Regulated Freedoms & Disrupted Rituals: Histories of Media Arts Censorship in English Canada
Sirove, Taryn Michelle
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This thesis revisits the effects of moving image regulation, exploring its histories in Canada with an interest in the intersections between arts practitioners and legal processes in the administration of culture. During the 1980s and 1990s, intensified film and video regulatory activities necessitated a coalition space for cultural activism populated by media artists and exhibitors, legal and academic scholars, and public intellectuals engaged with representational and identity politics, producing discourses about sexuality, pornography, race, AIDS, censorship, fundamental freedoms, and art. Considering the current state of the law, largely ignored by arts exhibitors in between moments of crisis, I ask how is the reception of this history reflected in practice with regard to regulation and self-regulation? Drawing on work that develops out of Michel Foucault’s theories of governmentality, I argue that actors across Canada were confronted with the task of negotiating not just how contemporary art survives regulatory scrutiny in public policy arenas and the courts, but also the acceptable boundaries of sexual identities and citizenship. This approach prompts a rethinking of contradictory liberal and libertarian notions of censorship to foreground the way ideas are constrained in all aspects of policy, and the way protocols of dissuasion often fail. As such, censoring acts reveal themselves to be less about restricting access than they are about the administration or legitimation of particular cultural values. This thesis historicizes the mandate of the Ontario Film Review Board, explores aspects of movement strategies as they work to crystallize identities, documents specific speech constraints and their justifications in the law, and suggests functions of counter-speech in video productions of the period. This thesis is guided by a concern with the relationship between cultural citizens and the state and asks what role does the state imagine itself playing in regulating the circulation of images? What are the (mis)understandings of censorship within more recent anti-censorship movement efforts, and what are the opportunities for cultural citizens to negotiate change, both in public policy and in popular consciousness?