Facebook Bans Ads from Belgian Tourism Board Over Artistic Nudity

There's an old saying that if you try to be something for everybody, you won't be anything to anybody.

In trying to create a safe haven for people to express their viewpoints, Facebook has managed to create inconsistent and contradictory community standards that have upset plenty of people, even as Facebook executives give barely-understood explanations of how it's all supposed to work.

Lately, Facebook has been on the hot seat for having overly strict rules about decency and art in their ads. This comes after being called out for allowing Holocaust deniers and alt-right racists to post their hateful garbage, but banning advertisements that contain paintings with nudity.

Today's boneheaded decision hits Flanders, Belgium and The Flanders Tourist Board (also called "Toerisme Vlaanderen" in Dutch, or as Simpsons fans say, "Visit Stupid Flanders").

The Tourist Board recently complained to Facebook about their "cultural censorship" of advertisements with paintings by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. The ads then explained that no, Peter Paul Rubens was not the guy who played Pee Wee Herman. He's the artist whose paintings of curvy, fleshy women inspired the term "Rubenesque."

The latest painting to turn Facebook's cheeks red was Rubens' "The Descent from the Cross," which shows Jesus being lowered from the cross with only a conveniently-placed sheet to cover his unmentionables. It's an important painting in Rubens' history, and it's considered a classic of Flemish Baroque art. There's no actual nudity unless you consider a man's bare chest scandalous.

But despite Rubens' established history and a general understanding of Western classical art, Facebook banned the ads because Jesus wasn't wearing a shirt.

Keep in mind that the Flanders Tourist Board could have posted Facebook updates with any of Rubens' paintings and probably not run afoul of Facebook's decency rules until some pearl-clutching reactionary found them offensive.

Which given people's hypersensitivity and faux outrage these days, is not entirely unexpected. People got upset when Michelle Obama wore a dress that showed her bare arms, so somebody's surely going to have a fit about 400-year-old art boobs.

When you make anything for everybody, somebody will always complain about something.

While people can post art in their status updates, Facebook has stricter rules about advertisements that contain nudity or implied nudity, "even if artistic or educational in nature, except for statues."

What makes statues so special? Why do they get a special pass? Worried that one of Manet's nude paintings is going to turn someone into a sex pervert? Afraid that Salvador Dali is going to make your precious Tristan or Ainsley grow up too fast?

How is a painting less scandalous than the topless (and armless) Venus de Milo? Or the statue of David? That guy's just parading his junk around Florence, Italy, waving it at a million tourists a year, but we could post ads about him every day.

This past March, Facebook had to apologize for rejecting Eugene Delacroix's 1830 painting, "Liberty Leading the People," the woman whose dress has been torn and her breasts exposed, as she waves the French tricolor flag and carries a musket. Again, it wasn't a statue of boobs, just a painting of boobs, so it was rejected by still other boobs. But after being exposed as artistic troglodytes, Facebook relented and let the ad run.

You only have to glance at an ad to see if the nudity is truly artistic or if it's just an ad for Art's Nude Revue, but Facebook doesn't seem to get that.

"We have noticed that Facebook consistently rejects works of art by our beloved Peter Paul Rubens," the Tourism Board wrote in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg. "Indecent. That is the word used to describe the breasts, buttocks, and cherubs of Peter Paul Rubens. Not by us, but by you. Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us."

The Tourism Board also created a satirical YouTube video of social media inspectors patrolling the Rubens House in Antwerp, asking if visitors had a social media account. Anyone who did was ushered away from any paintings that featured ". . . nudity, even if artistic in nature. This includes paintings focused on individual body parts such as abs, buttocks, or cleavage."

Having been shamed yet again for not understanding the difference between art and porn (if it's made before 1950, it's art), Facebook invited members of the Flanders Tourism Board to a meeting, after the board suggested they meet over some Belgian beer, which is the best in the world. And while I applaud the sentiment, it seems a little backward.

Here's a tiny organization that only wants to increase tourism to their small region by giving money to a multi-billion dollar company, even though the multi-billion dollar company mistakenly rejected well-known classical paintings. And yet Flanders has to travel to Facebook?

That's just the embodiment of haughtiness and does not bode well for anyone who wants to display anything more immodest than a bodice to a bunch of busybodies.

If anybody is going anywhere, somebody from Facebook needs to fly to Belgium so everybody can talk, otherwise, nobody is going to get anything done.

Photo credit: Descent From The Cross, Peter Paul Rubens (between 1612 and 1614) Photo by Alvegaspar (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

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