Is it art? Is it pornography? Is it both?
A sex-filled music video by Australian musician Brendan Maclean, "House of Air," has sparked a storm of controversy and left viewers asking where the line should be drawn.
Blurring the boundaries between the educational and obscene, the video, which bills itself as "an anthropological study of gay semiotics, taxonomies, and sexual behaviours," shows acts of oral sex, anal sex, anilungus, piss play, and scat performed by adult film actors.
Interspersed are textual lessons from the handbook Gay Semiotics by Hal Fischer, which explain the rules of queer cruising and the meanings of the "hankie code" — a secret sartorial language in which gay men communicate sexual preferences by the color of the handkerchief they display.
Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston, who directed the video, released a project in 2015 that was similar in style. The short film Polari educated viewers about a secret language used by gay men in England, although it was far less explicit.
YouTube has deemed "House of Air" more pornographic than artful. The social media platform removed the video this week for violating its policy on depictions of nudity and sexual content — but not before it had racked up around 700,000 page views since its release January 30.
However, Maclean is defending the piece as art. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Maclean recalls asking himself "not, 'Have I taken this music video too far?' but instead, 'Have I taken this far enough?'"
And for those "pearl clutchers" who asked "why" he would push the envelope as far as he did, Maclean responded, "Well ... why not?"
Citing unabashedly queer pioneers like George Michael, Maclean argued that it is the purpose of art to push against the rules of decency as well as the squeaky-clean image of LGBT people advanced by social movements like the fight for marriage equality. To ignore sex, he maintained, is to be dishonest about LGBT history.
"There are some queer artists who would find it easier to shave off the rough corners of our history, to wave our flag but leave out some of the colours that don’t sell to a straight crowd," he said. "But frankly, anything beyond the whole truth sanitises our history, and makes it boring. And if there’s one thing queer history isn’t, it’s boring."
Maclean, who claimed he has received "five email hacks, two death threats and one online protest video from Brazil" in response to the video, asked viewers to put their priorities in perspective.
"Tell me what’s really more upsetting, my film clip or the fact Donald Trump is the president of the United States?"
The very not-safe-for-work video is still available to watch on Vimeo, where it has been marked as "mature" content. For those who watch, let us know your thoughts in the comments.