If In Doubt, Cut It Out: The New Entertainment Censorship

The Arts


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.

30 comments on “If In Doubt, Cut It Out: The New Entertainment Censorship”

  1. Peter Dixon says:

    There’s a massive distance between understanding the past, making excuses for the past and trying to abolish the past because it doesn’t sit right with a modern audience.

    Some modern film directors and writers comment on how they maybe shouldn’t have created some piece of work 20 or 30 years ago given todays perspective, but they’re only in a position to comment BECAUSE of the work they did.

    I’ve got photographs of how I dressed 40 years ago – I wouldn’t dress like that now, but part of me exists BECAUSE I dressed that way.

    Most of Mel Brooks’ comedy exists because he is Jewish, because he worked in a Jewish led humour industry, because he was prepared to show just how stupid racism was in movies like ‘Blazing Saddles’ which would probably never be made now because it might offend too many people who can vote on Twitter or Facebook.

    My view is that once something is more than 5 years old it becomes history. No, make that History with a cap H.

    At that point you can comment on it, decry it, contextualise it, be annoyed by it, ignore it, pour scorn or heap praise on it, but don’t attempt to subdue it or deny it.

    Do we refuse to recognise ancient Roman civilisation because it was based on slaves? Or ancient Egypt? Should we knock down the Parthenon in Rome because it was probably paid for by looted gold from the Temple Mound in Jerusalem?

    The last time anyone tried to seriously remove history was Joseph Stalin who could happily order the death of thousands and then have some of his political opponents airbrushed out of photos so that people weren’t allowed to speak about them.

    The past is ugly, not nice, but there’s a reason for it that gets completely lost if you try to deny it or paint over it. Our Kings and Queens have a history that is bloody, murderous and violent; do we want to pretend that they are all about over the top clothes, masked balls and mysterious romances because the current generation can’t handle it?

  2. Brooke says:

    We decide what we consume, or at least we ought to and perhaps give it more careful thought than we sometimes do.. Studios and publishers, often in collusion or at least an eye toward, government interventions, decide what is available for consumption. But who cares about studios and publishers; they are past tense. The question is how much control should Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, etc. have.

  3. Derek J Lewis says:

    If “blackface episodes should be removed” how do you feel about “white chicks” the Wayans comedy from the early 2000s? Censorship can be double-edged sword when clumsily wielded

  4. snowy says:

    The scene in ‘Silver Streak’ has a context that needs to be considered along with the act depicted.

    It’s a disguise not a parody.
    The instigator of the plan is Richard Pryor’s character.
    Gene Wilder’s character is the butt of the joke, [particularly his complete ineptitude, he is too stiff, too uptight and so hopelessly ‘uncool’ that the audience remains in no doubt he will never pull it off even after extensive coaching].
    The disguise is discarded immediately and never referred to again.

    What is more difficult to square away is the train scene in ‘Trading Places’.

  5. admin says:

    I don’t remember the Trading Places scene. It’s been years since I watched that. Interestingly, I grew up with decades of hateful gay stereotyping and while I found it tiresome it didn’t particularly bother me, possibly because there were enough colourfully camp characters in British entertainment to amuse without particular offence.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    During the war (the second one) Fu Manchu was blocked from the radio airwaves as China was an ally and it may cause offence, so Sumuru was born (it aired just after the war ended.), Rohmer then turned it into a book, others followed as did several films by Harry Alan Towers. So offence was known but it was ignored, well at least in some quarters.

    I remember as a kid (OK I was a bit older than that, just, honest.) they stopped swearing in films on TV, Beverley Hills Cop was one of the main triggers. They put on a version where he said flip, which meant there were a lot of flipped flips to deal with. After a furore they eventually they said they would leave the swearing in if it was appropriate. In The Thing 1982, when the head drops off the table, sprouts spider legs and eyes stalks and runs off MacReady swears, they cut it. If swearing at that is inappropriate when is it appropriate? I guess when it’s not ‘low brow’. Censor the poor as they need help. why is cinema the most censored medium? TV shows allsorts of stuff.

    The problem with censorship is that it creeps into other things, and what was considered throwaway once is now considered so much more, like Dracula.

    Dracula 1931 was terribly abused, cut by Laemmle and then cut again after the war along with Frankenstein & King Kong. It was a bad influence on young minds. The others have had there missing bits shown but not Dracula, The sea trip in the Spanish version shot at the same time gives an idea of what is missing.

    Here is a question though, new editions, director’s cuts and so, have you ever seen how many versions of Blade Runner? And what of these new versions?

    As for history it’s always being re-written by the living and always has been.

    There is the argument, ‘Just stick to the facts, ma’am.’ but whose facts. When you seen redacted documents are their any unredacted copies, or will we go down the route of ancient texts with all the vowels removed so even today there are arguments of what they mean. So we may never know important parts of history.

    So if we are influenced by the past, how are we influenced by a false past? and a changing past?

    Bit of a ramble there sorry.


  7. snowy says:

    Eddie Murphy is disguised as a West African Student, Dan Ackroyd blacks up to offer the most unconvincing Rastafarian you have ever seen in the history of film and Jamie Curtis is some sort of strange Euro-hybrid, [a Swede that for some reason wears lederhosen].

    There is a huge distinction, in the European context between; the act of ‘Blackening the face’ and ‘Blackface’, but since we now import our outrage direct from the U S of A wholesale; the individual context for each instance is being lost.

    “I grew up with decades of hateful gay stereotyping…”, well here’s a question: You didn’t like the stereotypical portrayals, of which they where many. But can you recall any of them that were hate-fuelled? I’m struggling, Julian and Sandy always got a huge cheer whenever they appeared. I’ll not bore everybody with a list, but I can think of lots played for comic effect, but none as a hate-figure.

  8. SteveB says:

    How do people feel about this I wonder?

    The other thing that quite annoys me is how judgmental woke people can be on things they don’t understand. Somebody was insulting Jimmy Edwards amd joking about his handlebar moustache without knowing that (a) he was a WW2 hero who had the moustache to hide the scarring from crashing in a burning plane and (b) he was gay in an era which didn‘t make that easy.

  9. Roger says:

    Cut the smoking from film noir and there wouldn’t be much left of the films! Do they cut dope smoking – which is still officially illegal – or only cigarettes? Sharlock Holmes has lost his pipe; does he still have his – then legal – cocaine?

    “The flipping flipper’s flipping flipped!” definitely lacks something, Wayne Mook.

  10. Jan says:

    Interesting that although there’s pretty much always been some form of censorship but now instead of coming from a controlling, authority state source telling us what’s good or not so good for us it’s now from commercial outfits trying to rack up a few housepoints by wanting to appear “woke”. Does that actually change the very nature of censorship when it becomes not what we think is good for you but this is what we reckon you will approve of and think we’re right there with you for by kicking stuff into touch?
    Does that in itself change the nature of censorship?

    Though tbh I am not 100% sure of what “woke” really is!

    Here Wayne did you see that programme on BBC2 last night about the Manchester property boom? Gob smacking it really was! Absolutely unreal that this is happening to town. I could see the start of this last time I was up home about three or maybe even four years back. It’s extraordinary though just what’s been created out of both redundant industrial premises and new build tower blocks. I just couldn’t get over it. I read on line today from the M.E.N. that the lass with a couple of kiddies who lost her private rental property and ended up in social housing thought she had only got her spot because of the show. It also seemed equally unlikely that the lad from the hostel suddenly got a property. Laughable really that the power of telly helped the displaced out….because right at the bottom of it I can’t really see where this boom starts. I mean we are a long way from “Cottonopolis”!

    Do you reckon that it just might have been Kickstarted by Media City? I know lots of youngsters wanting to be involved in broadcasting and the arts have gravitated to Manchester because of the college courses available and the BBC placements locally.

    Manchester is an exciting city for sure and it does seem to have a real buzz going on at the moment. I wonder if though the pandemic might totally throw this completely off track. Offer the wealthy the choice between being in the centre of a lockdown town and lots of land and freedom to roam in a countrified setting and their priorities might suddenly realign.

    At least for a time city living might be reassessed.

    In a sense though it’s not what’s happening in and around Ancoats that’s the worry it’s the knock on around Eccles,Irlam, Monton Swinton and all the other little places on the edge of this radically changed connurbation.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    The removal of Sherlock’s pipe did create a rather good visual gag on the show ‘Sherlock’, though – Sherlock rolling a sleeve up to show Watson a row of Nicotine patches – a ‘Three Patch Problem’, he tells Watson. Totally lost on anyone unfamiliar with the original stories, but it certainly made me laugh.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Ian, I thought that was a wonderful moment, one of the best.
    No one knows what “woke” really means and I really wish the word would disappear. There are many words that can describe current attitudes without having to abuse the English language.

  13. admin says:

    ‘Hate-fuelled’ – how about Mr Kidd and Mr Wint in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ for a start? Admittedly most of the hatier ones were from Hollywood films – check out the Oscar-winning ‘The Celluloid Closet’ – an eye-opening and frequently hilarious documentary.

  14. Dawn Andrews says:

    Knowing the original story is context, as with the wonderful three patch problem. If you don’t know the story, the mistakes, the perspectives of past generations, how do you value the changes? I am having some trouble at present with the concept of censorship by social mediia but I also value there being less silenced voices. And I don’t know what woke means either!

  15. Jan says:

    I suppose in the end you get a balance just because you get old. Enough experience is accumulated because you live through one set of social mores becoming supplanted by another.

    You also twig that things will change and change again. Nowts perfect never was and probably never will be. Views are constantly morphing. I reckon overall for the better.

  16. snowy says:

    Kidd and Wint, [I bloody knew you were going to pick them!]

    Bond villains, not renown for the subtly with which they are drawn or sensitivity of depiction.

    For precedent see: Rosa Klebb, anybody think she knocks off at 5 O’clock and goes home to cook Mr Klebb’s dinner? [No chance, she’s straight into her Dom outfit and off up the Leather Bar.]

    I think they might be outliers, every Bond villain/henchman/henchwoman has to have a point of distinction that places them outside the ‘plain vanilla’, [Korean hat-juggler, French midget, Caribbean snake fancier].

    [At this point knowing I don’t have a copy of the film to hand, I took to YouTube and discovered why. It’s a dreadful film. everybody looks so bored. Having waded through the various clips on offer each duller than the previous.]

    Kidd and Wint are just rent-a-mooks and bargain basement ones at that, purely functional, their relationship is the only thing about them that makes them interesting. Or would be if it was played with any flicker of ‘life’, [no wonder I had completely forgotten about them, I’ve got wooden spoons capable of delivering more emotional nuance].

    I seems a retrograde step after ‘Camp Freddie’ [Italian Job], who is a fully formed character that just exists in a rounded way with ‘identity’ and ‘agency’, whose gayness is just part of him and nobody else thinks the ‘situation’ is remarkable in any way.

    To end with a question, anybody can join in:

    If you could go back to 1971 and recast Kidd and Wint with any actors available at the time, who would you have picked? [Anybody would have been better than those two].

  17. SteveB says:

    It was Fleming who made Klebb gay, whereas it was the actors who decided to play Kidd and Wint gay.

    I am curious what people make of thw tw3 clip, not least because Im not sure myself. Written by the same guy who wrote the English Les Mis lyrics btw

  18. snowy says:

    The TW3 clip is capable of being manipulated away from its original intent, by people unaware of the context in which it is written, those that don’t listen carefully to the words and those not aware of how British humour works. [Just to show how important knowledge of the context is, the ‘White Man’ mentioned in the intro was William Lewis Moore.]

    [There is a matching/twin piece that goes alongside/should be paired with it, but I can’t find a copy. Produced in the week that MLK was murdered, if memory serves.]

  19. snowy says:

    Steve we seem to have posted at exactly the same time, I feel I should expand a bit/tag on…

    The identity Of William Moore is crucial, as without it then context of what follows is completely inverted.

    “William Lewis Moore (April 28, 1927 – April 23, 1963) was a postal worker and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) member who staged lone protests against racial segregation. He was assassinated in Attalla, Alabama, during a protest march from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, where he intended to deliver a letter to Governor Ross Barnett, supporting civil rights. ”

    Understanding that, the satire in that clip is so ‘acidic’ it would have been burning holes in the bottom of every British TV set.

  20. Ian Luck says:

    I don’t have the book to hand, but the two killers in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, are gay; indeed, one has the nickname ‘Boofy’, which was the nickname of a close friend of Fleming’s, and who was disappointed with how the law dealt with gay men.

  21. snowy says:

    I’m not convinced Col. Klebb is a lesbian, I think she is a pan-sexual sadist, [the most difficult appetite to satisfy; if the person you are whipping is enjoying it, it’s no fun for you.]

  22. snowy says:

    Recasting is proving extremely difficult, so far I’ve discarded Dirk Bogarde as just a shade too old, which currently leaves me with Peter Wyngarde and Tim Curry. The balance of effortless natural style and innate menace, without tumbling into cliche is hard to find.

    [But anything has to be better than the original two who look like out of work wrestlers trying to get a gig as Panto Dames and failing – badly].

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Did one of that pair have a luggage tag saying “My blood type is F”?

  24. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy, although Wyngarde & Curry sound a good pairing, it would be difficult to realise now – Peter Wyngarde died a few years ago, and Tim Curry is wheelchairbound after a serious brain injury several years back. Matt Lucas and David Walliams seem to be a perfect fit for the role.

  25. snowy says:

    W&C are the time invariant casting, mainstream American cinema had largely yet to ‘invent’ gay men in 1971.

    [A modern casting, with the abundant talent, opens up all sorts of potential for creative mischief, imagine the absolute howls of outrage if one were to cast Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? {I think both would be game, and carry it off in good style}]

  26. SteveB says:

    @Ian I got that very wrong didnt I!

    @snowy I know the background – I’m really still not sure how I feel about it, however well-meant and I agree it’s very sharp especially the line about ‘shoot you bravely in the back’
    Im not in favour of censorship though

  27. snowy says:

    To reverse the question, what specifically about the clip makes you uncomfortable?

  28. Brian Evans says:

    The TW3 clip is beyond brilliant. Sadly, the twink snowflake generation of today will watch the clip with jaw-dropping disbelief at something so (apparently) racist, missing the point that it is not racist, but instead pointing out how vile racism is. It is the British way-get a political point across via ironic comedy rather than serious lecturing. Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnet in “Till Death Death Us Do Part” and its writer Johnnie Speight did the same with the appalling racist central character-the joke was that this racist man was just a sad pathetic pitiable little-man loser.

    I would like to remind people that the dance routine and each programme had only a few days rehearsal and they did it each week for a thirteen week series. Now that is professionalism.

    One minor point-I thought Millicent Martin’s face expressions were a little subdued and wistful. If I was directing her, I would have made her much more jolly in order to point up the irony even more. But, that may have been the director’s and singer’s way of sugaring the pill a little.

  29. Pat says:

    I once saw Robin Hood Prince of Thieves in a cinema, in English subtitled in French, while on holiday in Europe. In the UK version Christian Slater says something like “Swipe me, he made it!” but in Europe he said “Fuck me, he made it!”
    To add to my joy, at one point Alan Rickman said “You called, milady?” which was subtitled (are you cold, milady?)

  30. Ian Luck says:

    The Monty Python team were fully aware of what they were writing, and often deliberately inserted things to annoy, or just to see if the BBC censors were paying attention. They obviously weren’t, as things slipped by, that, although I love Monty Python, now feel wrong. I won’t say what they are, but the name of an annoying ‘Pepperpot’ who explodes, is one of them. And yet, when they were doing the ‘Happy Prince’ animation, the BBC said they couldn’t use the word ‘Cancer’, so the word ‘Gangrene’ was re-edited over it, deliberately using a voice that did not match the rest of the dialogue. The end of this skit is problematic, too.

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