Monday, June 29, 2020

Censorship: The Pros and cons

Want to see a magic trick? I've got one.

It's called pissing off everyone without even meaning to.

This week on Sff7 we're to discuss whatever is on our minds, and one that has been bothering me a lot lately in censorship.

See? I haven't even started and I bet some people are getting riled up.

According to Merriam-Webster as directly relates to this post; 1
a:      the institution, system, or practice of censoringThey oppose government censorship.
Censorship. It's pretty straightforward. Growing up I heard the almost weekly kerfluffle of one or more books being censored by school districts, states, counties, et. al. Huckleberry Finn was bad for schools because the name of one of the characters was "Ni**er Jim." (this one is censored by me, personally, because I'm not fond of the word.) The purpose of the censorship was the use of the word itself, not how it was used in the story. Part of me could always understand that, but I was also a bit annoyed because while the N-word is employed, it was written when the word was commonplace and it was written to portray the character in a positive light. It stood for exactly the opposite of what many people used the word for at that time. 
Now, let's be honest, there's a lot of gray shades in the English language. Not really around the N-Word. Not for a very long time. I can see the sides of this coin. My answer? Long before I would consider taking one of Twain's works out of print in a school district, if I was worried about offending, I'd have simply removed the word itself and replaced it. 
That's a bit easier than some cases. 
A similar issue was found (and still is) with Joel Chandler Harris's SONG OF THE SOUTH and the nearly mystically legendary movie by the same name. Legendary? Yes, as in legendarily hard to find for decades. Why Because Disney did all they could to suppress it, because there was a lot of bad blood of the portrayals in the story.
Which is interesting because the tales were told to Harris by ex-slaves and their descendants and distilled into form by the man. If you want to follow that particular rabbit hole to see more of the origins and controversy, here's a link for you. It is only the very tip of the iceberg.
In the US a LOT of the censorship came from the segregation of races. I have to say, for a country that has often touted itself as a melting pot of cultures and ideas, we sure do have a history of mucking yo the river's flow. 
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee is another example that dates back a ways. The portrayal of racial tensions in the book and in the movie alike have caused endless troubles and, ironically, admiration, over the years. currently there are some interesting takes on that censorship. For example in Minnesota schools, the books have been removed from class syllabuses but kept in libraries. This is at least a nice change of pace from outright book burnings. 
I'm going to skip merrily past the other books for a moment and look at an incident from the distant past that has always blown me out of the water. Back when the Beatles first came to the USA (I want to say February 1962, but honestly I'm too busy/lazy to look it up) they were OVERWHELMED by the crowd reactions. Those lads from Liverpool had spent years on the road and in Germany playing small clubs, just to come over to the States and meet with massive crowds waiting for them at the airport, and along the sidewalks of their hotels. Hysterical young women and men drying and screaming their adoration for the Fab Four. It must have been a truly staggering experience.
Somewhere along the way, when they were asked how they felt about it. John Lennon (again, I think: It might have been Ringo) said, in a dazed voice, We're bigger than Jesus Christ." and it got recorded, heard, and immediately sent out as a sound bite by the press. 
Now let's take a second here. First, the offending party apologized as quickly as he realized offense had been taken. Second, it wasn't bragging: It was pure, hard shock. You didn't have the internet back then and Beatlemania was really just a vague concept to the Beatles. They knew they were popular, but they had no idea they had become icons. Had the response been "We're bigger than McDonald's" no one would have cared, forgiving the analogy being off by a decade or so on the Big Mac's rise to infamy.
The response in a land of God Fearing Christians? The immediate demand to burn all Beatles Albums and never ply them again. There were bonfires, people. Almost immediate and very, very large bonfires.
Again they apologized and the Ruffled Feathers Brigade decided the boys could be allowed one mistake. 
on my personal favorite example: Comic Books. One Frederick Wertham decided that comic books were the cause of children going psychotic. One of the charges brought into this was that Batman and other comics where a sidekick was included were designed to lead to homosexuality and pedophilia. His proof? The lurid covers of a few E.C. Comics. The end result? The Comics Code Authority, which forbade the use of zombies, vampires, werewolves and, I believe, demons. There were other rules. Excessive violence was a no-no. Makes sense, you say? Kids shouldn't be exposed? The authority came around as self-censorship. It was that or continue the Senate Hearings brought into focus to crucify those foul-minded commies who were trying to ruin our children. There is a lot of material to study. The link above takes you to the Wikipedia link. 
My point is that for a country that be;ieves in Freedom of the Press and Free Speech (excluding out POTUS, who only wants those things for himself from what I've seen) we sure do like to censor stuff, don't we?
My mother always said that censorship belonged at home. Parents should decide what kids could or could not read. (During the Senate Subcommittee meetings, one senator was OUTRAGED by the thought that parents should have to work that hard and carry that sort of massive responsibility simply because they wanted to bring young lives into this world.  The mind boggles)
So now we have today. 
Just off the top of my head, H.P. Lovecraft, a racist who died in 1937, decades before any sort of civil rights movement, has been declared a racist. There's evidence to support that fact. There is also evidence (more debatably) that he was moving away from that earlier philosophy before he died. The point is moot. At least at one point during his college years, he wrote a truly, epically racist poem. You want to know about it? Look it up. It uses that word I don't like. 
The resulting tumult when this was "discovered" 70 odd years after his death, continues on today. I agree with some of it and not with other parts. Change the World Fantasy Award to it doesn't offer up the face of a racist? Absolutely. Take his books out of print or try to make certain I can't read them. No, thanks. 
Isaac Asimov has been discovered as a pitcher of female bums and a letch at conventions. It was common knowledge as I understand. It amused him. Yeah. Him and half the men walking around in the 60s as I understand it. Was it right? No. Was it considered "acceptable" back then? Sadly, yes. 
Little anecdote for you. Back in 1977 when I was a wee lad, my mother worked for the Baton Rouge Hilton. Every day she had meetings with the other executives there and because she was  on her feet and walked easily five miles a day at the hotel (she used a pedometer once and clocked 11.3 miles, I believe) she always wore slacks. One day her general manager came up to her and told her she would have to were skirts. She objected, tried to explain that the chafing of her thighs (six kids, folks, you're gonna have some chafing) would be nearly crippling. He did not care. his response, "When you can grow a mustache, you can wear slacks."
She approached work the next day with a new mustache carefully spirit gummed to her face, and said not a word. When the meeting was almost done the man took a look at her face and promptly laughed himself half senseless. The entire meeting he had not noticed the cause of several other people snickering and whispering. 
He said the words. "You win, Inge." and that was the end of it. 
There are all kinds of way to win a fight, I suppose. 
My point is, censorship STILL belongs at home. 
Now the flame wars can begin properly:
We are, thank GOD, slowly going through social changes. When I was thirteen or so I saw my first ever interracial couple and I was HORRIFIED. I find;t give a good damn about a black teen and a white teen together. I was just afraid the poor guy was going to get himself lynched. You see I was raised in the SOUTH, and that just did not happen. I was in Maryland, which at that point (and probably today) was a bit more socially enlightened than some parts of Georgia and surrounding states. Your mileage may vary, of course. Nothing happened that I know of. Four years later, back in Georgia, there were grumbles but a lot less automatic hatred was shown to interracial couples, Amen. 
Forty years ago homosexuality was a death sentence in a lot of places. It still happens, but, happily, not as often. That it happens at all is a tragedy, but you know what? Same-Sex Marriage is now a part of the LAW in this country, no matter he much that pisses some people off. And again, I say, AMEN!\
Guess what? I don't care about your gender preference. You're a guy who's int guys? Good for you. You're a girl who likes other girls? Cool. Somewhere in the middle? cool. Not at all interested? Cool. YOUR sex life is your sex life. I have no vested interest. I respect your choices as much as I respect all choices in this matter. 
Not sure what else I can say about that. But there have been plenty of authors who had (or have) a problem with it. And I don't care. They are entitled to their opinions. They're wrong, but that's okay. That's their right. 
Don't want to read them? Okay. Don't want them published and shown in schools? Sorry. Censorship belongs at home. Always has, always will. 
One more, the official fuse to this mess: J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, a woman who literally built herself up from homeless to billionaire, is a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). 
There. It's out in the open, Sher does not see transgender females as female. I do not agree with her. Trans-women ar women. Trans-men are men. It's that easy for me. Listen, this is a NO-BRAINER. If you identify as male. you are male. If you identify as female, you are female. If you identify as atheist, you are an atheist. If you identify as Christian, there might be a few arguments depending on your practice, but that's another debate. Same for Muslims. 
Once again, I simply do not care. You decision harms me not at all. 
The only MINOR logical argument I've heard involves transgendered men in female-dominated sports and you know what? I'll leave that one to the courts. 
I DO NOT AGREE WITH J.K. ROWLING. I know that her actions have left a lot of trans-folk truly devastated, especially when her writings in many cases helped them through truly troubling times.  But I believe in her right to have an opinion that does not affect her career beyond the obvious sales drop caused by potentially losing fans. That's on her. Her books shouldn't be excluded from schools or libraries based on the assumptions or hurt feelings of a few. 
Books that actively promote hatred? We have laws for that here. Take 'em off the shelves, by all means. Books that want to separate people due to their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender beliefs are crap to me. I won't read them. By all means, get rid of every derivative of MEIN KAMPF promoted by white supremacists. Keep the original around as a reminder of how someone who is small-minded and ignorant (Cough POTUS Cough) can too easily gain power. 
but don't try to tell us what we can read, because you don't like the author's personal opinion. That isn't what this country is about. Or, please God, not what it's supposed to be about. 
By the way. I've never read J.K. Rowling, and I'm not in a hurry to, but I DO ADMIRE her for giving millions and millions of dollars to charity. I've never been in the position to even consider that sort of generosity. 

Okay, let me have it. 
Until next week, I'm still James A. Moore.


  1. All excellent. I'm in agreement with you on all points Jim.

  2. James, i agree on most points, especially the idea that censorship belongs in the home. I also believe there are two types of censorship, of which i think it is important to distinguish.

    There is state sponsored censorship. I completely disagree with this. Our tax money should not go to support schools, teachers, libraries, or any public/state/federal program tbat chooses to censor for any reason.

    The other form of censorship is corporate. I see a lot of people railing against this, though i have no issue with this. Corporations should be allowed to publish what they choose, and suffer any blowback from their decisions. I don't see if as censorship if a publisher chooses to not publish or stop publishing a book for detrimental content. I have no problem with twitter or youtube shutting down an individual or channel based on their content. This to me is not censorship, it is a business decision. Yet i see many people labelling it suppression.

    I love The Beatles, but i never felt they were censored. Or at least i never heard of a library refusing to carry them because of the Jesus comment. I also love Samuel Clemens, but i do feel he has been censored. Public workers paid with public moneys decided not to carry his book in public institutions.

    In a perfect world, parents would sit with their children and read with them so they can explain possible controversies. Or parents could choose not to allow their children to read those books, or listen to that musi, or watch those shows & movies. Yes, censorship belongs in the home. But people need to be aware what true censorship implies.

    1. For me Corporate censorship comes down to handling business. They don't want it reflecting in hem, they drop a project, exactly that simple.

  3. An excellent read and a topic which I have been pondering. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Most writers know where the line is. Censorship is not the way.

  4. I am fangirling your mom so hard. Good points. Thanks for delving where few dare.

  5. Censorship seems to be running rampart in our society. "I" don't like this. "I" don't like that. So "I" am going to burn this book, "I" am going to plunder this store because of the sexracephilosophy of the owner, or, "I" am tearing down historical figures or buildings because "I" don't like it. Myself, I'm old and am afraid of what is coming. I was taught in school that I have rights but my rights end in your space - those are your rights. You can re-write history, you can change the face of a nation, but you need to have respect.

    Bradbury wrote about censorship in F 451, and showed that the idea, the content, the spirit will live on. My problem is that is on the BANNED BOOKS LIST and no one is looking outside the box and reading it.