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Tag Archives: Censorship

I personally have ‘issues’ (a US neologism in Britain) with writing for the land of the free and the home of the brave, since my US editor insists that not only do I correct my orthography to comply with Merriam Webster instead of the Oxford English Dictionary, but also that I avoid describing certain plot events because ‘they are likely to cause legal problems for the publisher’. I am allowed to have a woman’s genitalia whipped until she bleeds, but under no circumstances may she lose urinary continence through fear. Violence is, apparently, legally more acceptable than natural ‘bathroom’ matters.

Where the US has ‘the color gray’, Erica Leonard (EL James) and the rest of us Brits have ‘the colour grey’. Our cars travel on motorways and have bonnets and boots, and are fuelled by petrol. The US have automobiles on freeways with hoods and trunks, and are gassed to make them go. Even worse, Brits have a bum where a US fanny is located, and a British fanny is where babies come from.

I get quite a lot of innocent amusement reading user-manuals translated from Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and I am prepared to forgive the fractured English in which Arobas Music communicate with me about my Guitar Pro software, but there is something sinister about the tacit arrogance of cultural imperialism underlying the use of US English as the default version of ‘World English’, demanding that Australian, New Zealand and British English submit to the greatest power in the world when it comes to international diplomatic use of the language. We aren’t arguing. US citizens carry guns.

There is, of course, no point in being chauvinist about it; British, Aussie and Kiwi youngsters all watch US movies (their grandparents called them ‘films’) and more readily adopt US usages (‘cos they’re cool) than they cling to the absurd idiosyncrasies of spelling ‘thru’ as the old-fangled ‘through’ of their forefathers.

Maybe the Federal government won’t issue a fatwa against me if I write a scene about bathroom matters, but there’s still that insidious sense of cultural tyranny.

Where Japan lost global influence after Pearl Harbour (Harbor) they took it back with Honda, Toyota, Sony and Panasonic. The US quietly does likewise with Coca Cola, MacDonalds, Krispy Kreme and US English. No need for a footfall. The invasion will be accomplished by silent drones.

Just recently I have come across several cases in which people have tried to sell creative work they produced, both visual art, and pieces of ‘erotic’ writing, and have been refused hosting by the sites on which they were trying to sell. Paypal policies were quoted as one of the reasons for this, although the people concerned claimed they did not believe they had infringed Terms and Conditions.

Banks worldwide are now working towards direct payment using cellphones, principally because they want the business they see being taken from them by Paypal and other ‘secure’ payment systems. Maybe that will allow you to take payment with less high-minded interference.

Some national and state governments are actively legislating against particular products and services, as well as media, on a wide range of grounds, and are effectively banning and censoring all sorts of material and media. If someone prints tee-shirts with a slogan which incites hatred on racial or religious grounds, for example, in some territories everybody involved in the chain from originator, through manufacturer, distributor, payment facilitator to the end-customer can find themselves being prosecuted, convicted and fined or imprisoned.

So it may be that banks won’t cooperate either.

It is reasonable to expect anybody who finds themselves at risk, through ‘regulatory’ issues like these, to impose Terms and Conditions as a defence against prosecution, and to demonstrate that they exercise ‘due diligence’ in enforcing them. When they refuse to provide their service to a vendor, it is not they who are banning or censoring the item being sold; it is the regulatory system within which they operate.

If I wrote a book on slaughtering animals and cooking their meat, I would consider it reasonable that no organisation owned by Jains (vegetarians) would wish to have anything to do with my ‘product’. That is a principled choice.

Corporate entities tend to have one principle:- make as much money as possible, don’t get prosecuted, fined or jailed, don’t offend any significant percentage of your market. They really don’t mind about moral or ethical issues unless they affect the ‘bottom line’.

The justification for refusing to handle anything is based on trying to ‘please’ the greatest possible number of people. Even governments argue that they legislate in order to protect the people, and if the majority of the electorate raise no objection to ‘tightening’ of laws that are supposed to reflect the ‘moral’ attitudes of their electorate/subjects, then it is assumed that they give their assent to abide by those laws.

The problem arises when the behaviour of significant numbers of the population defies the laws they have ‘approved’. Psychologists have frequently observed that the majority of women enjoy fantasising about rape; many are aroused by spanking and that incest fantasies are by no means uncommon. Whilst noting that actual rape and incest are likely to be socially destructive, the experience of reading, seeing representations in art and movies and other means of running imaginary scenarios can be cathartic and has positive effect on people who find these fantasies attractive.. There are counter arguments, naturally, and some people argue that playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ encourages some players to act out in reality the excesses that most people ‘get out of their system’ merely by playing the game. They might also argue that some people, reading about a serial killer, will then go out and do likewise. Which is true.

When it comes to sex, there is a huge amount of hypocrisy. Even the leaders of ‘puritanical’ repressive organisations have been exposed as enthusiasts for the types of sexual activities against which they preach most vehemently. Ordinary folks would like to do many things that they are often seen to say ought not to be permitted.

Sexual liberty is a major problem. Many people are frightened of being judged ‘immoral’ if they aren’t seen to support censure of things they’d privately like to do. This does not mean that their desires are ‘right’ – it just means that society fails to be honest about those desires, and to deal with them.

Paedophiles, for example are hardly likely to campaign for sexual relationships between adults and children to become socially permissible. Just where does Nabokov fit in here? Does Lolita ‘corrupt and deprave’, or does it enable people to think more deeply about Humbert Humbert’s actions and psychological state? It is hardly likely to turn people into paedophiles.

When it comes to painting, drawing, sculpture, literature and movies ‘challenging’ sexual material is often defended on the basis that it is art, but this defence is unlikely to succeed in the case of genre pulp fiction. Many representations of sexuality across the whole spectrum have no more claim to artistic substance and merit than pulp westerns, low grade science fiction, cheap crime thrillers or Barbara Cartland’s romances.

I am opposed to censorship on principle. It is not the books which commit crimes (although some current self-published e-books do not stand as shining examples of grammar, spelling and the writers’ craft) but people. Perhaps some people will read ‘The Story of O’ and never be able to rid their psyche of desire they were previously unaware they possessed.

It takes effort to publish anything. If you actually break the law by producing material banned by law in the country in which you publish, then you must face the consequences,regardless of whether or not the state were wrong to create such a law.

If you publish trash, then it is unlikely to have a tremendous impact. If you publish something of literary merit, that explores things about life that will enrich readers’ understanding of themselves and other people, then in any reasonable country you ought to be immune from prosecution.

But we do not live in a reasonable world. Social attitudes need to change; we need people to be more honest about the bits of themselves which aren’t as ‘nice’ as we want to be thought to be. Populations need to object if they find themselves being confined by laws they secretly break daily.

In a book about the life of Emmanuelle Arsan there is little parable about her return to Paris after her husband left a diplomatic mission. On previous visits to Paris she had often joined a stream of traffic driving the wrong way along a one-way street (big enough to allow two way traffic) to shorten her route. The street passed a Gendarmerie (Police station), but the police always ignored the lawbreakers; there were too many to challenge. She was surprised to find on this occasion that the signs had been removed and the one-way restriction abandoned. Surprised, she parked at the Gendarmerie and asked the policeman at the front desk why they had finally allowed two way traffic. The Gendarme replied; “every day we had to sit here and watch so many people disobeying the law. The law was stupid, and it made us look even more stupid, so we had it taken away.”

Society will remain fundamentally sick unless we get repressive legislation taken away, but that means getting public opinion on ‘our’ side first.