De-Facing Facts


Last week, ‘offensive’ posters were defaced by students, but is there really any merit in such a public protest?, asks Zelda Cunningham.

Once again, societies’ choice of imagery for their posters has become a controversial issue in UCD. Last week, in the midst of hype of Freshers’ weeks posters displayed in Belfield were defaced with red paint. Slogans such as ‘sexist’ and large ‘X’s were plastered across posters advertising the Literary and Historical (L&H) Society’s Porn Debate and the Business and Legal (B&L) Society’s Bunny Ball.

Both posters featured images of the female form, in, what some people would describe as provocative poses. The L&H poster illustrated the rear of a naked woman wearing high-heeled, knee-high boots. B&L chose what could be considered as a more subtle approach with the silhouette of a female figure against a wallpaper of vintage Playboy magazine covers.

This is not the first incidence of societies exploiting the primal urges of the students to steer attention to their events. Nor indeed is it the first time that such posters have been condemned by students. However, the recent act of vandalism poses an imperative question about the freedom of expression in UCD. Is there a point in demonstrating against something that is widely accepted?

In response to the damage carried out on the posters, L&H Auditor, Ian Hastings emphasised his dismay at the way this protest manifested itself, commenting that “vandalising a public picture, no matter what the picture was kind of a silly thing to do”. He added that “it’s particularly important in a university environment that there should not be an attitude that people have a right not to be offended.”

So far, it is the person armed with red paint who is at fault by UCD standards

This response was echoed by B&L Auditor, Amro Hussein who emphasised that if the vandal took issue with the poster, they should have come to him rather than attacking it. The response of both auditors seems to be one of shock and offence, which is exactly what the vandal most likely felt upon spying the advertising.
And so we have a moral stand off. On one side, we have those who are offended by the subjection of the human form to promote societies’ gain. On the other side, there are those who offended by the representation of the offence of the initial offendee. The only thing that is clear about this is that there is no obvious answer.

Questions from both sides are credible. Should all students, staff and visitors to UCD have explicit images foisted on them by societies? On the converse, should societies have vigilante vandals imposing punitive measures on their self-funded posters?

UCD societies and students alike are bound by codes of conduct regarding posters. Gratuitously explicit posters are not permitted in campus. Having not received official complaint, the L&H posters and the B&L posters are presumed to be within the university’s standard of conduct. Within the same code of conduct, it is not permitted to tear down or deface posters. So far, it is the person armed with red paint who is at fault by UCD standards.

Mr Hastings explained that the L&H poster was not meant to advocate, or indeed condemn pornography. Stating that the whole point of the event was to open the issue of pornography for debate, Mr Hasting added, “if [the poster] evokes feelings of disgust… it was somewhat against the point to vandalise it, because it’s not as if it’s saying this is or is not acceptable; it just wants to raise the issue.”

Mr Hastings stated that he had invited the student involved in the vandalism to engage with the society at the debate, however this offer was declined.

It would seem that a rash act of vandalism was an easier way out for the person in question. Scrawling ‘sexist’ on the property of a society without affording the society to respond appears one-sided. Perhaps damaging to the very message that the person was attempting to provoke. When students view the defaced posters, is it not that they see someone acting in a rash and intimidating way, rather than noticing the subject of the protest?

However, there may be something of merit in the actions of the student who did this. Most students cruised through the concourse barely batting an eyelid to the blatant, and arguably subversive, imagery on the posters. Walking to lectures against a background of explicit sexual images is something that we have become accustomed to in UCD.

Back in late 2006, the then-Women’s Officer, Carol-Anne Rushe, and Programme Officer, Chris Bond, reacted angrily to posters advertising the Arts & Human Sciences Launch Night, which featured images of semi-naked men and women. The then-Arts & Human Sciences Programme Officer, Paul Lynam, retorted by saying, “If women want to show their bodies as models, let them. Sex sells and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about it.”

The argument has always been that posters are meant to provoke a reaction amongst its target audience. Students are the target audience. Yet, at least one student is publically rebelling against the idea that we as a collective body can be bought through the exploitation of sex.

There is a chance that this could very awaken similar motivations in other students. The publicity of the vandalism was more far reaching than an angry letter to an auditor or engaging in the debate.

Auditors and chairpersons of UCD societies do not publish posters in line with their personal tastes. Posters are engineered to appeal to students. The reaction of this student could signal a change in students’ sensibilities. Distaste for the explicit imagery, manifesting itself in a reduced enthusiasm for the events they advertise, will see societies changing tack in their advertising strategy.

Titles such as ‘Porn Debate’ and ‘Bunny Ball’ have obvious connotations without any imagery. Perhaps it will be realised that students do not need to be inundated with images screaming that sex is indeed on the agenda.

The University Observer also unsuccessfully attempted to contact the person involved for comment.