Online auction über-haus, eBay, in a nutshell, has really stepped in it this time. By banning the sale of the soundtrack to I Was a Teenage Werebear (Tim Sullivan’s contribution to last year’s cult hit Chillerama), eBay called into question not only its often vague “adult content” policies, but whether or not, as a corporation, it discriminates against gay people. The move is particularly puzzling, as eBay not only pulled down the listing, but cancelled all existing orders, prior to its being pulled down. In other words, people who willfully and knowingly purchased the CD were denied their purchase because at least one individual in eBay’s Safety & Trust division deemed the work “morally offensive.” Does this indicate homophobia on eBay’s part? The filmmaker thinks so. And the evidence is on his side.
Perhaps, “banning,” is too strong of a word. The listing was taken down as “miscategorized.” Sullivan can still sell his wares in their forum. However, now he just has to lump them in with pornography. Having seen the (R-rated) film – the work as a whole, and Sullivan’s Werebear in particular, may be raunchy, but horror fans and smut aficionados would both agree that it’s about as “pornographic” as, say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That is, not at all. In fact, of the four segments that comprise Chillerama, Sullivan’s ode to Frankie and Annette movies by way of Brokeback Mountain is the tamest.
Far be it from me to defend eBay, but my initial reaction to the question of whether or not eBay discriminated against Sullivan because of homophobic knee-jerking was: no – eBay myopically believes that anything sexual is “porno.” From personal experience, a couple years back, having purchased the compendium of Peter Bagge’s Hate comics, Buddy Does Seattle, I attempted to sell my random single issues via eBay. A day after listing them, not only were they taken down, but I was issued a stern warning about my attempt to list “pornography” under false pretenses.
For those who aren’t familiar with the seminal slacker 90’s comic, Hate is a slice of life story about a group of twenty-something friends living in Seattle. Kind of like Friends, but truer to life and, you know, funny. Despite what the title of the collection implies, the “questionable” content amounts to what you’d see in an R-rated movie – a lot of cursing, and a couple panels of nudity. The latter was in the context of comedy scenes, and Bagge’s artistic style leans more toward the cartoony than the realistic.
To make a long story short, after much debate with a Customer Service representative (in the Phillipines), the decision stood. I was attempting to peddle “smut.” And as strange as it is that thousands of R-rated DVD’s, with much more objectionable content, sell on eBay, every day, the bottom line is that, even if I had the money to litigate, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or so I thought.
However, while it is possible to make a good(ish) argument for cartoon, comedic, un-sexy nudity still being “pornographic,” (puritanical as it may be) the question remains: what is it about the I Was a Teenage Werebear soundtrack that eBay found so offensive? The bone of contention (pun 100% intended), at least on the surface, appears to be the signed 8×10 photo that comes with the disc which apparently shows Werebear star Brent Corrigan and his “engorged genetalia” [alleged quote from eBay] stuffed into tight, red underwear. Not, I reapeat, NOT nude.
Okay, fine. So is the problem that all beefcake shots, even clothed ones, are as suggestive as outright pornography? Hardly. Try typing “David Beckham Underwear”into an eBay search and…
Did you get a “restricted content” warning? Did you have to verify your age?
Then tell me, please: how is it all that different from the picture of Corrigan?
All of this should be a moot argument when you consider, per eBay‘s User Agreement, the minimum age to buy and sell is 18. Further, eBay’s return policy automatically rules in favor of the buyer. So in other words, even if an eBuyer accidentally happened on the Wearbear soundtrack package using a vague keyword search like “horror parody music”; and somehow neglected to look at the picture(s)that accompany 99% of all eBay ads; and for some reason, still ordered it for their impressionable, underage crotch-dumpling, they’d have more than ample opportunity to return the offending material to the sender before it ever sullies the ears and eyes of innocent children. Meanwhile, if your kid — girl or boy — wants to see “Becks” in his $20 underoos, all they have to do is order a back issue of Redbook.
The truth, however, is that whether its out of actual ignorance or turning a blind eye to regulations in the name of profit, there are holes in eBay’s ordering system. First off, like part of the Pirate’s Code from the movies, the minimum age of 18 is more of a guideline than a rule. People as young as 16 (perhaps younger) can get an account, provided they have a bank account they can tie to a credit card, or checking account of some kind, preferably through their adjunct payment service, Paypal. According to at least one source, there is no actual verification process for a user’s age. And plenty of parents grant their kids access to their eBay accounts. Regardless, Tim Sullivan is hardly responsible lackadaisical parenting, or a bug in the system.
How will this work out? It’s hard to say. The main thing right now is that eBay, in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, has some serious “’splainin’ to do.”