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On consumption and censorship

The recent news about Wikipedia being blocked in the UK (not totally but mostly) because of album cover art in an article about a 70s band being possibly child pornography got me thinking about censorship and consumption.

Generally, the debates I’ve heard about censorship are polarized. On the one hand, I hear the “decency” folks saying there are some things that cross the line and shouldn’t ever exist. On the other hand, I hear the “freedom” folks saying if you don’t like it, don’t look at it or buy it.

But what if you don’t like it and you still look at it? If I watch Deep Throat in a Women’s Studies class in college for the purposes of dissecting it and analyzing it, is that different from watching it at home for sexual stimulation… or laughs? This goes back to a debate I used to have with some of my fellow department members when I was an English teacher. Some English teachers think the job of an English teacher is to expose students to “great literature.” I disagree completely. I don’t think The Scarlet Letter, for example, is well-written or even interesting any more from a literary perspective. It is, however, historically significant, and it, like any work of fiction, can be analyzed and argued over. The point of teaching English is to get students to think critically about what they consume—not to consume blindly, but to see that every work of art (visual art, comic book art, music, film, novels, poetry) conveys its author’s worldview or agenda, even if the author herself is not conscious of that.

I like to think I can analyze and distance myself from anything I consume, but sometimes I can’t. I’m not a big fan of visual or audio displays of torture, for example. It’s very possible that these could be presented within the framework of a well-crafted artistic work with a good social agenda. Nevertheless, I am human and not an intellectual machine. I still experience human emotions and horror.

This is also why I find it hard to believe politicians (especially male ones) who actively campaign against pornography and even show “exhibits” in hearings on pornography are able to fully distance themselves from the material they’re criticizing, especially since they’re usually criticizing it by arguing that it affects people’s morality (so it affects other people’s morality, but not your morality?)

When confronted with works of art that are controversial, we all should remember that we are both human and intellectual. We can be subject to raw emotion and gut reactions but we can also distance ourselves and analyze what we see. I don’t see enough of that tension in discussions about censorship. I’d like to see it more often.

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Movies

TV Censorship Sucks

You know when a movie or TV show is uncensored and makes sense, and then gets re-released for network TV and is censored and makes no sense?

My wife is a fan of the movie The Wedding Date, and she got really excited when it aired on TV. So we DVR’ed it (off TBS, I think) and watched it… or tried to watch it. Throughout the film, she kept exclaiming, “Wait! They cut out that whole bit” while I was exclaiming, “This movie makes no sense.” I think they cut about a half hour out of the movie to make way for commercials. Why? Why not just make the runtime longer to put more commercials in? Or just not show the butchered movie at all?

Just as bad as censorship-for-time-constraints is censorship-for-prudishness. Hey, I can be as much of a prude as the next person, but when prudishness takes the humor out of TV, that’s just wrong.

This prudish censorship makes Sex and the City unwatchable for SatC fans (I realize non-fans already think it unwatchable—whether it’s censored or not). In one scene, Miranda calls Skipper (while he’s having sex with another woman) to see if he wants to get together, and Skipper likes Miranda better, so he breaks up with the other woman. In the original dialogue, the woman says, “You’re breaking up with me while you’re still inside of me?” In the censored version, she says “You’re breaking up with me now?” Yeah. Hilarious.

Another great prudes-take-the-humor-out moment is in the censored version of Return to Me. Like Return to Me is just so risqué. At one point, Bonnie Hunt’s character is arguing with her husband (James Belushi’s character) and says, “Great. You taught him hell. That’s great.” He gets all defensive and suggests that it’s possible their child might have learned the word hell from the mother, who replies “I never said hell, you son of a bitch.” All the irony is lost in the TV version, of course, in which she says “I never said hell.”

Well, thank God for HBO and Showtime. They may cost a bit more than the regular channels, but they’ll at least keep the laughs in.