Film Classification and Censorship in Australia: a filmic image response perspective

Author: Catherine Schubert

Schubert, Catherine, 2017 Film Classification and Censorship in Australia: a filmic image response perspective, Flinders University, Flinders Law School

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Since their introduction over 100 years ago, filmic images have consistently provided audiences with vicarious passage into uncharted worlds. However, they have simultaneously driven others to actively seek to curtail this exploration. In Australia, curtailment formally occurs via a state sanctioned film classification and censorship system, which is tasked with regulating offence in the context of adult viewing. This thesis examines how this system operates in practice and in society. Its focus, however, is not simply film classification or censorship. Drawing on Foucault’s apparatus model, it instead proffers for examination an apparatus of filmic image response. After exploring the classification/censorship system’s evolution from 1970 to present, this thesis turns to offence’s legislative touchstones: disgust and anger. With reference to these emotions, it then investigates the interpretation of the classification/censorship legislation as it pertains to decisions delineating between licit and illicit images: those resulting in an R18+, X18+ or RC classification. The image categories it identifies as currently being at risk of censorship via X18+ or RC classification are: real death; actual sex; children, with a lawful nexus to child pornography; the commission of actual graffiti; and sexual violence. While sexual violence provides exception, this thesis concludes these images’ prohibition is linked to the prevention of real life norm transgressions, which are independent of film and the screen.

Next this thesis explores those who participate in the classification/censorship process, uncovering their identities, as well as where and how they act, and to what end. Classification and censorship decisions have legal ramifications. However, they also disseminate the system’s advocated filmic image response. With this in mind, this thesis then examines those who act outside the system. While such action has no legal bearing, it does provide an alternative filmic image response narrative to that espoused by the system. These instances are often understood as challenging film censorship in general. However, this thesis reveals they are better framed as disputes over licit image boundary placement. Turning to Foucault’s work on resistance, this thesis argues those seeking to challenge the censorship arm of the classification/censorship system must target that which underpins the system’s rationales, as well as those of the people who participate in its operation seeking a censorial outcome. This is predominately – but not exclusively – the Religious Right.

This thesis further investigates the operation of the classification/censorship system’s filmic image response narrative in the community, revealing the system is an influential voice in the apparatus of filmic image response. However, this thesis additionally identifies and examines the operation of another similarly influential response narrative: that advocated by the media effects tradition. Proponents of this tradition also threaten film censorship’s abolition, meaning the resistance needs to target that which underpins their arguments too. Advances in technology have resulted in the classification/censorship system being unable to contain offensive images. Indeed, citizens are now required to govern themselves outside Australian cinemas and stores. The knowledge provided by this thesis regarding the classification/censorship system, and filmic image response formation, helps people do this ethically.

Keywords: Motion pictures -- Censorship -- Australia, Censorship -- Australia, Obscenity (Law), Pornography

Subject: Law thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: Flinders Law School
Supervisor: Associate Professor Derek Dalton