Well, since I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d ramble about censorship again today. This was mainly because of the fact that a second-hand punk CD that I’d bought online arrived the previous afternoon. This, naturally, made me think about a few hilarious ironies about censorship. But, first, I should probably describe the album…
It was a copy of “Coral Fang” [NSFW, but artistic, subtly subversive and clever] by The Distillers and, to my bemusement, the cover art was the censored version (eg: a totally random picture of some animals, with a jarringly different colour scheme to the rest of the album). Yes, I knew that there were two versions of the album’s cover art and I had a 50% chance of getting the censored version – but the thing that really surprised me was all of the additional stuff surrounding the censorship.
Amusingly, the cover art actually had the words “safe version” printed in the top corner and, for a punk album, this was hilariously ironic. Likewise, the album had a vaguely official-looking content warning in the bottom corner, rather than the usual American-style Tipper Sticker. From the wording of the warning and my fascination with film censorship, I was able to work out that it was an Australian content warning and – from some online research – I also learnt that it was actually mandatory over there. And I thought mandatory film censorship in the UK was bad!
But, when I opened the case, there was a brilliantly cynical message on the back of the cover which read “This is NOT the original artwork: It was deemed too explicit for your local retail store“. Firstly, this made me laugh at the idea that people looking in the punk section of a record shop would get mortally offended by the album’s mildly subversive original cover art. Secondly, it made me think about the old days when people actually bought records in shops.
But, why have I spent several paragraphs describing the packaging of a punk album?
Well, it’s mostly because this second-hand album sums up a lot of things about censorship. Although the album is from 2003, there was something oddly reassuring about all of the over-zealous censorship. It was the idea that the album was so “dangerous” that it mandated an official warning (albeit in Australia, rather than the UK) and wholesale changes to the cover art.
As cynical as I am about the censorship, it actually seemed like something of a compliment to the band. It showed that both art and music still have the power to shock and scare those in authority. It meant that there’s someone somewhere who still thinks that a punk album poses a serious threat to the establishment.
Perhaps the censors are, ironically, even more punk than most fans of punk music are. After all, there are very few people these days who think that punk music can actually have any meaningful effect on society – except the censors, who were terrified of it! It’s kind of like the old truism about people who moan about satanic imagery in heavy metal music – they often take it much more seriously than we metal fans do!
It’s the same with the people across the world who whinged loudly about J.K.Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels when they were first released. To most people, these books are just enjoyable modern classics. But, to their critics, these books actually seemed to be serious instruction manuals about casting magic spells. Ironically, these conservative critics were even more extreme fantasy nerds than the most enthusiastic Harry Potter fans are! After all, even the most die-hard Harry Potter fans don’t actually take the books literally!
Regardless of where it comes from, censorship is often both a blessing and a curse for the arts. On the one hand, it’s either a tragic act of vandalism or (more commonly, in these self-righteous times) a subtle chilling effect that inhibits creative expression.
But, on the other hand, the continued existence of censorship is a sign that art, music, computer games, films, comics etc.. still matter! If they didn’t, then there wouldn’t be frenzied hordes of people trying to control or destroy them.
So, yes, censorship is a paradoxical – and often hilariously ironic – thing.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂