Lingering worries over past Bijou censorship


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This Valentine’s weekend, students have another chance to see porn on the big screen — and simultaneously support freedom of speech.

Controversy erupted last year when then-interim Vice President Tom Rocklin push the Bijou Board of Directors to cancel the planned screening of the adult film Disco Dolls in Hot Skin. In response to increased attention and overwhelming demand, the Bijou will screen the flick 11 p.m. today and Saturday at with no administrative interference. Refraining from censoring the film this year takes an important step towards rectifying last year’s mistake, although the long-term effects are still concerning.

It’s heartening that the UI administration seems to have learned its lesson. The Bijou’s associate program coordinator, Zane Umsted, explained that the strife last spring with Rocklin was a big misunderstanding. Typically, Bijou staff will notify Student Services of screenings that may be deemed contentious. Last year, however, Bijou staff did not notify Rocklin of the adult film screening scheduled for Valentine’s weekend.

“They had an expectation to be notified ahead of time … I can understand them viewing the situation as confrontational,” Umsted told the DI Editorial Board on Wednesday.

That may have been the case, but the original reasons cited by Rocklin included a lack of educational merit — a distinction that seems quite arbitrary. Even if the situation was exacerbated by a perceived disrespect from Bijou operators, each potentially controversial film should not need rubber stamping from the UI administrators.

As it was, the Bijou staff members were helpless. They wanted to appease their audience but needed to avoid tensions with Rocklin. “We were handcuffed,” Umsted said. “We need a good relationship with [the administration] in order to continue to run. We didn’t want to lose a battle with them over porn.” (The Bijou staff later composed an open letter to Rocklin that was printed in the DI in March 2010.)

As more people voiced their concerns about UI administration’s censorship, the notoriety of the incident grew — and so did the attention to the film. This is deemed the Streisand Effect by media scholars, after a dustup over photos of Barbra Streisand’s house: Efforts to censor a work can actually result in greater popularity and demand.

Frequent moviegoers definitely demanded the adult film. Umsted said that people were interested to know if Bijou would try to rerun the movie. That’s why the Bijou staff decided to put Disco Dolls on the schedule again — even though this had been previously cleared with the new policy. “We wanted to save face and prove people wrong,” Umsted said.

And this time, the UI administration isn’t going to intercede. According to UI spokesman Tom Moore, officials decided to review their policy to make sure it complied with the law. The results of the review fell in favor of the Bijou. “Our legal analysis showed that not running the movie would be a denial of First Amendment rights,” Moore told the Editorial Board.

We’re glad that the Bijou staff and UI administration gave the movie a second shot. But there are still some concerns over the chilling effect lingering from the incident: The power exercised by UI administration could cause reluctance on the Bijou staff’s part to screen potentially controversial movies in the future. If the theater relies on university support, it’s easy for it to become beholden to administrative interests.

For now, there is some optimism: The rescreening is a victory for student speech and interests. We hope that the Bijou continues to show worthy movies, regardless of whether the UI administration considers them rife with academic purpose, and doesn’t make concessions to past censorship.

Umsted put it best. “Basically, it’s a lot of mustaches and no plot. But people should come see all our movies, not just the ones with boobs.”

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