CENSORSHIP: A CASE-BY-CASE STUDY

A N T HO N Y R E A D

WHEN, IF EVER, SHOULD CENSORSHIP (IN AND OF THE MEDIA) BE INVOKED? DISCUSS USING AT LEAST ONE CASE STUDY.

The problem of censorship has plagued the media since its creation. Across all forms of media, including television, radio, film, and music, people have taken both sides on whether to censor the more controversial products of the particular time. However, most groups who want to see things censored seem to lack a complete understanding of the meanings hidden within the censored objects. Misunderstandings can happen easily, and the meaning the media creator wants can be lost in translation. Last year, Derren Hinch organised a rally in inner city Melbourne to ‘name and shame’ the Armadale rapist, who was due to be released not long after the rall itself. The Seven news report mentioned that Hinch had gone to jail before for “naming a paedophile priest on air”. In the report, it showed footage of Hinch telling the crowd to repeat the name of the sex offender after him, which they all did. The problem was Seven News had to edit out the name for legal purposes (Seven News, 2008). It is clear from this report, and Hinch’s prior actions (and convictions) that he has a strong moral code and will stick by it, even if it lands him in trouble. Hinch’s actions displayed here are torn between two moral outlooks, but fall safely in neither, and have severe issues. On the Kantian side of things, Hinch revealing the name of the sex offender is ignoring the offender’s ‘human respect’, yet his conviction means the offender had no respect for persons as well. Also, if Hinch wanted to reveal all the names of all sex offenders, then where would he (and the world) stop with similar actions? And where do we draw the line between ‘naming and shaming offences’ and less serious ones? On the other hand, Utilitarianism dictates that Hinch is attempting to increase the happiness level of the wider public. In this numbers game, one sex offender is outweighed heavily by the needs of the public. However, an issue of definition arises here. Knowing the whereabouts of a sex offender, in the hope to drive him from an area, is questionable in whether it provides

happiness or not. Maybe feelings of revenge, guilt and satisfaction, but are they happiness anyway? Kyle Sandilands shocked the media world recently when, on his radio show, a young girl admitted she was raped when she was 12 years old. He has also made comments about Magda Szubanski, saying that “she would lose more weight in a concentration camp” (smh.com.au, 2009). While 2Day FM has a short delay before airing, so as to prevent issues and mistakes, and also a ‘killswitch’ to turn off microphones, they allowed the broadcast to go ahead. The debate has raged ever since Kyle’s comments were made on whether he and the station should have censored the broadcast before it went to air, or let it go free. Utiltarianism would say that Kyle’s comments are immoral, as he reduced the overall ‘happiness level’ of the wider public. Kant would say the same, as slurs like this, if repeated the world over, would just make everyone hate and loathe each other, hence losing the irreplaceable ‘respect for persons’. If Sandilands’ comments are to fall under any moral code, they would be of a Nietzsche-like quality. The idea of one’s opinion being neither more or less valid than anyone else’s means that his comments are completely fine. He also is stirring up controversy and conflict, which Nietzsche finds to be the way forward for mankind. In terms of his comments being offensive, there is no doubt that both the girl and Szubanski would be highly offended. It is more that people as a whole find the comments offensive that issues are raised. If we try to take a more Nietzsche-like view, then we can easily laugh off these comments, and no censorship is necessary, as Kyle’s view is simply that: a view. No more valid than anyone else’s, and free to be aired as he sees fit. Censorship issues flared up in the wider community when Bret Easton Ellis released American Psycho, the tale of a Wall Street banker who indulges in some violent rape and murder in his spare time. The idea of the story revolves around the fact Bateman has no interest in anything in his life, which although rich and powerful, is incredibly boring. The only way he can find any type of feeling is to murder (mostly women) in the most gruesome ways possible. When it was published, people were disgusted, outraged and generally angered at the way in which Ellis seemed to glorify violence and rape (M/C Journal 2006, Reconstruction 2006). In Australia, it has been slapped with a Category One R Rating, meaning it cannot be sold to children under the age of 18. At the moment, it is the only book in Australia to have this rating. But does it deserve this rating? Undoubtedly. The novel is an exercise is shocking the reader, with its graphic depictions of murders and sexual mutilation. On the better side of things, the book has not been censored, but kept as it is and wrapped in plastic. The issue with the content of the book has more to do with

‘protecting the children’ than anyone else. ‘Protecting the children’ is a funny term to use when some children’s cartoons can be as violent, but more implicitly. One only has to watch Ren and Stimpy to see subversive violence in full flight. On the other side, Ellis puts all his violence and rape on the surface. Everything is superficial. There is nothing there to subvert or play subconsciously the minds of the readers. And this is not mentioning the raft of other books that include sex and violence in high amounts. Why are they not censored to the level which American Psycho is? They can have as much vivid sex, violence and rape as any other novel, yet it is more implicit. The question is, what is more dangerous: implicit or superficial sex and violence? Ruggero Deodato, an Italian filmmaker, has courted this same question over his career. He created one of the most controversial movies of all time, Cannibal Holocaust. The movie is about a group of filmmakers who visit a group of tribesman, who also happen to be cannibals. They film among the cannibals, but all share a fairly grisly fate. This movie is incredibly violent, but nothing beyond any ‘torture porn’ film released today, including the Saw and Hostel series. The reason why this film is so internationally reviled is that Deodato approved and carried out the killing of real live animals on camera to further the story. The killings include scalping a monkey, cutting the throat of a bush rat, and probably most stomach-churning, cutting off the head of a large turtle, pulling it apart, then eating it whole. After the film was released, it was quickly pulled from cinemas and movie shelves, and Deodato was put on trial in Italy for crimes against animals. He even went through another trial to prove the people on film were not actually killed, snuff-film style. The DVD version of this film allows the viewer to watch it in two ways: with or without animal violence. This censoring is designed not just to protect children, but to protect adult viewers from becoming angered, and also to protect the director from being tried again. However, the point of the film is to shock. By removing the animal cruelty, we are no longer shocked, and the point of the film is void and null. Where people seem to be taking offense with the film is that they see this violence against animals and ‘innocents’ as completely uncalled for. When the characters are finally killed by the cannibals, we almost cheer because they prove themselves to be horrible people. But when the animals are killed, we look away in horror. This is where the issue lies with censorship. When we see people killed, maimed, raped or flayed, and we believe they deserve it, we deem this perfectly fine. However, when we see ‘innocents’ being killed, maimed, raped or flayed, we take high levels of offence and call for the product to be snuffed. Derren Hinch, when revealing the names of sex offenders, is cheered because people believe they ‘deserve’ it, yet the media censor him because they are afraid of retaliation by the law. Kyle Sandilands letting a girl reveal she was raped on air is raged against,

because she couldn’t help being raped, or being a youngster. His comments against Magda Szubanski are also slammed because people see her as an ‘innocent’ who doesn’t deserve them. Bret Easton Ellis courted controversy with his novel because he had Bateman killing ‘innocents’. This pattern shows through into all other media as well, especially in computer games, where games like Grand Theft Auto are censored because one can kill ‘innocents’. This all looks well and good, but how do we know that these people don’t deserve this slandering? It doesn’t appear that they deserve these comments, but we cannot know about everything they have done in their lives. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. The solution is to take a Nietzschian view: comments are simply views which cannot be proven true or false. Therefore, they are easy to either take on or bat away. The trick of not taking things personally renders the idea of media censorship void.

REFERENCE LIST
Jacobsen A, 2006. ‘American Psycho’. http://reconstruction.eserver.org/BReviews/revAmericanPsycho.htm. Accessed 6/10/09.

M/C Journal, 2006. ‘The Real Filth in American Psycho’. http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0610/01-brien.php. Accessed 6/10/09.

Seven News, 2008. ‘Anger over name discretion for sex offenders’ - Seven Network, 01/06/2008.

Sydney Morning Herald, 2009. ‘Kyle Sandilands suspended again: this time for ‘concentration camp’ slur’. http://www.smh.com.au/news/entertainment/articles/2009/09/08/1252201226510.html. Accessed 5/10/09.

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