Sunday, April 14, 2019

Nipple Watch

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

-- John Milton, Areopagitica

One of the primary fallacies of American optimism is that once established, progress is immutable. Nope. Retrogression is as natural to human endeavors as sweat. Think lapsed gym memberships, failed diets, and recurrent Republican majorities.

I do one social media account for the bookstore where I work. Just the one. Tumblr. Took it on years ago and made it all about books, natch.  Got it up to more than 7000 followers which ain't bad for a twice daily visual blog featuring book covers, poetry, and quotation. Those aren't porn numbers of course, but then porn on Tumblr is done. 

According to news reports the ban on "adult content" was the result of threats by Apple to delete the Tumblr app on it's new phones, as Tumblr had become so closely associated with porn. December 17th, 2018 the porn sites all went away, mostly. 


Personally, I was a fan, not of everything mind, but a fan. Tumblr became a platform for the democratization of sex online; it was free, anyone could post content, and while I never participated directly, I enjoyed the show. Not easy to remember now, but by the nineties gay porn had become as rigidly defined as Kabuki. All the men had the same muscles, haircuts, and routines. It all, or nearly all looked like the dance floor of Rage in West Hollywood. It was expensive and boring and numbingly conformist. Then the Internet happened and suddenly it was a Brave New World of dudes and daddies and personal web-cams. Later still, platforms for shared content -- like Tumblr --drained a good deal of the money out of the business and anybody who wanted to could be a "content provider." That part was exciting. Variety reigned. Open to all comers. Dance like only those that wanted to were watching.

Now it seems sex has been reclaimed by Capitalism. Alas.

Set that aside. 

New protocols went into place on Tumblr. Content was subject to review for "adult content". Potentially pornographic posts were flagged, presumably by some new algorithm, and subject to review by... someone?

After review by some anonymous human, Tumblr decided that earlier posts on the bookstore's Tumblr did not meet their new community standards. Dozens of existing posts were flagged. These were appealed. After review, posts featuring books by Lidia Yuknavitch, Herve Guibert, Tom Bianchi, Robert Mapplethorpe, Samuel R. Delany, and Edmund White do not meet their new community guidelines. Those posts have been made permanently private. “This decision cannot be appealed.”

Nipples seam to be a problem: male nipples, female nipples, nipples on sculptures older than the American Republic, all nipples are now obscene. Nudity of nearly any description is pornographic now. Shirtless men? Porn. Gay content seems a particular problem, and women's bodies in anything like a natural state? Porn. Recently, two book covers featuring skeletons and or chest x-rays were flagged. And those were far from the weirdest bans. Dinosaurs?! Appealed and restored. No lie. Dinosaurs. 

Presumably this all makes sense to a machine.

What I'm completely preoccupied by now is who the Hell are these anonymous people handling the content appeals? Is there really someone sitting at a computer screen deciding a pulp cover from the fifties is porn now? What's the guy's name who gets to decide that every photograph ever taken by Tom Bianchi or Robert Mapplethorpe is porn, or are their names on a list of banned artists?  Where are these new censors? Are they in a room somewhere in Silicon Valley or Mumbai, hunting nipples? Is this all they do all day? Do they have other functions? Do Tumblr employees have shifts just nipple reviewing, or do they do this on their lunch-breaks? Are there any women doing this work? Is it a sub-contract? Is the new community standard based on any community actually extant, or is this all just math and red flags? 

That's scary.

Tumblr is not alone in this. Twitter is having a belated identity crisis. Friends of mine have been sent to "Facebook jail" over similar content issues, mostly involving nudity and art. (Naked is bad, even in a drawing.) Hate speech, racism, white supremacy, Nazis, and pseudo-science have all, quite rightly, been in the news as newly problematic -- again -- for all the big platforms. The one thing everybody: movies, TV, social media, seems to agree on? Dick. Dick is bad.

And nipples maybe.

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