Modes of Censorship

My ideological attitudes were formed in childhood but were never force-fed with any permanent result. I tended to pick and choose. From Catholic school, I accepted the premise that Communism was evil and that moral relativism is wrong. Yet I rebelled against the idea that I should follow the dictates of the so-called ‘Legion of Decency’ when it came to what movies should be avoided. I wondered what was so bad about ‘The Outlaw’.

I could not understand what right a government had to impose prohibitions on what people drink, inhale, ingest, or inject. While I had no curiosity about drugs, I resented the government telling people what to do. I was on the libertarian fringe but had no affinity for anarchy. I found censorship offensive but consciously avoided the pornography that was available in those little comic booklets. That Catholic school stuff was working. I would like to find some of them that were parodies of popular comic strips and wonder how many were illustrated by people who went to work for Mad Magazine.

Perhaps conversations at the dinner table had something to do with my attitudes. There were never any discussions about sports but politics and religion were fair game. Skepticism was an article of faith. I did not know the meaning of a first down but was aware that the current speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates cheated at poker and that the head of the community association had political ambitions (he became governor and now serves as comptroller). I know the names of the political bosses who ruled the city of Baltimore. Ideas were discussed and there was usually a new book to be read. My father leaned towards the classics and my mother liked historical fiction. I read both.

I was in my teens when Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn started to pierce the veil of censorship and I read both. Before that, I read a lot of history books and also enjoyed forbidden works of Balzac and Boccacio.

I recently heard entertainer George Carlin on satellite radio fulminating about the threat of censorship. His complaint is that he will not be able to use dirty words. He railed about the influence of religion. Comstockery and prudery are offensive and ludicrous and often overlay a layer of hypocrisy. Yet I found Carlin to be an utter ass whose longish hair adds to his essential irrelevance.

It is considered ‘hip’ in some entertainment circles to denigrate the Administration and those who do not fall in ideological lockstep with the New Conformity. The televised exchange between Bill O’Reilly and David Letterman was done in front of a hip-friendly audience. Letterman displayed his shallowness and bias when he claimed that he disliked something that he had never seen. I made a similar mistake a few years ago about the MTV show Beavis and Butthead. A friend gave me a DVD of their full-length show and I had to admit that I was wrong. An entity as biased as MTV was suckered into putting on a satirical blast at political correctness and the jackbooted thugs sometimes found at ATF. I was immediately drawn to a more concentrated bit of political satire in South Park. Priggish social conservative Brent Bozell (who is probably a very nice guy) takes the medium far too seriously and misses the message. That happens quite often with satire.

Yet what censorship do the George Carlin type fear that makes them verge on hysteria? There are some entertainers whose stock in trade is gratuitous vulgarity. Is it truly funny? There are times when vulgarity is appropriate. The Mel Brooks ‘History of the World’ had some good toilet humor. The critic urinating on a cave drawing was excellent. The scene where the black man called Oedipus ‘motherfucker’ was one of the few times that phrase has been appropriate.

Unfortunately, the word ‘fuck’ is often used as a filler rather than to precisely convey an idea or meaning (which is the basic rationale for verbal communication). When used by a nun who struck her finger with a misdirected hammer, it has great effect. When used gratuitously, it loses all impact and makes the speaker appear to be little more than an inarticulate dolt. Were I never to use the word again, my ability to communicate would not be limited although my repertoire of jokes could be reduced. This might be of some relief to those who would be spared their repetition.

Yet I do fear a censorship that the neo-clowns such as Howard Stern and George Carlin seem to ignore. It is political correctness, the embodiment of what Orwell called Newspeak. As with any evil, it has a benign façade, one of sensitivity. We must avoid hurting feelings so all manner of euphemisms must be created to sugar-coat any form of misfortune or adverse physical outcome.

By declaring words with clear meaning off limits, we are limiting our ability to communicate with clarity. We must celebrate diversity as a vehicle ignoring differences that may be meaningful. Affirmative action is a synonym for reverse discrimination. Social justice is a (temporary) redistribution of wealth that inevitably sees the natural disparities return.

The more dangerous form of political correctness deals not with the censorship of words but of ideas. We must not delve into any studies that might prove that race can be a factor in some form of activities. Attacks on The Bell Curve demonstrated the nature of sensitivity of the mavens of political correctness. We must ignore race and let quotas (shabbily disguised as diversity and equal opportunity) rule. Yet why are there so few Jewish basketball players? Why are some areas of research forbidden in academe?

The Church has long been ridiculed for obliging Galileo to recant his theory of a heliocentric solar system. Now, in spite of an intervening Enlightenment, a new Inquisition would enslave our minds. This may be as much a threat as that from the web of terror.

2 Comments

  1. You’re hands aren’t tied here Art – be as fucking un-PC as you want. What is so important that we’re missing? Go ahead and enlighten us.

    Just like almost anything, PC can of course be taken too far. It’s original intent was fine – why call black people the N word? It is just a name-calling put-down and useless anyway in any decent discussion.

  2. My grandfather taught me not to use the n-word, although it was in fairly wide use then, “colored people” was the acceptable term used in polite society in the late 40′s. Later, in its turn, it too came to be considered insulting, and “black” replaced it.

    However, timing is important here. The premature use of “black” would have been highly unpopular if employed prior to official notification of the change over. In 1956 calling someone black would have been a clear example of racist speech. No one would have defended the term.

    You might consider that an early expression of Politically Correct usage, but I don’t. It’s simply the evolution and development of American English and the result of advancing racial integration. The more contact among racial groups the more likely they are to negotiate a mutually acceptable use of terms.

    The PC movement is something else entirely. I consider it bigotry and blatant censorship, and a clear violation of the First Amendment. And, anyone who defends it is a totalitarian demagogue.

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