Although this is an article about art, comics and writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about film censorship for a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later in the article.
For their occasional prudishness, their slight overestimation of how shocking most people find commonly-used four-letter words to be and their current obsession with
censoring “classifying” music videos, one good thing that can be said for the British Board Of Film Classification is that they are transparent and honest about what they do.
(Well, apart from changing their name from “The British Board Of Film Censors” to “The British Board Of Film Classification”, of course. If they still have the legal authority to cut or ban films, then they are censors rather than classifiers.)
Anyway, a few months ago, I read the BBFC’s latest annual report and it makes for absolutely fascinating reading. Although all of this information can be found on other parts of the BBFC’s website, the report lists most of their most notable censorship and classification decisions over the past year and explains their reasoning behind each decision.
A few of these decisions are vaguely sensible, but some are hilariously absurd – like insisting that the word “bugger” be censored in a “U” rated film (I mean, does anyone under the age of about fifty even say this any more? I mean it isn’t even really swearing these days).
These absurdities are interesting because they uncover the BBFC’s own worldview and the worldview that they expect film-makers to adhere to.
To use another absurd example from the BBFC’s report, it’s perfectly ok for adults to watch an “18” rated documentary about the adult film industry for educational purposes, but not for enjoyment (and they actually cite this as their reason for censoring [in all but name] some of the documentary’s more explicit scenes ).
This says a lot about the subtly judgmental and moralistic worldview that the BBFC want to impose on the British public.
Likewise, the BBFC’s absurd attitudes towards profanity have famously attracted criticism from film-makers for being based on how “rude” people from the south of England (like myself) generally consider one old Anglo-Saxon word to be (eg: the one beginning with “C”).
Yet, the BBFC rarely take the setting of a film into account when dealing with dialogue that uses this particular word (since it’s generally seen as being somewhat more or less rude in different parts of the UK). So, in essence, they’re subtly making sure that all films released in Britain conform to a southern English worldview.
But, what does any of this have to do with art, comics and literature?
Well, one of the great things about art, comics and literature is that – in many western countries at least- there’s no official censorship. Likewise, because works art, comics and literature are often created by just one or two people, they can have a lot more of a “personality” than many films do.
What this means is that artists and writers can express their worldview in a far more potent way than film-makers ever can. Not only is this an incredibly important thing in terms of freedom of expression, but it’s also important in terms of human development as a whole. Seeing other people’s worldviews helps us to both understand other people and to define our own worldviews
Without this vital freedom afforded to artists and writers, most people’s worldviews would be limited to the one that their family, government, school, religion, friends etc.. impose on them.
Seeing strange, subversive or even shocking worldviews in the media makes us question all of the social, political or religious dogma that everyone is indoctrinated with pretty much from birth. Sometimes we reject the worldviews that we see in literature but, sometimes, we incorporate them into our own and grow slightly as a person.
Sometimes, like with LGBT literature, this can quite literally be a lifesaver. LGBT literature can show LGBT people who have grown up in situations where there’s very litte information to help them understand themseleves (and a social climate where they feel that they can’t talk about themsleves), that who they are is perfectly normal thing that is shared by a significant percentage of humanity across the world (and throughout history). It teaches people not to hate, ignore or fear themsleves for being who they actually are.
This is, incidentally, why social and religious conservatives usually try to censor LGBT-related media so much, because it shatters the worldview that they are trying to impose onto LGBT people into a million tiny pieces.
Seeing a panoply of different worldviews is one of the best ways to resist any kind of subtle brainwashing from those in authority. This is why censorship is such a dangerous thing.
The BBFC might claim that some of their more absurd policies “reflect public opinion” but this is a poor justificiation for censorship when you consider that making every creative work committed to film conform to a “mainstream” worldview (or the BBFC’s idea of a mainstream worldview) damages humanity as a whole.
For example, seeing a film where Scottish characters in Scotland regularly use language that might shock a viewer in Hampshire, Devon, Kent or Sussex is important because it makes that viewer realise that “taboo” words are only “taboo” because everyone nearby agrees that they are. This might also make them question why we need a film censor to enforce these seemingly arbitrary local cultural standards…..
Literature, comics and art don’t have this problem. And they never should.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂