The Null Device
As the anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre/counterrevolutionary criminal riot (delete as appropriate) comes around, the game of cat and mouse between Chinese censors and dissidents have escalated to new heights of the absurd:
24 years after the Chinese government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, "today" is part of a long list of search terms that have been censored on Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog. Other banned words include "tomorrow," "that year," "special day," and many number combinations that could refer to 4 June 1989, such as 6-4, 64, 63+1, 65-1, and 35 (shorthand for May 35th).
Many of their posts have been embedded in pictures, which can often elude automatic detection: a girl with her hand over her mouth; a Lego man facing down three green Lego tanks; the iconic "tank man" picture with its tanks photoshopped into four giant rubber ducks, a reference to a well-known art installation in Hong Kong's Victoria harbour. Most of these pictures, too, have since been scrubbed clean. By Tuesday afternoon, the term "big yellow duck" had also been blocked.And so, the fourth of June becomes The Day The Internet Breaks For No Reason Whatsoever.
Last week, Sina Weibo appeared to have rolled out a new censorship function – searches for "Tiananmen incident" and "six-four incident" were not blocked, but instead pulled up posts about other historical events, such as a 1976 demonstration in Tiananmen Square mourning the death of Premier Zhou Enlai.Meanwhile, many dissidents are protesting precisely by posting nothing at all. Perhaps next year the authorities get wise to this and leaving a suspicious, indignant block of white space in one's online footprint on a sensitive date will be forbidden, with those doing so without a good excuse being taken away and prosecuted on various grounds. Perhaps in a few years' time, we will be treated to the spectacle of totalitarian censors trying to suppress an act of dissent by large numbers of people posting the same banal, apolitical message about the weather/what one had for lunch in mockery of the law or something?
In the latest conflict between contemporary art and Australia's socially conservative morés, an artist is facing charges of producing child pornography after Victoria Police raided an exhibition and seized an installation titled Everything's Fucked, which allegedly depicted sexual acts with children's faces superimposed on them.
On Saturday Yore described the police seizure as "completely absurd". "The work, I feel, has been taken completely out of context because they're very small fragments of a collage of a much larger work that constitutes literally thousands of different objects I've found in society - basically junk I've been collecting,'' he said.If convicted, Paul Yore is likely to end up with a lengthy prison sentence (and one knows how much respect “rock spiders”—convicted paedophiles—get in Australian prisons) followed by life on the sex offenders' register. Possibly a better deal than Pussy Riot got in Russia, but not by much.
If the various tiers of Australian government are so keen to draw a firm line and authoritatively declare what is not allowed in our society, wouldn't it be cheaper for them to introduce a new series of arts grants, consisting of one-way tickets to, say, New York, Berlin or Amsterdam (or perhaps even New Zealand, which lacks the undercurrent of penal-colony authoritarianism that's never far from the surface in Australia), to be disbursed to potential troublemakers who have issues with our relaxed and comfortable way of life?