Child pornography is not a laughing matter, which is why it’s really unfortunate that Vic Toews has tinged the problem with a sense of absurdity. In defending the upcoming electronic surveillance bill in the House of Commons earlier this week, the Minister of Public Safety drew a clear line in the sand when he said that people can either “stand with us or the child pornographers.”
The federal government did indeed introduce the bill, known as “Lawful Access” or C-30, on Tuesday despite the legislation being roundly condemned by businesses, media commentators and privacy watchdogs. Critics have said that such a bill – which would give police the power to summon all sorts of personal user information from internet and wireless providers – is unnecessary, invasive and hypocritical, given the government’s stance on other privacy issues such as the gun registry and long-form census. As per Toews’ logic, these critics can now be considered supporters of child pornography.
It’s as ridiculous a statement as when Heritage Minister James Moore referred to opponents of the government’s copyright reform bill – a cross-section of the public including artists, consumer groups, teachers and librarians – as “radical extremists.” With messaging like this from his MPs, it’s no wonder Prime Minister Stephen Harper is notorious for muzzling them.
So, despite Toews’ attempt to frame the legislation in as grave terms as possible, it’s fair game to treat the issue with an equal level of absurdity. As it happens, the other day I was reading up on how Guy Fawkes ended up as the poster child of copyright reform protestors, not to mention the symbol of the hackers behind the Anonymous group. The story is actually quite intriguing and could eventually – and absurdly – have significance to Lawful Access.
Fawkes was a military officer who ultimately became known for trying to blow up British Parliament in 1605. For the next few hundred years after his execution, he was generally considered to be a failed terrorist, with effigies and fireworks set off annually on the fifth of November to celebrate the king’s escape from assassination. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Fawkes began to be portrayed more sympathetically by writers and artists.
His transformation from terrorist to folk symbol really kicked off in 1982 with the publication of V for Vendetta, a comic book series written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd. In the story, the main character – known as V – wears a mask based on the Fawkes effigies, which features a white face, sly smile, rosy cheeks and slim goatee. Moore’s character also wanted to blow up Parliament as a way of protesting how Orwellian and dictatorial his fictional United Kingdom had become. To the comic creators, Fawkes was a hero, not a terrorist.
The series was turned into a movie in 2002 and V’s mask has been steadily incorporated into rallies against big businesses and governments since by protestors who agree with the central rebellion-against-authority theme of the story. It was prominent in last year’s Occupy protests, as well as the ACTA rallies in Europe a few weeks ago.
Moore, for his part, is more than happy to have his creation associated with the various protest movements going on. He recently wrote as much for the BBC:
As for the ideas tentatively proposed in that dystopian fantasy thirty years ago, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that whatever usefulness they afford modern radicalism is very satisfying. In terms of a wildly uninformed guess at our political future, it feels something like V for validation.
So, if large-scale rallies spring up in opposition to Canada’s Lawful Access bill, will protesters wear Guy Fawkes masks? Maybe, but given the tone of absurdity set by the Public Safety Minister in his obvious George W. Bush-ian “with-us-or-against-us” stance, perhaps a different symbol would be more appropriate.
How about Traci Lords?
If you’re not familiar with Ms. Lords, she was a prolific porn star in the early 1980s before it was discovered that she had done quite a bit of work while still underage. Lords had in fact appeared in more than 100 adult productions before she turned 18.
The discovery prompted legal reforms in the United States that forced porn companies to keep better track of just who they employed. The law, known as 2257, is still in force and adult producers are required to keep detailed records of their performers. It hasn’t completely stamped out the abuse of minors in porn, but it has at least significantly curtailed it, at least in the United States.
Lords has since moved on to become a fairly prolific actress in non-pornographic B-movies, but as an individual who spurred a larger societal change, she does have at least some similarity to Moore’s comic book character. She could therefore be an appropriate symbol in this ridiculous Lawful Access battle.
And besides, wouldn’t it be amazing to see a whole crowd of protestors on Parliament Hill wearing Traci Lords masks?