Sunday, June 12, 2011

Censorship and the Modern World

Censorship is tricky. There are various types of censorship (political, economic, religious). There are various ways in which censorship works (centralized coercion, self-censorship).

One could (and I am sure someone has) undertake a foucauldian analysis of censorship. Foucault, of course, argues that in the transition from the world of monarchs, lords, ladies, and theocracies of various degrees with their spectacles of disciplining and punishing (inquisitions and public executions) to the “modern” world where socialization, a socialization where discipline and punishment were internalized, made censorship less the province of centralized powers and more the practise of internal self regulation or censorship. Of course, the old centralized forms of censorship remained (the banning of Dr. Zhivago by the Soviet elite) and remain but self censorship (the absence of Noam Chomsky from “mainstream” US TV because of self censorship by those networks rather than any official government ban) has come to dominate censorship practises in the modern capitalist dominated world.

I am fascinated by the forms censorship takes and the way people try to get around it. Here are a few Chomsky, one of the leading analysts of US foreign policy, used to show up on PBS--William F. Buckley’s Firing Line to be specific--before Firing Line went off the air and America’s political powers that be brought that network to heel through a cutting off of its funding and the use of a puritan dominated FCC to regulate its content (PBS’s Steambath in the 1970s and Tales of the City in the 1990s had some full frontal nudity and, in the case of the latter, representations of extensive drug use and portrayals of homosexuality). He still occasionally shows up on cable TV’s C-Span. The science fiction/fantasy television show Twilight Zone used metaphor to comment critically on American racism, for example, at a time when Jim Crow dominated the US South. CBS and Proctor and Gamble compromised with the makers of The Dick Van Dyke Show allowing Mary Tyler Moore to wear Capri pants once an episode. Buffy the Vampire Slayer got a way with a lot of sexual innuendo through metaphor, the use of British slang, and body movements. To some extent Twilight Zone and Buffy got away with what they did because they had a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and fable in them and weren’t regulated to the same degree as more “realist” television fictions were. This was also true to some extent in “authoritarian” modern regimes like that of the USSR. In the USSR noted author Fazil Iskander's literary fables used metaphor to make critical political points about the USSR. Were the censoring bureaucrats simply too literal minded to get it?

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