In order to prevent on the ground of public morals

This preview shows page 28 - 29 out of 31 pages.

in order to prevent on the ground of public morals, the appearance of the film unless the producers are ready to submit to censorship.” 144 Visual representations of persecution on the screen explicitly linked the charge of indecency with religion and empire. One scene particularly bothered authorities: “It appears that among the ‘horrors’ which it is proposed to exhibit indiscriminately to the public on this propaganda film is ‘a long line of crosses displaying the crucified bodies of stark naked young girls.’ ” (See Figure 5.) Eventually, the Ministry of Health was brought in to address concerns about sexual content. Officials cited the actresses’ state of undress and claimed that although the crucifixions were “true to fact,” it “was none the less distressing to look upon on that account,” particularly because “the originals of this picture were not dead Armenians but live American girls.” 145 This blurring of the lines between suffering “oriental” women as victims and what one reviewer described as “beautiful white-skinned American models” as sex symbols would corrupt the uneducated viewer more interested in naked actresses than in the lesson to be drawn from the scene itself. 146 The crucifixions troubled the Foreign Office for another reason. The image of young women nailed to crosses indicated that the persecution was religiously motived, which overshadowed the moral and political argument against state-sponsored terror. Though it was not pos- sible to prove that the actresses were truly naked, the mere suggestion of nakedness proved powerful enough to justify censoring the film on the grounds of indecency. 147 As a government tool in the service of imperial policy, the postwar controversy over Auction of Souls problematized the notion that the British Empire had a special mandate to prosecute crimes against humanity by making it impossible to frame the genocide as Bryce and others had earlier done as a non-sectarian humanitarian issue. The indecency charge, used to cover up concerns about a fading imperial mandate challenged by the fallout from the massacre at Amritsar, cast a long shadow over the 144 Letter sent on behalf of Lord Curzon to Under Secretary of State, India Office, January 5, 1920, TNA, HO 45/10955/312971/92. 145 Mr. Shortt to Mr. Harris (Prosecutions Department), TNA, HO 45/10955/312971/89 (n.d.). The pornographic quality of what Karen Halttunen calls “the spectacle of suffering” was condemned as “popular sensationalism” in the nineteenth century. The shocking visual representation of crucifixion onscreen increased the power of such charges, further undermining the humanitarian argument. Halt- tunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” American His- torical Review 100, no. 2 (April 1995): 303–334, here 317.

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture