TANNHÄUSER: Free the nipples Edition

Facebook has a problem with nudity. Time and again the social media giant deletes pictures and videos of works of art or even photos of historical importance on its platform, because they show genitalia or female breasts, and therefore violate the community standards it has set itself. This has now also affected us.

» Deutsche Version des Artikels

Tannhäuser: Opernballett der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Scene from the prelude of Romeo Castellucci's staging of „Tannhäuser“ (2017)

Twelve women enter the stage in a steady stream. In the orchestra pit, Kirill Petrenko conducts the prelude to Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The women are dressed in long bright skirts, nothing else, and shoot at a wall with bows and arrows to the rhythm of the music. Facebook finds this scene from Romeo Castellucci’s staging of Tannhäuser, which celebrated its premiere at our house in 2017, so offensive that the 20-minute video of the Tannhäuser prelude was deleted last November and our account was blocked for 24 hours. A generic, automatic message told us it violates Facebook’s community standards.

Facebook restricts images of nudity because, “some members of our community believe this kind of content is offensive.” This also includes nipples, and these were obviously the reason for deleting our video. Facebook scarcely differentiates here when deciding if content is pornographic or not, whether private users or institutions upload the images. Following protests against this undifferentiated censorship, Facebook does at least make a few exceptions. The portrayal of female breasts is allowed in the, “context of the breastfeeding, childbirth and the moments thereafter, health-related situations or a protest of some kind.” Incidentally, male nipples don’t appear to bother the platform’s members, or at least they aren’t censored. Interestingly Facebook also makes exceptions for art. It adds: “Photos of paintings, sculptures and other art forms that show naked people or figures are also allowed.” So of course, we want to know why the opera genre isn’t included with the “other art forms”. Perhaps the moving image format was too much for the social media company? We don’t know, Facebook gave us very little information about the deletion.

With this Tweet the Museum of Art and History in Geneva successfully fought against Facebook's censorship.

Despite the manifestation of making exceptions for art, Facebook continues to censor. The censorship victims include: Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, Courbet’s “The Origin of the World” from the Musée d'Orsay, Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”, a Chagall exhibition in the Kunstmuseum Pablo Picasso in Münster, the “Venus of Willendorf” from the Natural History Museum in Vienna, various Rubens paintings and recently also Roman statues of the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. In some cases Facebook has given way following a protest and put the images and videos back again. It would appear, however, that Facebook has learnt very little in this respect.

Until further notice Facebook users can therefore only view the video of our Tannhäuser staging in the censored “Free the Nipples Edition”. But don't worry, the original version is still available in our Media Center!

TANNHÄUSER Vorspiel "Free the Nipples-Edition"

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  • Am 20.04.2019 um 07:33 Uhr schrieb Karin

    Great article

    You really hit the target with this article and it's great to have a respected institution take it on.

    I have one question, why is it the dancers are never credited in name? This is not only for this performance but something I notice about many opera performances.


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