Touching Our Private Parts

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« BACK   Then Moore's work got some unwanted attention again, this time in the unlikeliest of places.

A couple of years ago Moore decided to start airing what he describes as a weekly two-and-a-half-hour variety show on B-TV, Berkeley's public-access cable television station. With his video library bulging with footage of his performances and public appearances; episodes of his Internet show; plus a handful of films he'd written, directed, and starred in, Moore had plenty of material to use. He dubbed the show Frank Moore's Unlimited Possibilities.

Then reports surfaced of upset Berkeley parents complaining about their kids seeing sexually explicit material on Moore's show or another explicit public-access program, the Dr. Susan Block Show. Some of those offended viewers found sympathetic allies on the city council.

"When they bring a camera close to a women's crotch and try to insert a disabled man's penis into a vagina -- if you don't call that bad taste, I don't know what is," Councilwoman Betty Olds told the Berkeley Daily Planet last September. Not all of Olds' colleagues felt the same way. Councilman Kriss Worthington watched a videotape sent to him by a constituent showing a purportedly "obscene" shot of nude women wriggling on Frank's lap and concluded, "It looked pretty boring to me. ... To me, it was more like performance art than pornography." Moore himself says he wasn't sure what Olds was talking about, insisting that he hadn't ever shown himself going all the way on the show, although the programming certainly leaves little to the imagination.

Public-access cable TV plays by a unique set of rules. As part of their franchise agreements with cable operators, cities such as Berkeley require cable companies to provide residents with television production equipment, training, and airtime. Initially, the populist principle behind cable access was to provide unique "community-oriented" programming. (Of course, some people also thought the Internet would be an educational tool and not a worldwide community of porn enthusiasts.) Local cable-access programmers steadily tested the limits with increasingly hard-core sexually explicit material. To deal with the boom in "adult-oriented" programming, Congress has tried to either ban such shows or restrict them. The US Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1996 that public-access programs were protected by the Constitution as long as they didn't cross the line into obscenity, the definition of which was left up to local communities. The Federal Communications Commission subsequently recommended that local cable operators air adult-themed shows between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Moore's show already was on after 10 p.m. But after getting complaints, Berkeley Community Media's board of directors rescheduled Moore's and Block's shows early last year to 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Moore fought back, arguing that no one would watch the show at such a late hour. "This is censorship, pure and simple," he wrote the board. "This is keeping the programming from the people who are watching, who find the programs valuable. This is punishing these programs because some people find some of the contents challenging! It is also reactionary. Berkeley is not reactionary."

Olds and other councilmembers, however, wouldn't let the issue die. Last May, the council voted 7-1 to have the city attorney draft a law limiting "sexually explicit" programming to between midnight and 6 a.m. But by September, when the draft ordinance was ready, all the publicity had caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. An ACLU lawyer warned the council that rescheduling the shows so late would deny adult viewers "access to constitutionally protected programming." In response to the legal threat from the ACLU, the council backed off of its proposal to banish Moore's show to the wee hours -- at least for now. Olds says she may resurrect the issue. But she'll have to deal with dozens of Moore supporters who groused about the council's attempt to infringe on the artist's First Amendment right to free speech -- and even freedom of religion.

During the imbroglio, Reverend Tom Sanders wrote the Daily Planet that his pal "Reverend Frank Moore" shouldn't have his religious rights infringed upon by the city council. Moore says of Sanders' missive: "I will kill him for that." After all, Moore notes, he isn't even a reverend. He is a shaman.

Even after Moore escaped his physical isolation as a teenager, he didn't feel comfortable in his body. After all, he was still a freak in the eyes of uptight Western society. His breakthrough came after meeting a woman, Louise Scott, who helped Moore see his body as a gift -- one that could actually help others.

With Scott's encouragement, Moore began to recast himself and others in his world. The role he wrote for himself was that of the "deformed shaman," the wounded healer. "Primitive tribes believed that if a cripple could survive childhood, he was blessed by the gods," Moore writes in Art of a Shaman. "He was special. He was not really from this physical world. He belonged to the spiritual world, with an inside channel to the gods. He was not suited for the normal activities of living, such as hunting and fighting. But everything he did or said were omens from gods. He was taken care of by the tribe and lived in freedom."

For Moore, tribalism is a way of life -- from his communal lifestyle to the group rituals of his performance art. It makes a lot of sense for a man who is so obviously dependent on others for his survival. To critics who say he's stuck in a hippie time warp, Moore jokes that he's really a throwback to the days of the cave. Many of his performance spaces are referred to as "caves" where "magical" things happen transcending taboos and societal preconceptions. Moore, with his crippled body, is the conduit to that magic.







6 | originally published: January 29, 2003

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