Canadian Makeup Artist Acquitted of a Cultural Crime No One Can Define

Last Saturday a Montreal jury acquitted special-effects artist Rémy Couture of "corrupting morals" by creating gory photographs and short films for his now-defunct website, InnerDepravity.com. Couture was arrested in 2009 based on an Interpol tip from Austrian police, who initially thought his work, featuring the actions of an imaginary serial killer, documented actual crimes. The prosecution argued that the material, though fictional and produced without harming any real human beings, "undermines fundamental values of Canadian society" by illegally mixing sex and violence. Couture, who faced up to two years in prison, testified that the sex was merely an "accessory":

I create horror. I'm not a pornographer. The goal is not to excite; it's to disgust....

The objective of anyone working as a make-up artist is to make people believe their work. My objective was to create horror, plain and simple.

Can a man's freedom really hinge on this distinction? Under Canadian law, yes. The Canadian definition of obscenity includes "any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely crime, horror, cruelty and violence." In addition to arguing that the sexual content of his work was secondary, Couture maintained that its artistic value should shield him from criminal liability. Evidently the jury accepted one or both of those arguments. "It's the end of a nightmare that lasted three years," Couture said. "I want to thank the jury and all those who supported me."

I am glad Couture was acquitted of something that should not be treated as a crime, but the process by which that happened hardly epitomizes the rule of law. The government said his images were obscene, and he said they weren't. Until the jury voted on Saturday—based on imponderables such as the nature of art and how much exploitation of sex is "undue," which in turn depends on how much a community is prepared to tolerate, itself an utterly subjective and self-verifying judgment—there was no way to say who was right. How can people reasonably be expected to conform their behavior to the law when it is impossible for them to figure out what actions it proscribes until after they've been arrested and prosecuted? 

The same problem, of course, afflicts obscenity prosecutions in the United States, even without Canada's special sex-plus-horror provision. Ira Isaacs, a self-described "shock artist," presented a defense similar to Couture's, saying he was deliberately trying to "challenge the viewer" with his films, which featured scatology and bestiality. Isaacs said he was an artist, but a federal jury said he wasn't, and now he faces up to 25 years in prison. Why? Because his movies were, like, totally gross. This is no way to run a criminal justice system.

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  • Caleb Turberville||

    Isn't Canada the country that brought us David Cronenberg? Someone help me out because I'm VERY sure of this.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Oui.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Then how is Couture "undermining the values of Canadian society"?

    Off the top of my head, I can name only two Canadian film directors: Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg. And Cronenberg is the master of sexualized gore.

  • Hyperion||

    crime no one can define

    That's the kind that our lawmakers like best. That way they can define it as they go, depending on how much they don't like the person accused.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Great news!

    Remy, go to Hollywood, where your talents will be celebrated and financially compensated.

  • Marshall Gill||

    I create horror. I'm not a pornographer. The goal is not to excite; it's to disgust....

    I thought Nutra Sweet lived in Kentucky?

  • karen@stopthepimples.com||

    Remind me to never live in Canada since freedom of speech apparently does not exist. If you have issues with acne check out my blog! www.StopthePimples.com

  • ||

    Take a hike, crater face.

  • Christina||

    As much as this story bothers me as s good (true!) libertarian, at least the objection was to the content of his art. I got into an FB argument with a woman I know (who lives in San Francisco) who agrees with Spike Lee that Django Unchained is bad because Quentin Tarantino is, as she put it, "profiting from exploitation, and is not a member of the [black] community." Neither she nor Spike Lee have seen the film, or know anything about the plot or characters. But for them, the WHAT is secondary to the WHO. Judging art on its own merits (as I proposed to her) was shot down with the simple retort that, "Tarantino is a tool."

  • Sevo||

    ..."a woman I know (who lives in San Francisco) who agrees with Spike Lee"...

    Pretty much a given. Both ways.

  • Brett L||

    Just so I'm clear on the argument: Its okay for black writer-directors to get rich by having black actors say the word "nigger", but having white writer-directors get rich having white actors say the same word is bad?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I worked on a couple film projects for A Band Apart/Mr. Pink LLC. I spent some time in Tarantino's offices, and worked extensively with his staff. He may not be black, but he is definitely a part of a black community.

  • GILMORE||

    Canadian Makeup Artist

    Oh, I'd so sue you fuckers just for that slander. Can't he be a 'special effects' guy, or just 'artist'? Nooooooo. You had to go making him some simpering salon dandy who does skin peels for geriatrics in Winnepeg.

    oh - side note:

    ....who agrees with Spike Lee ....

    [mythbusters style] "Well, *THERE'S* your problem!"

    some people are still so stuck in the 90s "race/gender/class" bullshit that they think anyone gives a shit about the following =

    A white guy makes a movie with a black guy cast in the role of an italian guy who used to pretend he was a mexican guy passing as an American Cowboy (aka 'DJANGO')... a 'remake' or homage to an entire genre which was itself nothing but *stealing ideas* from other cultures, then making them much more ludicrously lowbrow! EXPLOITATION!! Tarantino.?? EXPLOITING THE EXPLOITATION GENRE!? SAY IT AINT SO!?

    "Woman from San Francisco Morally Outraged by Film She Hasn't Seen: Film at 11" I'm so shocked.

  • buybuydandavis||

    People just can't give up their blasphemy laws, whatever they call them.

  • BlueBook||

    ...undue exploitation...

    So exploitation is just fine so long as it's "due". Noted for future exploiting.

  • Gladstone||

    "undermines fundamental values of Canadian society"

    Reminds of how Turdough's charter states that rights are meaningless if the violation can be justified as "reasonable" and "democratic." Or how Canadian healthcare is a "Canadian value."

  • Robert||

    Would you rather have a declaratory judgement procedure, as in Cincinnati, where, to avoid the jeopardy of not knowing whether a work is obscene, it must first be determined to be so, and then a prior restraint issued? That way you don't have to take your chances.

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