For and against – Should films ever be censored?
For and against – Should films ever be censored?
The BBFC has just allowed the general release of The Human Centipede II, following cuts amounting to approximately two and-a-half minutes. The film is the latest to take centre stage in the ongoing censorship discussion.
By Kevin McHugh, journalist
Censorship of art is often denounced as undemocratic and a symptom of an ominous, Big Brother state. It’s seen as the tool of the oppressor – a system of control designed to repress individual thought.
But the censorship debate is a big topic that can’t be neatly placed into categories of ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’. Films can inspire people, change attitudes and ignite something inside deep within. This is something that was recognised a long time ago and it has been controlled to some degree ever since.
The 1925 Russian film, Battleship Potemkin, was banned in many countries across the world as its story of a naval mutiny was deemed so powerful it had the potential to arouse outbreaks of social rebellion. The film only earned a British release 29 years later, and even then it was classified ‘X-rated’ until a further review in 1978.
The Battleship Potemkin example is one that highlights the dark side of film censorship: censorship for the control of society - and most people would disagree with that. The successes of film censorship are not so easy to judge as it’s impossible to witness its effects. However, the number of murders and incidences of violent behaviour directly related to films are well documented.
A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from theatres by director Stanley Kubrick after the film inspired several crimes that imitated scenes from the film and the Kubrick himself was threatened.
Natural Born Killers sparked a series of copycat killings following its release, including a link with the perpetrators of the Columbine school massacre. So-called ‘video nasty’ Child’s Play 3 is renowned by its association with the murder of two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 (though this association is now widely debunked - ed).
While it is over-simplistic to solely attribute these incidents to films (especially as the media makes a point of demonising any movie connected to an act of violence), the evidence shows that a certain level of control is necessary. Taken individually, we are all capable of great intelligence and reasoned thought. As a group however, we are typically mindless, easily led and self-destructive (e.g. last August’s riots; football hooliganism; Nazi Germany).
In a perfect world, censorship would not be necessary. Children wouldn’t be exposed to films inappropriate for their age and every person would have the mental stability to clearly recognise the boundary between film and reality. But we don’t live in a perfect world - so while we can’t always monitor what our children watch, or predict what could inspire violent behaviour, we can take steps to protect the vulnerable in society through classification and censorship.
By Mary Hayward, Secretary of the Campaign Against Censorship
Censorship serves the same purpose in a democracy as in every system of government; it helps the people in power stay in power. The role that censorship of information plays in this is obvious - the role that censorship of the arts plays is less direct.
However, if an elected government can persuade voters that the arts are somehow dangerous and that those in government will ‘protect’ them with censorship, it may gain them support. The fact is that no government really wants those it governs to think for themselves.
By withholding not only information but imaginings, insights and ideas from its citizens it hopes to prevent them asking awkward questions and, perhaps, coming up with awkward answers – such as voting for somebody else.
Censors and would-be censors use the concept of ‘influence’ to try to justify what they do, because if the arts did not influence people they would have no excuse for doing it. Have you ever wondered why all ‘influence’ is assumed to be bad influence? If influence really existed it would work both ways.
In fact, the arts do not influence people’s thoughts and feelings, let alone their actions, unless they connect with something already present in those people’s personalities or experience. People choose what art they will look at, what films they will watch, what games they will play or what sites they will visit, because of who they already are. Horror movies are popular because they are about fear and we all know what fear is.
In principle, governments have a responsibility to make the arts readily available to anyone who is interested in them. However, this is something a government will be unwilling to do if it might possibly weaken its hold on power. That is why dictatorial governments practise more censorship than democratic ones. They are more frightened of letting people think.
A government does have a responsibility to ensure - as far as possible (nobody can make shoppers read labels) - that consumers have what they need to make informed choices about what they consume. CAC does not oppose certification of films as a guide for the consumer to what the film contains.
We do oppose bans and cuts. Film is an art form and works of art should be available as their makers made them, not withheld or mutilated by a censor.
Is film an art form that shouldn't be censored? Or do we need to moderate what adults view? Leave your thoughts on film censorship below.