During some of our earlier years, we used to publish some opinionated and argumentative articles. Starting today, we are back with a brand new series of such articles with a topic that cannot but catch your attention by virtue of its controversial statement coming from a magazine; in defence of censorship. And yes… at times we have to censor things; sometimes necessarily, sometimes sadly so.
For this article, I am only going to talk in particular about the regulated censorship on profanity, because it is, in my opinion, the only kind that can arguably be defended. It is, however, also because it is the most publicly acknowledged and the most abundant kind of censorship in the Western media in the present and in the recent past.
With ‘regulated censorship on profanity’ is meant a certain set of rules that creators, editors, producers, et cetera of, for instance, media must follow as to not produce any content that would include, for example, curse words or references to addictive substances, sex or violence. Regulated, furthermore, means that a network or society has democratically decided to censor certain elements, generally, equally and in all circumstances.
I remain, however, resolutely opposed to any arbitrary censorship of any subject. Nevertheless, the main reason why I am not entirely inclined to universally condemn the regulated censorship on profanity, is because it led to people creatively and humorously bypass this censorship.
Firstly, it is important to realise that the prohibition of speaking about something, does not mean the prevention or restriction of that topic being spoken. Not being allowed to specifically sing about sex did not stop The Beatles from singing about sex. Whenever they sang lyrics like “happiness is like a ‘warm gun’. Bang bang, shoot shoot”, “baby, you can drive ‘my car’” or “and when I ‘touch’ you. I ‘feel happy’ inside”, one can easily see the sexual innuendos.
Alfred Hitchcock did something similar with his films. In North by Northwest (1959), there is a final scene where two characters are going to make love in a train. Around the moment of penetration, however, Hitchcock shows his audience a shot of the train entering a tunnel.
This does not mean, however, that I think all media should be censored; especially if the profanity is in support of its content. In the song, Stan, by Eminem, for instance, I firmly believe that the lyrics “shut up bitch! I’m tryin’ to talk! Hey Slim, that’s my girlfriend screamin’ in the trunk. But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up” are integral to the deranged persona of the character of Stan. Prohibiting this character from saying any profanities would make him, or at least his derangement, seem unbelievable, and it would, furthermore, lessen the song’s impact.
Nevertheless, I would argue that, while it might very well be frustrating to have to censor your work, it makes a creative product seem much more elegant than when the artist freely expresses, for instance, sexual content. Sex and violence should be able to be expressed in the media, but I would also like to point out that Hitchcock’s movies, to me, seem much more elegant -sometimes even more pleasant to watch- than, for instance, the overkill of titillating private parts in Game of Thrones.
Secondly, it should be said that the regulated censorship of profanity, at times, can be quite silly and comedians have humorously pointed this out. One example is of Craig Ferguson, who, on television, announced that he would “draw something rude”. He then proceeded to slowly draw a penis, but in the end drew facial features and turned it into a silly-looking face.
Another time, Ferguson tested the censor again by turning his hand into a fist and by moving his arm back and forth, but with his knuckles pointing down; as if handling a frying pan. This was completely fine, until he proceeded with this same motion, but with the knuckles now pointing up.
Stephen Colbert similarly explored the silliness of this kind of censorship, drawing “two female breasts” (two encircled dots). The image was blurred until he drew a nose and mouth underneath, and blurred again as he covered the nose and mouth with his hand.
Colbert, furthermore, repeatedly explored the silliness of this kind of censorship by using witty wordplays, such as “clock block”, “now, it’s JAG-ed off”, “John McCain P.O.W., Donald Trump P.O.S.” The latter abbreviation being implied to stand for Piece Of Shit.
The fact that the regulated censorship of profanity gives comedians the opportunity to create silly sketches about it, seems, to me, a boon rather than a punishment. One might say that, even without the silliness of the censorship, comedians still have plenty enough material to work with. However, I would then like to point out that entire comedy groups have made a living on the silliness of society. Monty Python immediately comes to mind, but also A Bit of Fry and Laurie, in which Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie often made fun of the silliness of language. This includes one sketch where they, almost impossibly, had to describe an action without any innuendos.
The freedom of speech is one of our greatest assets. Yet, I would say that if, in certain cases, we can only indirectly speak freely, without any bit of information being lost, and add a lot of creative material about the silliness of our media because of the regulated censorship of profanity, I am all for it. I would not like to abridge the freedom of speech, but I think that we would collectively be poorer as a culture without the comedic material about how silly our lives and society are, including how silly censorship can be.
In short, while I believe that most censorship would obstruct (creative) speech, the regulated censorship on profanity does the opposite. Instead of stifling creativity, I would argue that it leads to an even greater creative output of delivering a message, which, in my opinion, thus becomes even more elegant.
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Written by Willem Laurentzen, AEGEE-Nijmegen