If In Doubt, Cut It Out: The New Entertainment Censorship
It started when I caught the opening of ‘Hairspray’ on Netflix and stayed tuned to watch John Waters’ cameo as a flasher on the streets of Baltimore. I remember Tracy Turnblad walking along a street filled with parodied sixties moments including a drunk in a bar (it’s early morning) and several pregnant women hilariously spraying cigarette smoke around.
Except that they don’t anymore. The latter scene had gone. I was sure I hadn’t imagined it. Could it have fallen foul of the streaming giant’s ‘no smoking’ rule in movies? I couldn’t tell whether it was removed under new guidelines.
Now I read in the New York Times that quite a lot has been censored recently. An aggressive re-evaluation of racial and sexual mores has resulted in various show episodes being pulled. The NYT’s Sean Malin says: ‘While simply taking down offensive content might be expeditious for media companies, the practice seems to have few other fans. Some content creators and viewers have cited it as evidence that networks and distributors are succumbing to cancel culture.’
Clearly certain show episodes have proven offensive and blackface episodes should be removed. But what about, say, the movie ‘Silver Streak’, in which Richard Pryor forcibly blacks up a horrified Gene Wilder against his will? The scene is obviously intended to be viewed from a woke perspective (the film is written by the openly gay Colin Higgins and directed by Sidney Poitier) but I’m not qualified to judge whether it should stay.
Censorship has always been contentious; liberals say don’t cut anything, conservatives say protect the family. But surely the application of intelligence should sort it all out. When something has been made with venal intent it should go. When it has been written by a woke writer making a point it should stay.
It’s good business PR to appear woke. Networks and publishers can sell more by virtual signalling to viewers and readers. But is it ethical for executives to decide on the junking of creative works? The streamers refused to comment for the NYT article. In 1975 ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ was broadcast nationally in the US. What the network forgot to tell the Pythons was that they’d heavily censored the sketches. The reinstatement of the footage resulted in a landmark court case which the writers ultimately won.
When the American Book of the Month Club took George Orwell’s ‘1984’ they refused to take the appendix, ‘The Principles of Newspeak’, even though Orwell argued that it was a key fictional part of the book – its raison d’être in fact.
It’s easier to take blanket offence than reason each case through, but in a time when one of the world’s largest economies is run by a racist with a personality disorder, strong measures are called for.
British newspapers from WWII are shocking not for what they contain but what they don’t. There was a paper shortage but even so, reports of operations, battles, bombings, loss of life, infrastructure damage, social unrest and dissent operated under government mandate and are notably absent. Today we have too much content, and a great proportion of it is unsubstantiated.
So is it better to let publishers and studios decide what we consume, rather than the government?
This article will be concluded tomorrow.