Offence is in the eye of the beholder, at least where lawful information and communication is concerned. You don’t get to censor the world according to your narrow worldview. If you don’t like something you see in public space, tough shit.
So when I read that the City of Yarra was refusing to renew Polyester’s permit to display its sign on the footpath of Brunswick St based on a single complaint, I was extremely annoyed. Based on previous experience of local government misjudgement and incompetence, I decided to sit back and watch as I expected the result to be embarrassing to the council. I’m pleased to see that Polyester has won and the City of Yarra has again made itself look incredibly petty and stupid.
According to Milk bar mag, the complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Bureau, which (as I understand it) does not have the authority to direct local governments to act in these circumstances. Although the sign supposedly breached the ASB code of ethics, it is not clear that local governments are expected or required to enforce ASB findings.
The City of Yarra’s regulations mention nothing about the aesthetics of advertising signs. Their focus is on managing public safety, and the regulations are all about placement, size and visibility. It is not their role to define community aesthetic standards.
Furthermore, it appears that local governments like the City of Yarra do not have the authority to make decisions about the aesthetics of advertising signs. But despite this lack of legitimate authority, a single complaint was all that was required for the council to slip into book burning moral censorship mode.
As Beat magazine reports, it was primarily the prudish judgement of a council bureaucrat that lead the council to refuse to renew the sign’s license in 2010 after learning of the ASB complaint (despite renewing it in 2009 after a complaint about it was made directly to council).
So what’s the fuss about? It’s an A frame sign featuring a seijin (adult) manga or hentai image. Is it offensive? That’s a subjective judgement that will differ from viewer to viewer. Polyester engaged with the local community in search of our support and the save the Polyester girls Facebook page has approx 980 fans. The petition to save the sign succeeded and the council lost the legal argument and the goodwill of many locals.
The rogue fuckwit responsible for this situation should be sacked for incompetence and corruption. S/he was acting well beyond their authority. Making a business decision based on personal values is a form of corruption. Polyester was treated unprofessionally, lied to and misled by the City of Yarra and should be given an unconditional apology.
The failure of councillor Jackie Fristacky to intervene when asked to by Polyster’s owners demonstrates her own incompetence. The final statement on the matter by mayor Alison Clarke that ‘we have made the book shop operators aware that some people may find the image offensive, and we’ll just leave it at that‘ is unacceptable. It should have been an apology for the council’s manipulative and unconscionable behaviour.
I disagree with the owner’s opinion, as reported in the Melbourne Times Weekly, that the council’s behaviour is evidence that gentrification is causing an increase in resident conservatism. Through their behaviour in this matter the council has proved itself to be out of step with, and most likely unaware of, community values.
The City of Yarra made this failed decision without community consultation. The council is manifestly and excessively morally and politically conservative and no advocate of community values or it would not have to repeatedly change its mind on issues once community opinion is made clear, such as the community’s defence of community gardens after the council’s initial plan to eradicate them.
Given that the sign has existed for 18 years, has only received one complaint and is supported by about 1000 people, I say that the community has spoken. If you don’t like this sign, fuck off back to the boring suburbs where you belong.