Fuss over photo albums much ado about nothing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am

For as long as people have sold books, there have been those who want to censor books, or at least restrict access to them. This attitude is often driven by laudable motives, such as fears about corrupting young minds with unsavory content.

It's debatable whether racy photo albums featuring so-called pseudo-models being sold at the annual book fair qualify as 'soft porn', as some critics have alleged. The Obscene Articles Tribunal has classified them as neither indecent nor obscene. However, one of its adjudicators, Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, has expressed concerns that they may arouse an 'unhealthy sexual imagination'. Perhaps he would be more approving if publishers produce books that stir a healthier sexual imagination by his standard.

The albums' models appear in bikinis and lingerie. Some of their poses are provocative, but generally, the women are no more exposed than what is often shown in advertisements in MTR stations and commercials on television. It's not quite clear what the fuss is about; the models have provoked so much disapproval and resentment. Certainly, their fans have been rambunctious and caused disturbance to other fair visitors. The fans should quieten down, or be cordoned off. But otherwise, there is no clear reason why those photo albums should not be sold there. Perhaps, despite its cosmopolitan surface, Hong Kong remains a deeply conservative place.

The truth is that the fair - one of the city's most popular annual public events - would never have been so successful if it had depended entirely on the patronage of intellectuals and bibliophiles. Young people line up for hours, even days, for the opening each year because of some gimmick or another. This could be a memoir recording the dietary secrets of a recently slimmed-down starlet; appearances by Canto-pop idols or the latest satirical comics lambasting the political elite.

This year, it happens to be young pseudo-models. Next year, there will doubtless be something else for people to disapprove of.