Monash University

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(In)forming the choices of self-governing audiences : Australian film classification policy 2000-2010.

posted on 2017-02-14, 00:14 authored by Walker, Larissa
Political statements on the role of Australian film classification tend to focus on the system’s efforts in providing adults the freedom to decide for themselves and their families what films to watch. Rather than engage in censorship, our system of classification categorises films and provides consumer advice in line with community standards to help audiences make informed choices. Restrictions are put in place to protect children and to prevent unsolicited exposure of all audiences to offensive material, but it is only when something is seen to offend against community standards of morality, decency and propriety that it is refused classification and, in effect, banned from exhibition, sale or hire. However, films and their audiences are becoming increasingly difficult to regulate due to technological developments that offer greater potential for engagement and interactivity, as well as opportunities to transcend national boundaries in accessing and distributing restricted film content. This thesis examines Australian film classification by drawing on a theoretical approach to cultural policy informed by the Foucauldian concepts of govern mentality and ethics. In line with this approach, it argues that classification, as an apparatus of advanced liberal government, ultimately aims to create responsible, self-governing audiences who police themselves according to classificatory decisions and recommendations. It explores some of the dominant discourses informing classification policies, practices, decisions and debates, particularly those related to notions of what culture is and does, to reveal the effects and problematics of attempts to constrain textual meaning, regulate film distribution and access, and encourage audiences to govern themselves ‘responsibly’. An overview of the current classification system is provided, including key developments in the shift away from censorship to classification, as well as policy objectives and the matters, principles and guidelines that must be considered in making classification decisions. This leads to an analysis of discourses, technologies and practices that enable and challenge classification categories such as ‘artistic merit’, ‘offensiveness’, ‘community standards’, the ‘reasonable adult test’, ‘context’, ‘impact’ and different audience categories. Whilst classification is based on the expectation audiences will self-regulate -that they will consider classification advice when choosing films -this analysis takes into account that self-government is tied to other discursive frameworks beyond those of classification policy. It acknowledges that the subject is placed at the centre of a network of competing discourses such that technologies of the self can escape the formal control of policy. The thesis contributes to contemporary censorship and classification studies that consider the intended, unanticipated and sometimes contradictory effects of measures directed at regulating films and audiences. The approach adopted throughout the thesis aims to make relations of power in classification visible -including points of resistance -through an investigation of specific cases. Whilst the thesis does not engage in audience research, it analyses media commentary on audience reception of particularly controversial films, as well as public responses to classification decisions. In addition it uses textual analysis to highlight preferred readings of films generated through classificatory practices, as well as possible resistant readings. In doing so, it acknowledges the variability of audience-medium¬text relations so often overlooked in classification.


Principal supervisor

Susan Yell

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Applied Media and Social Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts