Monday, 30 April 2012

Are you looking at my bird?

Police are arranging protests about cuts to the front line which they say will make their job impossible because they already have far too much to do.  Strange then that two uniformed persons - thought to be officers - were dispatched from Harrow police station for a word with a gallery owner.  (Note: contains an image some people may find shocking. Report: Evening Standard)

An officer happened to see a picture he disapproved of - apparently while he was on a bus - and was able to divert two of these furiously busy personnel from their normal work of catching murderers to argue about classics, or rather, to lean on the gallery owner to take down a picture of Leda and the Swan.  As it happens, they were packing up for a new exhibition anyway.

If the gallery manager, Jag Mehta, gives an accurate account, the visitors claimed that 'condoning bestiality' was illegal, which sounds more like a PCSO making something up on the spot. 

In general, you can condone what you like, providing you don't mind what people think of you. What you can't necessarily do is is carry it out (Sexual Offences Act 2003), distribute it (Obscene Publications Act 1959), or possess a depiction (Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) without the law imposing a penalty. 

The legislation is dotted about rather than consolidated, but luckily the Crown Prosecution Service has written a  useful guide to these offences.  However, there have been cases which alter the matter, which means their guidance cannot be a definitive. Also, the 8 page pdf the Ministry of Justice wrote has vanished, or at least the online copy has. [Update: having trouble with this link which worked for a while and now does not:  Here it is,  maybe it will come back.  Many thanks to the researchers at Backlash.]

The following relies on the CPS guidance on extreme pornography.  They know all about Leda and the Swan
The painting "Leda and the Swan", another example raised during debates in Parliament, would also not be caught by the new [2008] offence, because it would not meet the "explicit and realistic" test.
Established photographer Derrick Santini was sailing very close to the wind under this definition.  His portrayal of the myth may explain why somebody going past on a bus may have got all hot'n'bothered.
Santini’s use of the lenticular process involves photographing a sequence of still images, using live models, which are layered and printed using a special technique, under a ribbed plastic sheet acting as a lens.  This results in a hologram-like effect where the figure within the frame moves as the viewer passes, although not an actual hologram, it is a form of animation where an illusion of depth is created.
Makes a change from those old nudie cards where if you tilt the picture, the lady's clothes jump off.

I'm assuming that the swan and the woman were photographed separately otherwise the RSPCA might have something to say about it - and I'm guessing that what is depicted is impossible. You try training a swan to land in that space.  There isn't a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Models. It says something that given a picture of a naked lady and a migratory bird, apparently in the act of congress, the police are worried about the one with feathers.

If you want to see the full set of pictures, they are on page two of Santini's gallery under the heading "lenticular artworks".  The website is full of slow-loading animations.  It might not be easy to explain them if somebody were to ask so they shouldn't be regarded as safe for work, which is a different question from whether they fit within the definition of an offence.

There are plenty of legal disputes to be had here; for example can a theme such as Leda and the Swan come within the second CPS heading?
 That the image is extreme namely grossly offensive, disgusting, or otherwise of an obscene character;
A little offensive, yes, particularly if it is the rape version of the myth but in general the theme of humans and swans getting it on is common. But one of them is only disguised as a swan i.e. at various times in the past it is more acceptable to show a human and an animal rather than two humans.  There are always  people who worry about the sexual nature of the motif in showing any intimacy but only the ignorant have ever misunderstood that it is about sex with animals.  

Besides, it is neither reasonable nor possible to go back through the museums demanding that all the Leda and the Swan versions are hidden in the archives, trying to decide which ones are merely ecstatically affectionate. 

In addition, it was only in January 2012 that a conviction was denied by a jury in R v Peacock.  The material being supplied by Michael Peacock was nasty and fitted within the guidelines of what could be regarded as obscene, so the CPS brought the case under the Obscene Publications Act. The jury did not accept the prosecution case.  Since we can never see in to the jury room, we don't know exactly why, but we do know that this signals that the CPS are mistaken in what the public are prepared to regard as likely to deprave or corrupt.

However, Alex Antoniou of the City Law School points out that all this means is that the Obscene Publications Act may be undermined.  The CPS now uses the newer extreme pornography charges as these are about possession of an image rather its than publication:
prosecutions under the new sections introduced in January 2009 (ss 63-7 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) related to extreme pornographic images have dramatically increased in the last two years: according to the CPS, in 2009-10 prosecutions were brought in respect of 213 offences, whereas in 2010-11 the number of offences reached 995. It is noteworthy that these latest figures released relate only to possession of extreme pornographic images portraying bestiality.
A prosecution under s.63 requires the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  An officer could be in a great deal of paperwork if they didn't check first that the CPS wanted to use a classical theme as a test case - especially the exact one which was quoted in Parliament.  This artwork tests the boundaries of realism by using photography but on the other hand, a moment's thought about swans tells you that you can't be looking at something realistic.

It is reassuring to know that when the Home Secretary cuts the number of police officers, it won't matter because we can just get rid of the two spare ones who go round wrangling with art wallahs. Until then, don't tell them about Europa and The Bull.

Here is a Leda and the Swan pas de deux. There are two things to note: firstly that the male often holds his arm in a swan form. This is to signify that Leda sees a swan but we all know he's really supposed to be a god in disguise.  Secondly, that the bodies echo each other the way birds court.


Barnacle Bill said...

Of course the Beeb could offer the two plods an art show to host when they're P45s land on their desks!

Mark Wadsworth said...

I never quite understood this, because swans (or any birds) don't have willies, so there's just a lot of rubbing involved.

Smoking Hot said...

Actually Mark, my veterinary friend assures me that swans do have a penis as do a couple more species. To be honest, l did think the same as you before my friend corrected me.

Smoking Hot said...

Harrow Police fully deserve to be given the bird.

JuliaM said...

Oh, Mark, have you never seen a duck's penis?

I mean, outside of the HoC, natch.. ;)

Woman on a Raft said...

Weird Science:

I don't know if a similar paper has been written on swans. Given the size of the birds, they might much more difficult to film.

Mark Wadsworth said...

OK, apparently, alone among birds, ducks have willies. That suggests to me that swans don't, unless you count swans as "large white arrogant ducks".

MTG said...

In part, Mark is correct. Just as all policemen do not have brains, not all swans have a penis. The organ is reserved for proper use by non-gay cobs and a few hermaphroditic exceptions.

Woman on a Raft said...

not all swans have a penis.

So any Greek gods thinking of manifesting had better check the biological specifications first or they could be very disappointed with the results.