Midweek Mumble – What is it about Censorship?
It is that time of the week where we let Rodney out of his cage and onto his soap box, this week he wants to talk CENSORSHIP
Among the many topics I like to discuss with folks is the issue of censorship, or more specifically, film censorship. Yes, this is going to be one of those posts, so if you’re all sick and tired of hearing people defend their point of view on the matter, you’re probably best off heading back over to RedTube for some self-management time. Censorship, in it’s broadest sense, is the removal or modification of material in a broadcast or publication designed to maintain a set of principles, morals or ethics established by a community standard, usually governed by some form of group or collective assigned by the government of the day. We’ve all encountered censorship in one form or another, usually due to a social taboo or other culturally sensitive scenario portrayed on television, in a film, or even in a piece of literature. In recent times, the advent of increasingly mature and advanced computer games have steered the majority of dialogue on censorship, usually related in some way to violent content, and whether or not it’s socially acceptable for kids and young adults to be exposed to the material a lot of these adult-themed games contain.
I’m not here to act as a judge, jury and executioner on the idea of censorship, because I think there’s a time and a place for it. Censorship, in an ideal sense, protects those vulnerable to content (and I refer to “content” in any format) that society considers more taboo – concepts such as sex and violence have long led the charge in this arena, and in most cases, rightly so. The balance of what people should see, and what they want to see, is the fading grey area in which the very heart of censorship provokes debate. Films containing sexually explicit material, aside from pornography, that are released to the public forum as “art”, are more often than not targeted by those of a more conservative bent as a preventative measure against what they see as a failing of society to protect people from imagery they deem offensive. Films containing extreme violence are perhaps less targeted, although exactly why people seem more easily accepting of people being eviscerated than enjoying a bit of bonky-bonk is something which has long confused me.
Censorship is different in each country – even within the broad landscape of “western culture”, for example, a controversial film in Sweden or Germany might be more accepted in, say, the UK or America. As always, cultural sensitivities provide ample fodder for discussion. Western films often find the majority of their problems in societies which differ greatly from their home base – China, for instance, has a long history of butchering Hollywood films prior to release in that country, usually relating to everything from sexual content, violence to political and religious viewpoints. Often, the decisions of censorship boards in other countries confounds us – how often have you asked yourself “why did they cut out that bit?” when you’ve heard of a film being cut somewhat in China or another Asian country? It’s not uncommon.
Sometimes, boundaries need to be pushed. Cultural sensitivity can often be a crushing blanket of creative oppression, especially in more conservative societies and countries. It’s only right that filmmaker (as well as musicians, writers and other creative folks) push the boundaries of what’s acceptable to their immediate world, although some common sense should always prevail. In order to generate change – change in societal values, change in public perceptions – art should always have a certain amount of freedom, otherwise we might as well all go live in North Korea.
Having said that, at what point do we say “enough”. Everyone has their limit, and as liberal as I am when it comes to cinema, I do feel there’s some lines that should never be crossed. It’s really a question of necessity. Was is absolutely essential to the story for Michael Winterbottom to have his leads engage in actual intercourse in the 2004 film 9 Songs? Did the reality of it provide some kind of extra creative storytelling point that simply faking it couldn’t provide? I can’t deny the right of the filmmaker to do as he pleased, and if those actors were keen to do that, then more power to them, but was it necessary? Equally so, the 2010 monstrosity called A Serbian Film, which displayed graphic images of rape, rape of a child, necrophilia and other abhorrent themes. Really? I call into question the reason for that entire film, because as a film, I believe it never once provided any kind of social commentary that couldn’t have been achieved in other, less gruesome and pornographic methods. Again, the rights of the filmmaker to make such a film aren’t in question, but the intent to do so knowing the hornets nest of horror and anger a film of such nature would kick up.Now, I should state that I haven’t seen A Serbian Film in its entirety, because I simply couldn’t stomach it. Violent fare such as the Saw and Hostel films, for example, straddle the line between horrific realism and near sadistic fantasy, yet it seems to be de rigueur as an artform. Is it sick that society has come to accept them in much the same commercial light as a Harry Potter film?
For all our wailing against films we see as morally and ethically bankrupt, in terms of existing simply to provoke an outcry and stimulate controversy, these kinds of movies keep being made. Boundaries are continually being pushed, and although I find myself often wishing otherwise, perhaps it’s a good thing these kinds of films are out there. They force us to asses ourselves as people, as fellow humans taking the long journey around the sun on this piece of rock. Now, while I’d rather sit down and watch Room In Rome again (man, what a sexy and beautiful film) than endure yet another Saw film, the point is not that I need to, but that I have the option. Everyone being different, of course, provides plenty of grist for the mill of debate on censorship – you and I are always going to have different opinions on what we should be able to watch (not to mention what the Westboro Baptists think of it all) but at least we can agree that freedom of creativity is amongst the most essential dogmas of humanity.
Aussie film fan Rodney has been writing about film, DVD and Blu-Ray since 1998, when he became Chief Reviewer at a now-defunct Adelaide-based online retailer. A fan of blockbuster and mainstream cinema, as well as dabbling in arthouse and independent forms of the industry, Rodney prefers to spend his nights and weekends in front of the television watching the latest release on Blu-Ray instead of out getting sloppy drunk like many of his friends. When he’s not out in the Front Room, Rodney can be found writing reviews for his own website www.fernbyfilms.com, helping good mate Al K Hall over at The Bar None, and dabbling in lists over at Top 10 Films.
What do you think about censorship? Do you think it provides a reasonable service to society, or is it simply a wall between the artist and their audience?