ROX #22 was a rather unremarkable episode. We had a bunch of male friends over for a “Boyz Nite In” of drinking, bullshitting and ball-scratching. Eventually we cajoled them into moving a couch up into our attic for us. Ho hum.
But there was one short segment that would draw far more attention than the surrounding show. It was just 25 seconds long, but the controversy would last for months.
We had begun to feature a weekly segment called “J&B's Video Erotica,” little snippets of video that usually weren't very erotic at all but had some sexual connection. For “Boyz Nite In” we showed a close-up of a fig.
(The fig clip came from “Pots, Pans & Pot,” another show on our public access channel, which was about to engender its own share of controversy. But that's another story.)
No, the fig segment did not get us into trouble. It was our introduction to the fig that attracted the attention of the station director.
We thought that “J&B's Video Erotica” needed a special title sequence. So J & I dropped our drawers and wrote our initials on our dicks. Then we stood up close to the camera and superimposed the rest of the title.
So the ultimate effect was to see “J&B's Video Erotica” with the letters “J” and “B” written on the heads of two flaccid phalluses.
Oh, did I mention that we were flaccid? You didn't think we were aroused, did you? Sorry, it wasn't a sex game. We're just a couple of straight guys who happen to be comfortable with our bodies.
(Hell, I'm so comfortable with my body that I got arrested for running across campus naked. But that, too, is another story.)
We thought it was funny. But Michael White, director of our public access television channel, thought it was a violation of station policy and probably the law.
This was not our first encounter with censorship. Remember ROX #5? But in that case we had deferred to Michael's judgement and blacked out the questionable content.
This time around we thought we knew better. We disagreed with Michael's assessment. In our estimation, the sequence was not obscene or illegal. However, the station policy made vague reference to “community standards” — and who was to say what those were or whether we had violated them?
So, rather than blacking out the 25 seconds in question, the entire episode was held back for consideration by the Monroe County Public Library (where the TV station was housed). In the meantime, we broadcast a looping text message in our regular time slot, which explained the situation and encouraged viewers to write to us.
The situation repeated itself a couple weeks later with the next segment of “J&B's Video Erotica” in ROX #24, “A Badly Dubbed Foreign Film.”
Now things started to get really interesting. We were deluged with letters! Our mailbox was stuffed for the next few weeks. Up until this point we had been getting maybe one letter per show. Suddenly we became aware that a lot more people were watching than we had realized.
We read these letters in the episodes that followed. They were universally positive and supportive, by the way. Not a single writer was outraged or offended. Most encouraged us to fight the censors.
Soon there were stories about us in the local newspapers. These articles are indexed on our website, so you can read 'em yourself.
When the library board finally made their decision, they sided with Michael. They said it was a no-go. At that point, we gave up. We blacked out the 25 second intro and had done with it.
As my father-in-law said, if you're going to go to the mat and fight for freedom of speech, make sure it's something important. And this just seemed too silly.
Ultimately, though, maybe we won. The last time I spoke with Michael White he told me that our struggles pushed the library to formalize its policy on such matters, and that they designated the public access station as a “constitutional forum.” That is, if it's protected by the First Amendment, it can be shown on the channel.
If that policy had been in place back in 1993, who knows how things might have shaped up. As it is, the segment never saw the light of day. I don't even have a copy of the uncensored version myself, but it may be in the station's archive. If you live in Bloomington, go on down to the library and ask to see it.
Oh, but back to “Boyz Nite In”: Just before and after the commercial for “Raw Shorts,” you'll see a bunch of quick edits. Keep in mind that this show was edited tape-to-tape, back in the days of analog video, when quick edits actually meant a lot of hard work. So I just hope you appreciate that.