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Porn movie canceled at Bijou

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | FEBRUARY 10, 2010 7:30 AM

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The students in charge of the Bijou agreed to cancel the 3-D pornographic film scheduled to be shown this weekend after a discussion with Thomas Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services.

Despite a terse statement released by Rocklin, Bijou’s executive director Evan Meaney said it was ultimately the students’ decision to acquiesce to Rocklin’s request.

“I’m very familiar with censorship laws,” said Meaney, a graduate student in film. “Normally, when I see things censored, red flags go up. I don’t think that this is that.”

The Bijou could have chosen to fight, Meaney said. But while the cinema is no stranger to showing controversial films and the Board of Directors isn’t happy about canceling the movie, group officials are thinking of the future.

Getting antagonistic about a film intended as “a joke, a gimmick” wouldn’t bode well for when the Bijou decides to show a contentious movie the organization genuinely stands behind, Meaney said.

The Bijou’s website describes the 1978 movie Disco Dolls in Hot Skin: “There will be big hair. There will be obnoxious mustaches. There will not be a coherent plot.”

People packed the theater to see the movie when it was screened at the Bijou three years ago. But Rocklin wasn’t the head of Student Services then, and public pressure on universities has increased.

The Bijou’s programming budget comes from ticket sales, but the cinema is partially funded by the university. And taxpayers likely wouldn’t discern the difference — particularly as universities compete for a cut of the ever-shrinking state budget.

“The political climate is not conducive for experimentation with ideas of free speech,” said Lyombe Eko, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication.

That has been evident throughout the country as other universities struggled with the same issue.

In April 2009, administrators at the University of Maryland-College Park canceled a screening of a hard-core pornographic film after state legislators threatened to cut funding to the institution.

But other universities have shown porn on campus, often augmenting screenings with lectures on safer sex.

Student employees at the Bijou aren’t planning to argue their case, so it isn’t clear what the legal resolution would be in an often-murky area of law.

Pornography isn’t inherently obscene, and universities fall under the same First Amendment protections as the rest of the country.

Rocklin said he would have allowed the screening if it had served an educational purpose, but he didn’t see one.

The evolution of law regarding pornography and obscenity is convoluted but often begins with cases similar to this one, Eko said.

“It’s from seemingly insignificant issues that we get great law,” he said.


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