“A Real, As Opposed To A Fanciful, Risk Of Harm”

Human centipede. Blerk“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall (attributed to Voltaire)

I thought I’d preface this post about censorship with that (overused) quote because the film I’m about to write about is exceptionally distasteful, disturbing and, most likely, trash. The Human Centipede 2, which has just been banned by the British censor, could well be the most horrific movie to be made in many years.

Someone made a comment on a Guardian article about it saying “You should pick your battles and this is not a good battle to pick.” And this piece points out that the film is made expressly to shock and, by writing about it, I’m helping to sell it. Still, I wanted to blog about the issue because it raises some important questions about censorship and the assumptions behind governments making decisions about things adults can and can’t see.

The official press release from the British Board of Film Classification is here. The article describes some of the horrific acts depicting in Human Centipede 2 (including masturbating with sandpaper and rape using barbed wire). It says the film must be banned because it focuses too much on explicit sexual violence.

This Guardian piece questions the double standards of the board: why is the torture violence of “normal” horror (e.g. Saw) OK but sexual violence not OK? Why does the presence of sex tip this film over the edge into “obscenity” when common or garden variety flayings, disembowellings and murder easily get the nod?


Support independent, ethically made, award-winning porn. Bright Desire features all of my erotic films and writing. A membership to Bright Desire gets you access to every movie I've ever made and lets me keep making female friendly porn!
Click here to find out more.

I’m no fan of horror and the thought of watching either Centipede films is stomach-churning to me. And there’s a little voice in my head that almost agrees that something so disgusting should be banned. Why would anyone want to watch that? I mean, really?

But what’s prompted me to write this post is a single line in the BBFC press release that stuck out like dog’s balls:

It is the Board’s conclusion that the [film] poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.

Got that? The BBFC thinks that watching Human Centipede 2 will harm you. Really harm you. Not just some “fanciful” made up harm which has apparently motivated the banning of other films in the past. Nope, this time, this sucker is going to fuck you up big time.

Let’s think about this, shall we? Watching a movie is going to cause harm. What kind of harm? Vomiting? Nightmares? A pathological fear of sandpaper?

Is it more serious than that? Are they saying it’s going to cause people to want to replicate the disgusting scenarios in the film? Copycat crimes?

Or are we talking “psychological harm”? That mysterious, difficult-to-prove concept that insists that watching a film will irrevocably alter a person’s mental health and way of thinking? According to that theory, seeing this kind of film degrades the viewer, encourages negative or pathological thoughts and makes them less empathetic or emotionally insecure. This is the kind of harm that Gail Dines talks about when seeking to ban porn. No doubt it’s the kind of harm that motivated the banning of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

I don’t know what kind of “harm” the BBFC is talking about because they don’t elaborate on that point. Nor do they provide any actual proof for their assertion.

And what’s interesting is that they all managed to view this film without suffering harm themselves. No doubt this proves they have very mild superpowers which the rest of us don’t possess.

This point illustrates the underlying assumptions about class and intelligence that underpin censorship regimes. The censors themselves can watch films without “psychological harm” because they’re better people than the riff-raff plebians who’ll watch it. They’ll have all the proper reactions like disgust and horror and they’re completely immune to sexual arousal because they have special states of mind.

But the rest of the film-going public? Well, you can’t trust them, can you? They’re not smart enough to think critically about what they’re seeing. They might not understand that it’s just a story or a fantasy. You’ve got to make their decisions for them, protect them. It’s for their own good.

Is “psychological harm” real? I don’t know. I haven’t researched the topic so I don’t know if there are any peer-reviewed studies looking at whether viewing media causes *actual* harm to adults.

What I do know is that more people need to be asking that question. If the government can ban something based on the concept of “real, not fanciful, harm” it would be really useful to see proof of their assertions.

* You might also want to read this piece about how the British censors classify films.

* I’ll be interested to see what the Australian censors do with this film.

3 Replies to ““A Real, As Opposed To A Fanciful, Risk Of Harm””

  1. R18+ in Australia according to the Classification Board:

    I certainly don’t want to watch this film either, but I don’t want to see it banned. I think the point is that not many people would want to watch something like this. Still, if this gets an R18 in Australia, I don’t see where the Classification Board gets off banning anything.

  2. “I’ll be interested to see what the Australian censors do with this film”.

    Classification – R 18+
    Consumer Advice – High impact themes, violence and sexual violence
    Category – Film – Public Exhibition
    Version – ORIGINAL
    Duration – 87 minutes
    Date of Classification – 09/05/2011
    Applicant – BOUNTY FILMS
    File Number – T11/1802
    Classification Number – 247148

    Coupled with the Bailey review, it would seem that the UK is heading back to the days of Mary Whitehouse.

  3. it would seem that the UK is heading back to the days of Mary Whitehouse.

    Actually the BBFC is noticably slackening off on its age-related censorship at least. It let “The Dark Knight” (Pencil through the eye, face burned off with acid) and “Beowulf” (prolonged bawdy discussion and lots of nudity) both off with a 12A which means that any child may watch it (and I sat behind a family with a seven year old during Beowulf, thinking “You thought this was a kiddie film because it was an animation, didn’t you? Oh dear.”). Both certifications led to protests from professional film critics. The BBFC also gave “Ironclad” a 15 certificate even though it contains many brutal bloody scenes of people being hacked up into pieces – something unthinkable a few years back.

    The Brits used to censor violence more than the Americans, but sex less. Increasingly we are moving toward an American-style acceptance of violence as entertainment. Which makes me all the more surprised that they refused a certificate for Human Centipede 2.

Comments are closed.