Well, it’s been a while since I wrote about censorship. But, after reading a news article [Not safe for work… possibly] last summer about a satirical mural over in Australia (depicting the then-US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a particular type of dancer, presumably as a comment about financing in politics) which was subject to official censorship, I thought that I’d look at a few of the many reasons why art probably shouldn’t be censored.
1) Liberal or conservative, it’s still the same: Going back to the example I linked to, although the authorities’ motivations for censoring the art were ostensibly “liberal”, the practical effects and consequences of the censorship are just the same as when conservatives have managed to ban risqué things that they disagree with. An image was altered or removed due to the direct actions of those in authority.
Of course, although there are one of two obvious exceptions (eg: art that directly and genuinely advocates acts of violence etc…), most forms of official censorship don’t really meet this moral criteria and seem more similar to acts of vandalism. And, like with vandalism, it doesn’t matter if the vandal is a liberal or a conservative, the effects are still the same.
2) It’s unfair to uncensored artists: Most types of art that get censored are often flawed in one way or another. They’re often either brilliant on an artistic level, but mediocre on an ideas level or vice versa.
For example, whilst the high level of artistic skill in the uncensored version of the controversial satirical mural cannot be called into question, some people might question the sophistication or originality of making a political point by likening a politician to a dancer in a sleazy bar (although this is hardly justifiable grounds for the mural to be banned).
But, as soon as something is censored, it immediately becomes interesting. It gets debated by lots of people. It prompts people with opinions about censorship (like me) to write articles about it. The Streisand effect kicks in and something that may have only been seen by a few hundred people is seen by millions worldwide.
One unfortunate side-effect of this is that thousands of better or more sophisticated works of art immediately get overlooked as a result of everyone focusing on the banned picture etc…
3) It has a chilling effect: Thankfully, nothing that I’ve made has ever been official censored. This isn’t to say that my work has never suffered any censorship, it’s just that it ironically has always been carried out by none other than me. There are paintings I’ve never made, comics I’ve altered, articles I’ve replaced with something else before publication, topics I’ve avoided altogether etc.. due to the fear of some kind of external censorship.
Censorship (whether it’s done by conservatives, liberals, religious believers, atheists, anti-feminists, feminists, one person in authority, large numbers of people etc…) is a weapon of intimidation. The real intent of a lot of censorship isn’t just to destroy one particular work of art, but to tell everyone that no-one else should dare to make anything similar.
4) It makes everyone less human!: Most of the people who call for art to be censored don’t understand what art actually is.
Art, at it’s core, is a way for an artist to share part of their imagination with everyone else. It’s a medium of communication. Even if it’s the most apolitical work of art ever made, it’s still technically an idea in physical form (after all, the artist had to think about how to make that particular piece of art).
As I’ve argued before, censorship is a type of thought control. If you tell someone that they can’t paint something, you also tell them that they can’t think about it. And, well, our minds are the last truly free space that everyone has. To infringe upon that is to make everyone less human as a result.
So, if you see a piece of art that you dislike for whatever reason, then either ignore it in a sensible and mature way (after all, you’ve probably ignored thousands of ideas you disagree with without even noticing). Or, respond to it with measured, polite, well-argued criticism that respects the artist’s right to express their ideas. Because if they have no right to express their ideas, then neither do you!
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂