork, how respectable it is? Those seem pretty loose boundaries that are open to individual interpretation – is it any wonder that the sites can’t or won’t try to distinguish between what is or isn’t acceptable? It’s easier to ban it all.
If you are a museum or art gallery, this might prove problematic when it comes to sharing your exhibitions with the wider world. It’s not just social media. Vienna Tourist Board ads featuring Egon Schiele’s art were banned from public spaces in Britain, America and Germany – images of naked people, no matter how stylised, are too terrifying for the masses it seems. This experience seems to have forced the Vienna Tourist Board to think outside the box. If people are going to call the artwork in museums pornographic, why not call their bluff and display the work on a platform widely associated with adult content? And so the Vienna Tourist Board has opened an OnlyFans platform.
The ‘Vienna Strips’ campaign is an adults-only subscription page that you can sign up to for $3 a month until the end of October 2021(after which point it rises to $4.99) – and that also gives you a free Vienna City Card or admission to one of the participating museums. As a way of bypassing social media censorship, it’s rather interesting – and I’m sure OnlyFans is loving this step into respectability given their recent problems. They should probably try to capitalise on this and encourage other organisations to do the same – being an outlet for uncensored expression of all sorts not only helps make the platform seem more legitimate to wider society (and those pesky banks and payment platforms) but is also good for their existing clients, I would think. The more ‘respectable’ erotica on the platform, the less everyone else’s work can be marginalised and demonised (assuming, of course, that OnlyFans doesn’t attempt another fatwa against sex workers).
More significantly, it highlights the censorship issues facing art these days as a small number of platforms dominate the way most people receive information and impose the sort of blanket moral censorship that might have raised eyebrows even in the 1950s. To emphasise just how much moralising is engaged in by these platforms, even links to the OnlyFans page were rejected by Facebook and Instagram. Other organisations in other countries should stop being so priggish themselves (or, if they are so appalled by modern sexual expression, perhaps stop displaying their own nudes) and follow the Vienna Tourist Board’s lead in bypassing the gatekeepers of free expression.
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