Tuesday, 11 December 2007


There are two issues that I want to talk about relating to censorship. I've been muddling my responses to them together, so this is really a post to clarify my own thinking.

1. Torture porn
Basically, I think that films like Sin City are pretty gross. I usually avoid them, and only saw Sin City on the basis of faulty advice (and left the cinema when Clive Owen started chopping dead bodies up). Honestly, I don't think that Sin City is really the worst offender, because most of the films I put in the "torture porn" category involve a lot more women screaming as horrible things are done to them or are about to be done to them. I always find the threat of sexualized violence in the narrative context of a 'mainstream' movie quite stomach-churning. I have a sense, though, that there have been a rash of recent films in which "this sort of thing" is being done purely in order to titillate the audience rather than because the scene is strictly necessary in the movie. That's what I find detestable, that the filmmakers seem to be speaking to the audience and saying "we've got what you like", rather than actually making films with a reasonable story.

On the other hand, I find the gleefully gratuitous fight scenes of Shoot 'Em Up and its ilk highly entertaining, and casualizing violence is arguably worse. I guess what really gets me about the "torture porn" genre is that people actually want to watch that stuff. But I guess that I can't claim any moral superiority since I'd list The Matrix and a couple of John Woo films in my top 20 favourites. And I can't even watch an episode of House without looking away at least five times.

NOTE: I don't really include S&M movies in the "torture porn" category, since they are pretty clearly harmless. Not that I've seen any. No, really. What?

2. Hate Speech
(You're thinking, how does he get these two confused?? Thinking about censoring things that people find offensive, that's how.)

On the one hand, I am pretty firmly anti-censorship in all its forms - I think that people should be able to say what they like, and if other people find that offensive then tough. I think that I'm even "pro" hate speech and incitement, at least in theory, because the people being spoken to surely have their own minds.

On the other hand, I find Chris Bertram's argument compelling.

So I'm in a quandary. The notion of a blanket freedom of speech seems "instinctively liberal", but sometimes our instincts are wrong. Should we give up a part of our freedom of speech in order to foster equality and tolerance? So that "the strong should not harm the weak"?


OFMN said...

As mentioned through that link, I also fear that today's "right things" to say will transform into tomorrow's "wrong things" and I'll be thrown in prison.

The main issue for me is: Who decides what is 'right' and what isn't? There seems to be a pecking order of people or groups you can insult and pelt shit at quite freely, and others who are untouchable. And when, like the latter case, do things become 'political' and under the power of the ruling party in office?

It's messy ground, to be sure, but I prefer total freedom to freedom with limits.

sanbikinoraion said...

Bit of a personal question, ofmn, but do you fit into any minority group? eg. non-white, non-Christian/secular, female (okay, they're not in a minority, but oppressed), etc?

(of course you don't have to answer)

Because I think that it's quite hard to estimate the amount of damage done by talk if you haven't experienced that sort of thing. Of course, I'm only guessiung because - duh - I haven't experienced that sort of thing. But I can certainly see the argument for. And also the argument against!

OFMN said...

I'm a white male, so in the classic sense I suppose I don't belong to any minority group, however I'm a male (trainee) nurse which means I'm faced with quite daily discrimination in my training, but this is a personal thing to me rather than some political or cultural trend such as actual or perceived 'Islama/Christian-a-phobia', for example.