March 4, 2011

Image controversy forces Vita publishing delay

Questions regarding the legality of images in the winter issue of Vita Excolatur, the quarterly on-campus erotic art and sex magazine, prompted ORCSA to delay printing of the magazine, which was scheduled to be released ninth week.

Administrators are currently reviewing the proof of the magazine to determine whether certain images are legally publishable and are looking into the magazine's use of consent forms, according to ORCSA and Vita staff.

The senior staff of Vita met with ORCSA advisor Ravi Randhava yesterday regarding two controversial images–one a close-up of male-female penetration, and another involving penetration using a vegetable. The photographs fit into Vita’s winter quarter theme, ‘Play.’

Although ORCSA did not cite a particular law, Illinois’s 1961 Obscenity Law deems material obscene “if the average person, applying the contemporary adult community standards, would find that, taken as a whole, it appeals to the prurient [sexual] interest.”

Members of Vita argue that they are responding to their U of C audience. “People who bought the magazine wanted to see penetration,” Vita’s head designer and third-year Anne Quaranto said. “They wanted to see the magazine go further. It’s too coy, it’s too cute, they said. Push some boundaries. That’s the student body the University claims to represent.”

Quaranto said it was unclear to Vita whether or not there was a precedent for penetration images being deemed unlawful, but that Randhava had said they were. “According to Ravi, it’s a pornographic shot no matter what caption we put with it or what disclaimer we add, and because it’s pornographic, it’s illegal to print. I really haven’t the slightest clue where he’s getting this argument from; no one has cited any actual laws to us,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Quaranto questioned whether modern interpretations of the obscenity law prohibited penetration images. “It still has not been explained to me what this obscenity law is that allows about 500 different porn mags to be sold at any sex store in Boystown, but doesn’t allow a beautiful piece of art to be published at the U of C,” she wrote.

ORCSA leaders are saying that it is more of an internal issue, and that they’re looking out for the RSO. ORCSA director Sharlene Holly wrote in an e-mail that the founders of Vita adopted in their guidelines the decision to have their content reviewed by their advisor before going to print.

“The Winter 2011 issue was submitted for review late last week,” Holly wrote. “The organization’s advisor has asked the magazine’s student leaders for sufficient time to ensure that the publication meets all of its own guidelines, and that discussion continues.”

According to Vita members, ORCSA’s worries reached beyond the legal ramifications. Vita members said ORCSA expressed concerns that students may be unaware of certain health concerns of the photo shoots and the potential impact of the published photographs on their future. “They feel that perhaps they need to step in and remind us of the gravity of printing these images,” Vita’s executive director and third-year Kelsey Gee said.

Vita editors ensure that precautions are taken to legally protect the publication and all contributors. Each model is required to sign a consent form clearly stating that they are over 18 and that they allow the image of their body to be printed only after seeing the layout of the proof. Additionally, Vita is sold only to U of C students presenting valid ID proving that they are over 17, and a disclaimer on the cover states “Meant for mature audiences.”

Randhava would not comment on specifics, saying “Vita is in the regular review process, and we generally wouldn’t share inner workings of any RSO.”

The images are under review, and a decision is to be made by this weekend. “We were supposed to print this quarter,” explained Alexa DeTogne, Vita’s text editor. Instead the magazine will print in the beginning of spring quarter and be sold in Cobb or the Reynolds Club. “The fact that the images are in there has delayed it.”

Vita states their aim is to educate, express beauty, and challenge people’s notions of sexuality. Vita Excolatur, loosely translated as “the life well lived,” was first published in October 2004. It includes black and white and color photographs, student-life features, fictional and non-fictional stories, paintings, poetry, and other forms of art erotica, including themes related to all varieties of sexual activity.

“The goal is to present all forms of sexual activity as art,” Quaranto said.

Quaranto said she thought the idea that the photographs in the publication could be viewed as pornography was off-base. “You can’t get off on it, you wouldn’t get very far,” Quaranto argues against claims that the magazine is pornography. “There’s a certain shallowness in pornography; it’s utilitarian. We want Vita to be on everyone’s coffee tables.”