The account below is an exerpt about the censoring of the Visual AIDS exhibition at the
Weldon Library in 1991. Links to images of the censored posters are included in the text.
For a startling example of external censorship advancing the cause of Aparth-AIDS, I need go no
further than my own university - a glowing shrine to academic freedom since Rushton's media
martyrdom. On April 22, 1991, Detective Lory Moro of the London Vice Squad ordered me to
remove an exhibit organized by my 'AIDS and the Arts' seminar from the main foyer of
Western's D.B. Weldon Library. The exhibit, entitled 'Reading the AIDS Crisis,' consisted of
thirty-two books on various cultural aspects of the epidemic arranged in eight display cases
according to subject and political bias. Supplementing each group of readings were three to seven
AIDS prevention posters directly related to the political concerns of the recommended authors.
My students felt that the posters would serve as a visual hook to catch the attention of their peers.
Little did we realize then that these provocative images would also conjure up the demons of
paleochristian lust who in turn, like the devils in Dante's Inferno, would stretch out their little
hooks and snare the cops.
'Reading the AIDS Crisis' had been on view for two weeks before the delicate sensibilities of
the police were offended. The shutdown order was delivered to me over the phone - along with a
recitation of the obscenity clauses in the Criminal Code. Apparently the urgent efforts of my
students to make their peers aware of the political agendas behind 'AIDS Awareness' had
brutally violated community standards of decency. Feigning calm, I confessed my gene-based
inability to distinguish the decent from the indecent: how was I to know what to remove from the
display cases? Among the fifty-six items on display were several nice children's books on AIDS;
surely they were not jeopardizing the immortal souls of students cramming for exams at the
The London Vice Squad did not consider reading a dangerous occupation for the morally
vulnerable, for Detective Moro wasn't at all interested in the books. It was a group of safer sex
posters that had stimulated his saintly faculty of 'discretio spirituum.' At my request for official
clarification of community standards, he directed a UWO campus police officer to accompany
me to the Weldon foyer for the purpose of distinguishing the obscene posters from the merely
Rarely does one get a chance to observe at close hand the censoring mind at work (if indeed it is
the mind that works during an art attack): here, then, was a golden opportunity for me to learn
from an officer of the police academy of fine arts the precise criteria for distinguishing AIDS-
porn from AIDS-art. Only four posters out of twenty-six turned out to be instruments of demonic
temptation: 'Take It Off, Put It On' by the AIDS Committee of Toronto;
'Get Carried Away With Condoms' by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation; and a hot pair
from the 'Keep it Up' series adapted by Britain's Terrence Higgins Trust from a
Dutch safer sex campaign. The censored quartet all featured stylish black-and-white photographs of
In the Toronto poster the models were engaged in pulling off each other's briefs before slipping
into condoms - a sensible sequence of events. 'I find that personally disgusting,' snorted the
officer. When I begged to know precisely what 'that' was - their underwear? Their taste for latex/
their hairy legs/ - the censor clammed up. His silence grew when I proceeded to wonder aloud
how his personal standards of propriety just happened to coincide with those of the general
public, who were not there to spit at the icons of shame.
It was then that I discovered the first unwritten law of ritual censorship: NO PUBLIC CENSOR
ON THE POINT OF CENSORING CAN ARTICULATE THE PREJUDICIAL DISCOURSES
DISTINGUISHING THE OFFENSIVE FROM THE INOFFENSIVE WITHOUT BETRAYING
THE MYTHICAL STATUS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC.
Faced with the two Terrence Higgins Trust posters, the poor officer could splutter out nothing
more than the words 'grappling' and 'bondage.' Bondage I had heard of as a sexual practice, and
I guessed that he was referring to the full-frontal image of a nude Caucasoid twisted up in a
winding cloth like an Egyptian mummy. To my academic eye it looked like an artsy allegory of
AIDS-phobia restraining male desire, but to the censor's jaded eye it was a macabre S/M ritual
from the darker side of the Gay Twilight Zone. As for grappling, that was a new one on me.
From the other British poster, depicting a nude Caucasoid male embraced by several arms
emerging from behind him, I inferred that grapplers enjoyed obscenely casual contact with the