The Internet really is changing everything.
Yesterday, Ira Isaacs, a film producer and self-described “shock artist” was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted on obscenity charges. I’m no lawyer, but it’s my understanding that obscenity trials, especially in the United States, are something of a rarity these days.
In order to determine whether or not the work was obscene, the jury was asked to view hour upon hour of Isaac’s productions in order to determine if any of the films had artistic merit. Ignore for a minute that the notion of objectively determining artistic merit in a courtroom is patently absurd. I wasn’t aware of this until yesterday, but apparently there are still obscenity laws on the books, and the law, in some cases unfortunately, is the law.
So do Isaacs’ films have artistic merit? The most infamous of his productions, Two Girls One Cup, features two women consuming fecal matter. What I’m going to write next may cause some readers to scoff and bristle and shake their heads slowly, muttering “this time you’ve gone too far,” but fairness and general speculation demand it. Is Two Girls One Cup entirely without artistic merit?
On the surface, the question seems almost silly. What values could be found in a video of women consuming feces? One again, disregarding the notion that somebody, somewhere, could find just about anything to have value, nothing about Isaacs’ film seems to operate on any level above prurient trash. Isaacs’ own self-categorization as an “artist” seems, at the very least, highly suspect.
However, the wild untamed beast that is the Internet seems to have opened up a whole new world of theoretical possibilities. Consider that Two Girls blew up across the Internet and became something of a cult phenomenon somewhere around 2005 or 2006 (to the best of my recollections). It’s hard to argue that the interest in Two Girls at the time was due to the (supposedly) titillating nature of the clip. Generally, the cult status of the fecal feast was brought about the same way most fucked up Internet videos become famous (see also Glass Ass, Hatchet VS Genitals, and Mr. Hands if you dare/hate yourself): somebody stumbled across it, thought it was outlandishly weird and disgusting, and put it somewhere else/sent it to somebody. Repeat until Two Girls is so ingrained in the online lexicon that it’s become a go-to joke on Reddit and other forums. I don’t have any hard numbers, obviously, but I think it’s safe to say that most people who have viewed Two Girls did so out of morbid curiosity and/or for comedy purposes (or had it unsuspectingly unleashed on them for the same purposes).
Don’t we have to consider, at this point, that videos like Two Girls sort of cease to be pornography when their place in the pop-culture landscape changes so radically? Isn’t art kind of defined by how somebody receives it? If the majority of individuals are viewing Two Girls as some sort of strange, found-art object, doesn’t that, to some degree, negate the “obscene” classification (if the hard line for “obscene” is that something has no artistic value)?
Again, I don’t doubt that Isaacs is little more than a two-bit pornographer who knows he can make money selling the shit (pun intended) that nobody else wants to sell, but somebody, presumably, will want to buy. I don’t think it makes him a purveyor of obscene material (explicit, certainly), but it also makes him a businessman first and foremost. Still, a broken clock is right twice a day. I humbly submit that Two Girls One Cup (and other associated bits of disgusting video) has become found art, given its transformation in the wild west of online communities.
More on this situation as it develops.