Learning to Fall Out of Love with Hate, Part 2: Violentacrez Loses His Job
As implied the the Part 2, I am hoping that this Learning to Fall… series of posts will explore a theme, and today I better see the general shape of what I’m trying to examine: the changes and evolution I’ve see in the internet, from a wild and lawless place filled with opportunity to some, well, less interesting; and the changes and evolution I hope to effect in myself. That’s a tall and self-indulgent order, but hey, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. If you’re game, read on!
Yesterday I had a twitter exchange with my friend Alan Jacob (@ayjay) in which Alan said “I see zero overlap between Tony Comstock and Violentacrez” but by the end of our convo, I think I had brought Alan over to my side, at least a little.
What I said to Alan that helped him see my point of view was, “The odd condition of identity that characterized the early iNet had some benefits. My films/ideas were nurtured by that license” and there was “No overlap. But Tony Comstock and Violentacrez grew from the same soil. Only Violentacrez is more common/inevetable, which is why there’s no place for Tony Comstock.”
Alan’s last word on the subject was “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Today I see that Michael Brutsch aka Violentacrez has been fired from his job. Says Brutsch:
“I have maybe 3 weeks pay in the bank. I just hope I can hold out a month. My [disabled] wife hasn’t been able to work for over a year, and our savings will last about 3 weeks, not considering the current lack of health insurance.”
Of course there’s no place for Violentacrez in today’s internet either, or at his (former) place of work, which brings me to a post I wrote back in September of 2007…
Dible vs. The Chandler Police Department: I Feel a Chill
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just rejected, in a two to one decision, a first amendment argument by a police officer who was fired from his job after it became known that he and his wife operated a website that featured images of them naked, having sex with each other, and with others. The reasoning of the court is that, while the officer does have a constitutional right to run his website, he does not have a constitutional right to keep his job.
This is a similar line of reasoning to the Alabama dildo case. In that case the court found that while the right to privacy protected an Alabaman’s right to own a dildo, there was no constitutional right to sell a dildo. This failure-to-find-protection angle is a common gambit, used by courts as a facile end-around established rights, and is precisely what the framers who opposed the Bill of Rights feared. You won’t find the right to sell a dildo enumerated in the Constitution or Bill of Rights any more than you’ll find the right to sell blue shirts.
A few years ago I was approached by a couple in their mid-forties. They had seen our first two films, and she especially was keen on making a film with us. She had a story she wanted to tell.
The were married, the second time for both of them. The circumstances of his first marriage were unremarkable, but I still recall her narrative vividly.
She had married for the first time in her early twenties, to a man she with whom she was deeply in love. Their life together was comfortable and affectionate, but as the years went by, she grew to feel there was something missing. Their relationship cooled and after ten years she and her first husband divorced.
A few years later she met the man who was to become her second husband. Their courtship was passionate and physical, but they did not have sex until they became engaged to marry. In bed with her second husband-to-be, she found at least part of what had been missing in her first marriage – she had her first orgasm.
Eight years later, she did not hold any ill-will towards her first husband. She had been no less ignorant then he, but the fact remained that she had experience only limited sexual fulfillment in her first marriage, and with the benefit of hindsight, she was able to see how the lack of fulfillment contributed to the demise of the marriage.
The reason she was so keen on making a film with us is that she want to give testimony to the importance of sexual pleasure. She especially wanted other women to hear her story, to hear about how finding sexual pleasure and contentedness nourished both herself and her relationship.
Her husband was no less interested. He took pleasure in having been his wife’s guide and facilitator in her journey to sexual fulfillment. He was unabashed in his affection for her, and proud of the lusty sex life the two of them enjoyed.
But there was a problem.
He was a police officer; a detective actually. He wasn’t concerned what some people might think, but he was concerned about his job security. They were not in a position financially to easily endure the loss of his job, even temporarily; and as they balanced that fact against their desire to tell their story, the need to make their house payment and have health insurance won out.
Decisions in First Amendment cases often involve concern over the “chilling effect” that suppression of unpopular or offensive speech – speech that arguably contributes nothing to the public discourse – will have on unpopular or offensive speech that is necessary and vital to the intellectual discourse of a pluralistic society.
I can’t comment on what “socially redeeming value*” the Dibles’ website might have, but I can comment on the effect of knowing that a civil servant can be fired for expressing unpopular ideas, even ideas that have no bearing or relationship to the that person’s work. If the Chandler Police Department can fire Officer Dible for making and appearing in an unpopular website, what’s to stop them from firing an officer who appears in an unpopular play, or writes an unpopular book? A politicized civil service is as dangerous to a liberal democracy as a politicized military, but more insidious.
Perhaps the Dible’s website has no more value to the intellectual discourse of our nation than as a baroque expression of the freedoms upon which this nation was founded. In measuring these freedom’s against the concern over what harm this website might do to the Chandler Police Department, and the deciding that sniggering and sneering count for more than Officer Dible’s First Amendment rights, the Ninth court has made it harder for me to make my films. I feel chill in the air, a chill that has nothing to do with the changing of the season.
*I use this particular phrase because this was the standard for obscenity set in Roth v. The United States, later replaced in Miller v. California with a three-pronged test, aka The Miller Test. But it should be noted that nothing on Officer Dible’s website was alleged to even remotely rise to the threshold set for obscenity in Miller.
As I said in Part 1, watching DEADWOOD changed my perspective on culture, commerce, the Internet, and where my films fit into the bigger scheme of things. My wife and I were in the middle of devouring the entire serious when I wrote this is from a letter to James Fallows in May of 2010 :
The result is that the formerly disintermediated, gatekeeper-less internet that seemed to offer so much promise for disseminating our particular view on sexuality has become all but useless to Comstock Films in the simple “nuts and bolts” work of marketing our films, making money, and being able to continue to put our point of view in the pubic discourse. Before their big overhauls, Google search used to bring us visitors who spent a lot of time on the site, read lots of pages on the blog, and who bought DVDs.
Now, other than [comstock films] and [tony comstock] our search-driven visitors arrive mostly on odd search strings and seem to be (based on page count and time on site) mostly not finding what they’re looking for. We are caught in the endless battle between Google’s efforts to keep their search results “clean”, and spammers’ efforts to game the system.
These days we sell our films the old fashioned way; through Amazon and Blockbuster and other retailers. We pay the gatekeepers their cut, and value their role in helping us break through the clutter. (Indeed, one of the primary reasons I am looking to shift my work to an academic environment is that I see the world moving increasingly towards parsing images and ideas mechanically, and if I can, I want to carve out a place for myself where images and ideas are still parsed by actual human beings.)
I used to have a fairly self-righteous take on all of this, partly because of where my bread is buttered, but also because, like a lot of other people, I was pretty swept up in the “utopian promise” the early days of internet seemed to offer.
But more and more I’ve let go of the idea of prudery or sex-negativity or censorship on Google’s part and come to see this through a different lens, drawing on the work of Tom Atzet, former ecologist for the Siskiyou National Forest, and his application of the “climax ecology” theory.
I don’t have an elegant bridge to this next bit, so I’ll simply say between Thursday’s near (or maybe not so near) fist-fight and Mr. Bruschnt losing his job, the time seems ripe to reflect on and write about how I became who who I am, but also (and more importantly) whom I wish to become:
In 2003, I traveled to Kenya to work on several short films promoting various non-governmental organization initiatives. The project was poorly managed and frustrating in the extreme. Upon my return I suffered a short, acute depression. By happen stance, about a week after various medical tests had ruled out physical causes for my stomach troubles, I found myself in Peggy’s Cove on the fourth anniversary of the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 disaster, listening to a CBC radio documentary about the traumatizing effects that recovering bodies and parts of bodies had had on the local fishermen. I snorted darkly when the narrator mentioned an increase reporting of gastrointestinal symptoms in the normally taciturn community.
2005 saw the birth of our second daughter.
In 2006, the Kenya project started in 2003 was finally finished. By that time, I had also been to Serbia and several locations in the U.S. In my estimation the resulting film did not justify the time and money that had been spent. Better footage had been shot, and more interesting and humane versions had been edited. I had developed a shooting and cutting technique that allowed character-driven simultaneous translations of indigenous language testimony, but my client rejected the edit and the use of first-person story telling as being “threateningly ethnic and tribal.” I was furious and disappointed.
In 2007, my fifth film, Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit was set to have its world premiere at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. By coincidence, the British film Destricted was having a screening at the Australian Center for the Moving Image, also in Melbourne. Both films featured explicit sexuality.
The Destricted screening at ACMI went off without a hitch (other than the fact that more than half the audience left the theater before the film finished).
Meanwhile, across town in a small theater in the Fitzroy district, the Australian government made good on its threat to stop the screening of Ashley and Kisha by sending two police officers with orders not to allow the film to be shown. Again, I was furious and disappointed. It was beginning to be a habit.
And with that I will leave you with this delightful clip of DEADWOOD’s Sherrif Seth Bullock beating his lover’s father half to death.