Quick Post: Obligatory thinky think about #Tropfest (#My2Cents)

Don’t watch the film.  It stinks.

It might surprise everybody to know that I’m not a Tropfest-hater.  I quite enjoy it.  Every year, there are a few films which nail the short film format and make something enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Tropfest has often had more than its fair share of turds.  Sometimes, the turds are so turduriffic that it’s difficult to understand how the judges shortlisted the film.  Every so often, once every few years, one of these stinky poo turd films manage to win.

This is what happened this year with a film called ‘Bamboozled’.  A man is standing at a bus stop when he’s approached by a man claiming to be his exgirlfriend.  They go out to catch up on life since the ex transitioned to a man, sparks reflame between them as they get drunk, and our protagonist wakes up with morning after regret.  Just as this turns into a ‘Bap bow. You slept with a tranny’ joke, a camera crew bursts into the room to reveal that our protagonist is on a Candid Camera program and the guy he just slept with isn’t his ex-girlfriend, but just a guy.

The film is morally repugnant.

With artistic expression, you get a bit of a licence to push the limits of acceptable behaviour.  As a society, we have come to understand art as one of the avenues through which we challenge the comfortable status quo.  The contested aspect of this is to what extent artists are beyond sanction.  If I declare myself to be an artist and create a piece of work which is defamatory, for example, people seem willing to say that this is beyond the scope of the artistic licence.  Curiously, the same people who are the first to call a lawyer when they fear they might have been defamed are often the same people who defend the ‘right’ of artists to marginalise, intimidate, humiliate, and offend minorities.

It’s in this murky mess that we find ‘Bamboozled’.  What is it doing and why is it being so offensive?

Unfortunately, the idea is so poorly executed that it’s difficult to see precisely what the film is supposed to be saying.  The director has said that it’s an attack on the media’s portrayal of homosexuality, and raising awareness that homophobes exist.  It’s difficult to see how this was supposed to work.  The film suggests that the media’s portrayal of homosexuality is linked, somehow, to the idea of punishment…?  The ex-girlfriend uses a media company to seek revenge on a person who dumped her over a decade ago by tricking him into an homosexual act.  Therefore, this is critiquing the media’s presentation of homosexuality?

I don’t see how that works.

The problem seems to be that the protagonist is the butt of the joke, not the media company at the end.  The protagonist is stripped naked in front of the cameras by the man who pretended to be his ex-girlfriend.  Here is a man who is being shamed for sleeping with a man that he thought was a transsexual.

This then touches on issues of consent in sex.  The Victorian Crimes Act, for example, notes that a person does not consent if:

(f)     the person is mistaken about the sexual nature of the act or the identity of the person

Without going into the crazy world of MRAs, we have a really awkward and uncomfortable situation where a person is presented as having been raped and we are encouraged to participate (as viewers) in the humiliation of that person.  This is the same attitude that we see in revenge porn, where people upload compromising pictures of a person for the purpose of humiliating them.  It’s not the initial upload which really humiliates the person; it’s the fact that other people participate in the humiliation by being an audience.

The construction of this story also makes it difficult to understand what’s being said.  Up until the point of the reveal, this was a story about a couple rekindling the flame even though one of the people had transitioned.  After the reveal, we realise we were instead watching a common urban myth: ‘Homosexual men trying to trick heterosexual men into becoming gay.’

In other words, there’s no pathway into the story such that we end up with the message that the director (apparently) meant to convey.

Which brings us to my favourite subject: censorship and why it’s good for you.  This short film was so morally repugnant that it:

1. Should never have been filmed;

2. Should never have been submitted;

3. Should never have been shortlisted; and

4. Should never have won.

Unfortunately, you can’t trust people to police themselves and so we need other people to do it for us.  Censorship exists because people shouldn’t be forced to tolerate certain kinds of outrages for the sake of the narcissistic self image of the privileged.  When we champion the freedom of expression of people who are using that expression to attack people who can’t fight back, what we are really saying is that we want an open, liberal society where people can express all of their opinions and that we want other people to pay the social price for it.  This form of freedom of speech externalises all of its costs: we get the warm sense of enjoying a liberal, free society while the people who are vilified are socially discouraged from full enjoyment of this liberal, free society.

Screening this abomination of a short film showed that Tropfest agreed with its message: it is funny to present sex with a transsexual as a shameful act.  The trans community in Australia shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of wanton abuse, thus Tropfest should be fined.

This was repugnant and everybody involved should be ashamed of themselves.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

EDIT: Darren Ferrari has an interesting response to this article up on his blog.  His worry is that there is no virtuous censorship because censorship has been used for terrible purposes in the past.  While it’s certainly true that censorship has an ignoble past, it’s hard to think of many aspects of State power that don’t.  Prisons, for example, and the police would have to go.  Courts would be scrapped, as would Parliament itself.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think all censorship was created equal.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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