We have all heard horror stories about censorship – black & white newsreel footage of the Nazis burning books is the mental picture that springs immediately to mind. But it’s not just a despotic dictatorship that encourages censorship. Even here, in the Land of the Free, the media is censored by a number of forces, both social and political. In this article, I will explore the reasons behind media censorship, including the arguments that it may well be a good thing.
So what is censorship, really? In the simplest terms, it’s when somebody gets between a content producer and a content consumer, for whatever reason. The most common reasons for media censorship are sexual content, violent content, or “hate speech” – language that is intended to incite violence or discrimination against a particular societal group, whether it be race, creed, or color. In most cases, censorship is considered to be necessary not for all individuals, but rather for minors who are unable to process the content as well as adults can.
But is censorship really necessary on a societal level? Many argue that it is not the government’s responsibility to police our children, and parents should be more involved in their children’s media choices instead of letting the TV be a babysitter. But even then, it is impossible for a parent to predict what is going to happen on even a supposedly family-friendly TV program, as Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl breast exposure proves. But even that shocking incident (which resulted in CBS being fined over half a million dollars) raises a number of questions – why is seeing a bare breast considered offensive?
As babies, virtually all of us saw our mother’s, and in Europe bare breasts are not considered taboo at all. Censorship and the debate around it can contribute to the questioning of social mores that we take for granted. While some things are unilaterally agreed to be harmful to a society, such as hate speech, others are mere relics of a Judeo-Christian value system that is not shared by all Americans.
As it stands, the media censorship in America is primarily conducted by the Federal Communications Commission on a governmental level, and the Motion Picture Association of America and other such agencies in the private sphere. Much criticism has been leveled against those private agencies by artists and studios. They claim that their methods of evaluating a work’s content is not effective and can result in a film, TV show or video game being bowdlerized to fit within a rating category. Because retailers (who are also, in some way, complicit in censorship) will typically not sell content that is labeled “for adults only,” there is no profit in works that push the limits.
Is there a solution to censorship? Probably not – for every liberal “information wants to be free” proponent out there, there’s a Midwestern mother of three who doesn’t want her children killing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto. But it’s interesting to note that most censorship proponents want somebody else to do the hard work of controlling the media, instead of them. If we are really to embrace the spirit of personal responsibility and independence that America was founded on, we need to stop asking Big Government to insulate our families and do it ourselves.