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LSC Should Stop Kidding Itself About Explicit Films


A. Arif Husain

Column by A. Arif Husain
Opinion Editor

I must admit that I was fairly surprised to hear about the Lecture Series Committee's renewed interest in sexually explicit films ["LSC Pornography Committee Considers Showing Erotic Films," Nov. 26]. Over the years, I had picked up some hearsay about an old Reg Day tradition of showing pornographic movies, but I assumed it had ended with the times. I was apparently wrong.

The interesting thing about this resurgence has very little to do with interests in pornography - we are all quite aware that sex is perhaps the most dominant theme in popular culture today. Rather, what strikes my attention is the undeniably slippery and evasive manner in which LSC has chosen to address its new movements.

LSC Chairman William J. Gehrke '97 stated recently that "LSC has no intention of showing pornography" and that LSC does "not feel showing pornography is in the best interest of the MIT community." Gehrke explained that LSC would instead be looking into artistic movies with "erotic" content. Gehrke attempted ineffectively to distinguish "pornography" from "erotica," critically denouncing the former while favoring the latter. I enjoy a nice game of semantics as much as the next guy, but let's get serious.

Whether or not films that include people engaging in explicit sexual acts of any kind are termed pornography, erotica, smut, or what have you; the issue remains the same. There will always be some group of people that will be offended by having to take in what some other group has to put out. This is the reason we have a First Amendment and the reason we all revere it.

I really have to wonder what Gehrke was thinking when he chose to deny LSC's interest in pornographic material, considering that LSC's Pornography Committee is the group in charge of the project. In the last week or so, it was renamed the Committee on Erotica, but it will always be Porncom in my mind.

The 10th edition of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines erotica as "literary or artistic works having an erotic theme." The definition of pornography reads: "the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement." The distinction between the two are such a matter of individual interpretation that Gehrke could not conceivably believe that a patent scrutiny can be made. Given any segment of sexually explicit footage, I am confident that I could find 10 people who would call it erotica, while another 10 would maintain that it is pornographic. Did Gehrke think that maybe he could pull some erotic wool over his pornographic wolf? Or does he honestly believe that he can confuse us with word play?

MIT's policy on showing sexually explicit films apparently permits LSC to do so, recognizing that they are still subject to regulations imposed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In any case, it seems that at least on the surface, LSC decided on its own to discontinue showing such films, and it is now deciding on its own to reinstate them. The point is that they seem to have full liberty to do as they wish and therefore really have no need to play games with anybody, unless they are just trying to fool themselves.

Pornographic films have "done very well," according to LSC's publicity director. Thus, it is clear that financial sensibility is not the primary concern in this venture. The best explanation is that by justifying the category of sexually explicit films on some artistic level, LSC will be able to keep its head held high. The sexually repressed masses won't have to feel any shame as they line up for a cheap thrill, and LSC won't have to feel guilty for giving it to them.

This manner of euphemizing is nothing new, going back centuries to the days of the "call girls" and "escorts" and more recently to include "exotic dancers" and the like. I would have hoped, though, that our own LSC had decency enough to avoid such pitfalls. Modern society has adopted a knack for softening and sugar-coating its less tasteful elements, and now we see it on this campus.

There is a fine line between artistic license and sheer impropriety. One man's smut is another man's pride and joy. Iwon't humor myself by thinking such conflicts will soon be resolved, but I will believe that those involved can be mature about the whole thing.

In the next few months, when 26-100 is packed with MIT's prominent stock of erotica cinephiles, I hope that they take a second to thank LSC for their avant-garde, in between moments of explicit artistic display.