by Brian Barth
The Tillman Story (Amir Bar-Lev, 2010)
What a pleasant surprise!
What a horrible way to start this review. This is an infuriating film.
I had heard nothing about this film, but it gave me a lot to think about. The Tillman Story retells Pat Tillman’s decision to abandon his multimillion-dollar football contract in order to serve in the US Army in Afghanistan in 2002. Already a national football star, Tillman’s decision attracted a fair amount of press, but only in his death did he become a household name. The film examines how Tillman’s death was taken by the government and spun into a pro-war media spectacle. Tillman was depicted as an American hero, who died in an intense firefight with the opposition, when in reality he died by friendly fire.
Video artist Amy Greenfield was recently informed that Youtube would be pulling her work from their website. She was told that “her works, which contain some artistic nudity, did not conform with YouTube’s ‘community standards.’ Under YouTube’s policies, ‘Films and television shows may contain [full nudity]; however, videos originating from the YouTube user community must abide by the YouTube Community Guidelines and are not permitted to include such content.’” Though Youtube has now reversed their decision thanks to efforts from the EFF and the National Coalition Against Censorship, I fear the issue is far from over. I found out about the story through BoingBoing, where one reader identified only as pjcamp commented: “I’m having a hard time telling the difference between artistic nudity and busty.pl[.]” I’m having a hard time deciphering “busty.pl,” but what intrigues me about pjcamp’s comment is how magnificently it manages to miss the point completely.
Youtube isn’t protecting anyone from “busty.pl,” though it might appear so. What’s happening, instead, is that Youtube is continually serving the interests of “films and television shows.” These, to be sure, aren’t your films or the tv talk show you and your friends record every Sunday night: “films and television” shows are films and television shows from networks, studios, and distributors that have a serious financial worries about how their media is viewed. Since Amy Greenfield wasn’t one of those, her work got axed–though, presumably, if it had been from the film Young Adam starring Ewan McGregor, Youtube wouldn’t have thought twice. That’s what is dangerous about Youtube: its interests couldn’t have less to do with you. The question is not one of moral censorship but rather of financial censorship: Youtube isn’t barring nudity, they’re just not allowing it if you aren’t distributed by Fox Searchlight. It’s a question, all the same, about what we’re allowed to see.