Dr Kerry GoughDr Kerry Gough, Lecturer in Film, Television and Media Theory at Birmingham City University, discusses the new British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) guidelines regarding sexual and sadistic violence in films coming into effect today.

While some have questioned the legitimacy of film censorship and classification in the new media environment, recent public concern over the excessive sexual violence found in a new breed of film horror, has necessitated a revision of the standards of acceptability surrounding the cinematic horror film release. Fuelled by the success of Hostel (2005, Cert 18), recent torture porn and new born porn titles including A Serbian Film (2010, Cert 18), The Bunny Game (2010, Cert R18) and Human Centipede II (2011, Cert 18) have caused a degree of well-deserved controversy with their depictions of child rape, necrophilia, and excessive sadistic violence.

In response to public concerns over such portrayals of heavily sexualised violence, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) are set to release new guidance surrounding the representation of sexualised and sadistic violence and torture on screen. Guidance currently offered by the BBFC recommends that work be cut which contains ‘sexual violence or sexualised violence which endorses or eroticises the behaviour’ and demands cuts prior to classification where ‘sadistic violence or torture’ encourages the audience ‘to identify with the perpetrator in a way which raises a risk of harm’ (BBFC, 2009: 33).

With issues of torture, rape and depravity at stake, the BBFC aims to maintain decorum in the labelling and classification of such film products and aligns this in response to public opinion. As Director of the BBFC, David Cooke (2012) states, ‘Since 2000 we’ve had the classification guidelines and they’re based on big-scale consultation with the public which we do every four to five years and it’s 8-10,000 people involved. We have individual issues; violence, sex, nudity, drugs, threats and so on.’

Fuelled by the age old argument surrounding freedom of speech and creative artistic license versus the protection of the vulnerable and the maintenance of standards of social and moral decency, these new guidelines seek to broker the parameters of acceptability when portraying excessive sexuality and violence in order to limit draconian intervention and interference with film art.

While these measures have been rendered redundant by some as a result of the readily available uncut torture porn titles on torrent sites across the web, what the BBFC does offer is guidance on the standards of acceptability through its classifications. Fans of hardcore horror and aficionados of torture porn will continue to fileshare and source uncut titles online, while the rest of us will continue to be reassured by the labelling and classification of ‘safe’ material, protected from the illicit nature of such films with the expulsion of any unsavoury severed remnants into the annals of BBFC history.

As filmmakers continue to push at the limits of horror and the boundaries of acceptability, newly appointed BBFC President, Patrick Swaffer (2012) reinforces how, ‘The classification guidelines published by the BBFC, and its consistent and clear approach to classification issues, have ensured that it continues to enjoy the trust of the public, the local authorities and the film industry.’

BBFC plans for 2013 include additional black card information which will feature details surrounding the film content, keeping the audience informed about the specific nature of that content prior to its cinematic presentation.

While the new guidance issued today represents a pain threshold that the industry is willing to bear for the sake of its horrific art, the torture porn cycle has taken its audience captive and the BBFC have stepped in to protect us, not a rape or alternative act of sadistic violence too soon.

Sources

BBFC, (2009).BBFC: The Guidelines. BBFC [online] Available at: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/what-classification/guidelines [Accessed 20 Jan 2013]

BBFC, (2012).BBFC Announces New President. BBFC [online]Available at: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-bbfc/media-centre/bbfc-announces-new-president [Accessed 20 Jan 2013]

Cooke, D. (2012). Film Classification U, PG or 18?. The Guardian [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20552619 Interviewed by Tim Muffett. London, 30 Nov 2012. [Accessed 20 Jan 2013]

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Kerry Gough

Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Theory at Birmingham City University