Docs

Rebels with a Cause

This issue of RealScreen very nearly arrived in the mailboxes of its American readers in a brown paper bag. What, you ask, would have led the U.S. Postal Service to consider treating a doc trade in the same way it handles the likes of Penthouse and Hustler?
April 1, 2003

This issue of RealScreen very nearly arrived in the mailboxes of its American readers in a brown paper bag. What, you ask, would have led the U.S. Postal Service to consider treating a doc trade in the same way it handles the likes of Penthouse and Hustler? One of the images we were considering for our cover depicted a naked woman – one artfully covered in paint, mind you, but naked nonetheless. Context didn’t come into play (although the color of the paint was inexplicably a point of discussion); the letter of the law is that visible nudity is not allowed to wend its way through the U.S. mail service.

I presume the rationale behind this censorship has to do with protecting minors from sexually explicit images, an objective I fully accept and agree with. But, I have issues with how it’s enforced. Blind adherence to rules is easier and faster than careful consideration of whether any exceptions are (or should be) permissible. However, the danger in such black-and-white, technically correct conduct is that the purpose for which the rule was conceived can easily get lost – a scantily clad, provocatively posed model gets the thumbs-up (just look at any recent cover of Maxim), but an artistically presented nude is verboten.

I’m not a rule-breaker by nature. I was the kind of kid who only missed class if I was sick and always crossed the street at the traffic lights. Still, I grew up believing that sometimes it makes more sense to break with convention than to conform to it, because that’s how we progress, individually and collectively.

The doc world is full of rule-breakers, and they are among the most admired in the field. They range from Frederick Wiseman, the grandfather of cinéma vérité (featured in this issue’s Behind the Camera article), to up-and-comers Sally Aitken and Ed Kellie, who disobeyed a military curfew in Bethlehem to make their documentary series (the exclusive details of which RealScreen secured for our Current Affairs special report). Of course no list of doc rebels would be complete without Michael Moore, whose most recent act of defiance came at the Oscars, supported by his fellow feature doc nominees (for their unspoken words on that day, see the Back Page).

Not all rules deserve to be broken, but some are the more meaningful for a flexible interpretation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince the appropriate postal authorities of that fact in time to use our original cover pick, but I’ve included it, so you can decide. I trust you’ll conceal it from any under-agers in the vicinity. (The above image is from Invitation to Stare, courtesy Circle Rock.)

Susan Zeller

Editor

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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