Vine Gets A Hays Code: No More Six-Second Sex For You

Twitter’s nano-video brand Vine has proven yet again that there is no way for an institution to impose sexual restrictions without sounding silly in the details. The Hays Code demonstrated this truism 80 years ago. Vine reminded us of this yesterday. Six-second sex is now officially out of bounds at the mobile video social network.

And it is so hard to do this and still sound hip, open-minded and accepting. In forcing its members to put their pants back on yesterday and ban explicit sex from the network, Vine declared: “For more than 99% of our users, this doesn’t really change anything. For the rest, we don’t have a problem with explicit sexual content on the Internet -- we just prefer not to be the source of it.”

Okay, despite the fact that I am more than a little uncomfortable having corporate entities making media decisions for me, there is something to be said for a company actually making a moral stand of any kind. Mealy mouthed as it may be. After all, we do often lambaste the corporate world for its profit-driven amorality -- a multinational reach that seems to put them in bed with dictators and oppressive regimes, a basic lack of national identification let alone patriotism.  

That said, there simply is no way to implement these bans aimed at explicit material without coming up with silliness. Watching the cool kids lay down the moral code is just delicious on the face of it. To wit, we get the “Vine Explicit Sexual Content FAQ.”

I am smiling just writing those words and wondering how long it will take for this to be forever known as the “F--- FAQ.”

It gives us gem-like “examples of what’s not okay to post” as “Close-ups of aroused genitalia underneath clothing.”

Which henceforth will be known as “The Anthony Weiner Rule.”

And while you are asking, even animated sex (or the widely circulated Hentai) is out. Sex toys? Verboten. Solo sex. Nyet. And the undefinable “sexually provocative nudity” is parsed as different from the allowed “nudity in a documentary context” which includes “video of nude protesters.” Because everyone knows there is nothing especially erotic about activism. How about a nude protest against sexual inhibition?

Art class nudity or “nudity in an artistic context?” Fine. Although I can tell you that as the son of a commercial artist who had loads of figure modeling books hanging around, there is no way to keep a 10-year-old boy from seeing this as a gold mine of porn. Fetishists and tween boys will find a way to sexualize just about anything you put in front of them. For the guys who obsess over women’s feet crammed into stiletto heels and close-ups of toes, don’t worry. Knock yourselves out. But nice try, Vine.

This is not Vine’s fault, of course. It just goes with the territory. You can’t make these prohibitions on content without definitions and distinctions between the erotic and non-erotic, and herein the silliness occurs.

Any media historian worth his or her salt can’t help but see the shadows here of the Hays Code or officially Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. In its attempt to cut off governmental regulation efforts, Hollywood self-regulated with its own infamously prissy set of content restrictions in the early 30s. Actually the code came into effect before it was actually enforced in the mid-30s by content cop Will B. Hays. The code itself was less funny than the way it was implemented. There was a section just on bedrooms, which the official codes assured “in themselves are perfectly innocent.” But they can quickly turn into “bad dramatic locations.” “Their use in a comedy or farce (on the principle of the so-called bedroom farce) is wrong, because they suggest sex laxity and obscenity.”

Legend has it that this explicit rule led to practical instructions to filmmakers like the unofficial “one foot rule.” In order to avoid sexual suggestion, kissing or hugging couples had to have at least one of their four feet on the floor at all times. The code itself warned against prolonged kissing without giving a time frame. But Hollywood mythology holds that directors were told kisses under three seconds was still construed as romantic. More than that and you had to figure someone somewhere, if not the actors, was getting aroused.

In the larger scheme of things, banning sexually explicit content from Vine is not going to stem licentiousness one iota, which certainly isn’t the intent of the ban anyway. You have to wonder how much prurient interest really could be raised in six seconds. Who the hell was getting off on this stuff to begin with? Even considering that Vine video plays in a loop, how erotic can that be?

Oh, wait a sec. Didn’t I just say I was a 10-year-old boy once?

Never mind. I get it. 

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