In her weekly column in the Sun-Herald, Miranda Devine has returned to The History Boys. She says:
Pitched as a new Dead Poets Society, The History Boys is soaked in homoeroticism and features a teacher at a British boys’ school whose students adore him even though he fondles their genitals.
Obviously, she garnered little support or sympathy for her “not-a-prude” friend who took his pre-teen children to an M-rated film. Not even from “reader Helen” who wrote:
“If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone to see a movie about a pedophile.”
There is something pathetically comical about having to engage in a debate about the sexual proclivities of a fictional character, but, if only for the record, Hector, the character in question, is not a pedophile. And only somebody with Miranda’s obsession with the “elephant in the room” could say that the film is “soaked in homoeroticism.” That description comes out of similar polemics against the kindergarted readers which happen to depict gay or lesbian families – it comes from people who, because they want to see the world bleached of any representations of or references to homosexuality (because they hate it) see any reference to such matters as an outrage.
With the power of the Sunday press at her disposal, Miranda has been able to elicit one colourful story of an allergic reaction to the film, by the 16-year-old friend “reader Jasmine”. He “had been abused by his PDHPE teacher when he was 12.”
“Jasmine wrote to say they had thought The History Boys would be like Goodbye, Mr Chips but left, shocked, halfway through. She followed her friend to the toilet and held “his head as he vomited violently”.”
Of course, even rating this film MA15+ would not have prevented this occurring. Implicitly, Miranda concedes this, because her conclusion is (emphasis added):
“An appropriate classification or honest review might have saved him the torment.”
Because her account of the film is so inaccurate, I don’t think that Miranda has established that the classification of The History Boys was inappropriate, though doubtless many of her readers, who have not seen the film , will probably now think so.
Miranda is now advocating a more complicated array of censorship classifications, as is the case in New Zealand, which provides for, as she puts it:
“eight easily comprehensible ratings: G, PG, M, R13 (restricted to people 13 and over), R15, R16, R18 and R.”
The difference between this and the Australian system is the addition of the R13, R15, R16 classifications, all of which (unlike our MA 15+ classification: which allows people under the age of 15 to attend with a parent or guardian) are absolute age-based prohibitions.
So, do we want such a censorship system to meet the desires of parents who want the state to ensure that their children, and other people’s children, are prohibited from seeing things which they don’t like? The case which Miranda mounts (such as it is) indicates why not, because then we will just be buying further into the arguments which we already have where a body whose only obvious expertise is in child developmental psychology erect a series of defensive ramparts against what they see as a flood of undesirable materal, and then, by extension, also apply their own prejudices against what even adults can see.
In the meantime, it is telling that Miranda reaches back to Dead Poets Society as a kind of stalking-horse. The true elephant in the room in that film was its failure to suggest in any way that such a teacher as Robin Williams’ character is very likely to have been gay, and even if not, in real life he would certainly have been suspected of so being. Proponents of more rigorous censorship are all about keeping that elephant invisible, so that when or if it occasionally becomes visible, it can be denounced as deviant and offensive, or as “undermining marriage,” etc etc. There is no word from such people, such as our beloved prime minister, who has the nerve to denounce bullying in schools, of the bullying and other harm which this conributes to.