I had a different sort of post in mind, one where I talked about a funny story involving watching all-ages promos for a violent show meant for mature audiences. Making a joke about censorship just doesn’t sound right.
We live in an interesting time. Everyone is becoming more and more polarized, people become angered over the slightest imagined insult. Sadly, I’m no exception.
I think about how things have changed from when I was a kid. Bad language and violence might have existed on movies, but never on TV. Cable channels were few in number and they held to strictly defined formats: HBO aired movies, MTV played music videos.
Now the best shows on television have either a “boobs to booze” ratio or a “boobs to beheadings” ratio. We are left to watch people act like idiots in their real lives and are expected to think of it as entertainment.
Those are issues of editing and of a society changing, maybe even being desensitized. But things like this start some people thinking that barriers need to be put in place, walls need to be built, and innocence needs to be protected.
Taking such a drastic course to control content is the birth of censorship. When that sort of thing starts, there’s only one thing that really happens, no matter how much censoring occurs: ART DIES.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite anime series, Berserk. To say this show is violent is like saying the surface of the sun is hot. There is violence everywhere, fighting, warfare, even battling bizarre demons. In Berserk, the blood is always flying. Supposedly, the SciFi Channel was thinking about airing it on late-night hours since it had done well in a similar time slot in Japan. To get Berserk on television, the excessive blood splatter would have to be painted over.
In small cases, painting over animation can work. WithBerserk, it was impossible. Removing the violence and warfare would remove the sense of terror, the psychological scars, and the hard nature of living in the Dark Ages. Taking out the blood would have rendered the story empty and devoid of its functioning parts.
Now imagine it had gone forward. What would that story have been? Would the demons be able to inflict absolute terror into the populace? Not if they can’t do their violent acts. Would Caska, a female soldier, have any motivation to leave home and start fighting? Not without the thread of rape and abuse around her. Would there be a real reason for the central character, Guts, to become the Black Swordsman? Not without losing an eye and hacking his own arm off.
It’s brutal stuff, and I don’t advocate senseless violence and terrible acts. But when a story revolves around the horrors of war and dark times, can it still tell the same story.
Here are a few more popular examples:
- Storming Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan.
- Vincent Vega accidentally shoots Marvin in Pulp Fiction.
- “Cop Killer” by the band Body Count is a protest against police brutality.
- Do The Right Thing was almost censored for being racist
- Riots, boycotts, and pickets surrounded The Last Temptation of Christ because of the temptation sequence.
Now, let’s look at some results from those.
- Saving Private Ryan has been noted as being “realistic” and “historically accurate.”
- Without the car shooting, half of Pulp Fiction happens differently.
- Ice-T, lead singer of Body Count now plays a cop on TV
- Spike Lee is now considered one of the great voices of cinema
- The Last Temptation of Christ has nothing on The Passion of the Christ.
Sure, I’m listing violence and sex. I’m touching on what many see as sacrilege. As a writer, I know there are stories that need to be told. And while “pushing the envelope” isn’t actually all that hard, doing it where it enhances the story in a productive way is a difficult feat.
We live in a society that needs art and culture. It’s through those things that we better understand ourselves. If we allow censorship to rise up, we are essentially cutting off parts of our collective soul. We are trimming our hearts and our minds.