This week the trial of Rémy Couture, the Canadian special-effects artist charged with "corrupting morals" by illegally combining sex and gore, began in Montreal. The evidence against him includes two short films depicting the crimes of a necrophiliac serial killer and various photographs of simulated torture and dismemberment that were posted on Couture's now-defunct website, InnerDepravity.com. The images were so realistic that Austrian police, alerted to the website by complaints from concerned citizens about six years ago, initially thought they were on the trail of an extremely indiscreet murderer. By the time the matter was referred to the Montreal police morality squad (yes, that is really what it's called) via Interpol in 2009, it was clear that no one had actually been harmed during the production of these icky images and that that Couture was merely showing off his skills with makeup and rubber guts. The National Post reports that Sgt. Detective Eric Lavallée nevertheless invented a ruse to lure Couture out of his apartment, "posing as a potential client seeking a mock gory photo session with his wife," instead of simply knocking on the door. Just to be safe.
The prosecution argues that Couture's work is obscene under Canadian law because "a dominant characteristic" of it is "the undue exploitation of sex" combined with "crime, horror, cruelty and violence." He faces up to two years in prison for this prohibited mixture, illustrated by exhibits such as these:
Classified on the site under such headings as "Hook," "Burn," "Sacrifice," "Suicide" and "Necrophile," the photos show half-naked women being tortured, mutilated and sexually assaulted.
In one series, a masked male killer slices off a woman's nipple. In another, a woman victim has a knife inserted in her genitals. Some of the photos depict the attacker having sex with a corpse.
One of the films showed a muscular, tattooed man in a mask, appearing to eat a victim's intestines. In another, a barely dressed, blood-drenched woman was strapped to a bed with a large crucifix lying across her.
Not your cup of tea, probably. But are these fake felonies also a real felony? Yes, according to Crown Prosecutor Michel Pennou, who on Tuesday told the jury charged with assessing the artistic merits of Couture's work (his main defense) that his simulated mayhem was an assault on "fundamental Canadian values." Becauses Canadians are nice, I guess.
Yesterday, the Post reports, UCLA psychologist Neil Malamuth testified that "violent pornography 'can add fuel to the fire' when viewed by men who are predisposed to being sexually aggressive toward women." During a period when steady declines in violent crime have coincided with a surge in highly successful torture-porn movies, there is reason to doubt this sort of effect, if it exists at all, is very strong. But assuming Malamuth is right, should artists be held criminally liable for the hypothetical reactions of especially depraved people who happen to encounter their work? Twelve randomly selected art critics will decide.