Apple’s Ban of Sex Criminals Series Reveals Inconsistent Enforcement of Policy

November 18, 2013
By

sexcriminals3-coverEarlier this month, CBLDF reported on the ban of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals #2 from Apple’s ioS marketplace. On Wednesday, series artist Zdarsky announced via Twitter than issue #3 was similarly rejected based on undisclosed violations of Apple’s content guidelines. As well, Apple made the decision to retroactively remove issue #1, nearly two months after its original release date.

Apple’s terms of service currently state:

Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings”, will be rejected.

Fair enough. Apple needs to limit their liability for distributing potentially offensive materials in these depressingly litigious times and is free to create structure defining what content is acceptable in their marketplace. Except they don’t — not consistently, anyway.

One read of the first two issues of Sex Criminals could easily clear the series of implied accusations of being pornography. Is it sexy? Yes. Is there nudity? Yes. Is it obviously intended to be the type of book you lock yourself in the bathroom with water running on full-blast? Probably not. The sexual imagery is beautifully drawn — artistic, playful, and passionate, even a little heartbreaking at times, focusing on the feelings of intimacy rather than blatantly erotic visuals. It hilariously examines discovering sexual identity, experimentation, and physical relationships transcending sex to create new experiences. With themes and content that seem to meet Apple’s guidelines, the real question becomes clear: Do the moderators reviewing content at Apple understand the value of comics?

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Their inconsistent enforcement of policy becomes clear upon perusal of other content in the app store. While there’s no reason any of this content shouldn’t be available for interested users, it doesn’t make sense that these items are available for purchase when they seem to directly violate Apple’s terms. Why have Sex Criminals and other comics been subject to ban?

For example, consider the app Rack Stare, which is readily available for download. In Rack Stare, users “please [their] eyes with a mouth-watering rack as long as [they] can without being noticed.” How is this not simulating erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings?

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Another app available is Lesbian Short Stories. This app collects “over 30,000 decadent, erotic words dripping with sexual lesbian electricity.”

If Apple’s guidelines prohibit content of an explicit sexual nature, why are titles such as 50 Shades of Grey, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, and The Story of O available for purchase? These titles are all classic erotic stories with a devoted following and proven value in the literary world, and yet each of them is more graphic than Fraction and Zdarsky’s comic book sex comedy. Not only can creators not rely on Apple’s policies for clarity, but it’s also impossible to look to the app store for guidance on permissible content.

This lack of consistency creates an impression that Apple holds comic books to a different standard than other media. Comic readers can still purchase ioS-banned books in shops and through other digital avenues — they want these titles and will find a way to get them. But sadly, the restrictive climate Apple is building within the app store seems to disavow their comics consumers of having any voice in the culture they’ve created.

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Casey Gilly is a comics journalist and cat enthusiast living in Oakland, CA, where she eats tacos and plays ukulele.

Sex Criminals images (c) Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky