This is an old one I did as part of a series called ‘Neal Asher Gets Rabid’ for the BSFA (I mention video tapes, so that old). I think I got rabid in this case after seeing TV versions of Conan the Barbarian and Lethal Weapon – both censored to the point they had become nonsensical. And hearing Danny Glover say, ‘I’m too old for this stuff’ – the ‘stuff’ being in a totally different voice, pushed me over the edge.
We live in a very strange society in which it is considered more dangerous to display an erect penis on television than it is to show, for example, someone having his throat cut. This is just one symptom of the strange disease that afflicts the so-called great and the good, bringing about in them a myopia in which they come to see sex as somehow a more heinous sin than violence. Certain words are not allowed because of their shocking sexual connotations, yet it is alright to show people being shot and knifed. The sex act itself must be ridiculously disguised, yet the scene in which someone is burnt to death is as realistic as possible.
This is just one of the crazy inconsistencies of this madness called censorship. If we are to suppose that films on TV cause children and the weak of mind (neither of which are likely to pay licence fees) to emulate them, this begs the question: which of the above would you want your children to emulate? The censors would of course want the lot censored and to feed us on a diet of gardening and cookery programs. I can only say that this would only lead to people turning off the television and seeking their entertainment elsewhere, perhaps out mugging pensioners to get the money to rent a decent video tape or two.
I hate censorship and would throw more weight behind the argument calling for it to be removed. It is wrong. It is another mishandling of power that takes responsibility away from the individual and in effect makes individuals more irresponsible. I wonder just how many really scientific studies have been made of the effects of TV violence on the individual. None I would warrant, simply because it would be impossible. For one thing there is no possible control group for any experiment or study. All that has really been done is the kind of statistical analysis that comes up with the result that ‘violent people watch more violence on television than non-violent people’, which goes nowhere in revealing why those people were violent and renders the analysis meaningless. Still though, censorship persists, and grows.
In the literary world that hideous creeping fungus called ‘political correctness’ is walking censorship in through the back door of children’s books, and I have to wonder how long it will be before it reaches adult books. How long before this force that has emasculated our teaching profession and police starts turning all fiction into an inane mush? How long before ‘conflict’ is removed from fiction because it is too … confrontational.
But how about a reversal?
There is a school of thought that believes TV violence to be cathartic, and that the people who watch it are likely to be more relaxed and less inclined to violence than they might have been. In Jung Chang’s Wild Swans she describes China, during the Cultural Revolution, as a pressure cooker without the relief valves of spectator sports or violent films. Now there, I think, is a woman more fit to judge morality than many. The same applies to literature: recently, an interviewer pointed out how the body count in my most recent book started high and continued to rise, yet my last encounter with violence left me feeling sick to the stomach because I had been involved in something really sordid. Those who are the spectators of violence are perhaps less inclined to take it up as a pastime – probably because they really know what it is. If violence is removed from all our forms of entertainment then people will lose a valuable learning resource and wander naively into truly dangerous situations. We cannot wrap everyone in cotton wool – because there’ll always be someone out there with lighter fuel and a match.
Unfortunately, the censors are very often precisely the people to whom we must perforce complain, and complaining to them about censorship would be the same as writing to an MP with the opinion that you consider politics unnecessary. Entrenched self-interest is as difficult to excise as a verruca. And the censors will never admit any argument that might reduce their power.