Can Censorship Ever Make Sense? Part III of Dylan Spicer's Cinema Commentary Series. Read Part I and Part II
Imagine a newly wedded couple, on the way to their honeymoon in a beautiful five star hotel. After a steamy first night of nuptials, they decided to watch a film. They pick one that contains a graphic sex scene from the onscreen menu, and ring down to reception to pay. However, it’s not a possibility, as they are six months shy of eighteen. Now imagine you’re a film director, who for the sake of his film had decided to shoot a scene with a scene containing horrific but simulated graphic violence. It is set outside, and it rains for most of the day. You have trouble with the lights, and before you know it, there is only a hour to get the truly horrible shot. It turns into a nightmare, with the actors bored, the catering truck long since run out of comestibles. For the first time in your career, film-making becomes a chore. But you get the scene done, and move on. However, it is too graphic for the censors, and your hard work gets cut. Apart from revealing why no-one will ever want to go on a honeymoon with me, both these admittedly facetious examples highlight in my opinion the two biggest issues with censorship; how any sex scene can be considered meriting an eighteen rating, and the censorship of simulated violence. Censorship has actually become very liberal of late, and there are not many films that make the black list or remain on it. It can also serve a great purpose, and stop the sale of exploitative material, such as films containing real animal deaths or a film that promotes racism. Its issues with pornography and real violence I am not going to go into here, as my only concern is simulated content. Also, certification of films makes a lot of sense. I do not deny that most children are not able to deal with certain images, as they cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and there is nothing wrong in stopping a four year old being exposed even to corny schlock like 'Darkness Falls'. Yet this brings me on to my problem with outright censorship. Can a society that prides itself on freedom of speech and expression ever justify banning a simulated image, and stop people who are capable of taking part in sexual acts watching other people pretend to do the same thing? The sex debate I can sum up with the logical fallacy that someone can commit an act legally, yet not watch someone else pretend to do the same thing. It reeks of Victorian morality, and that consenting lovemaking between adults is sinful. I will admit violence is trickier. Some viewers will get upset by certain images no matter what age they are. Yet this just highlights the subjective nature of violent content. What will be shocking to one viewer will be hilarious to another, and depends a lot on the nature of the film as well. The recent remake of The Wolfman has onscreen decapitations and deaths aplenty. Whatever your own tastes may be of such material, compared to the original Halloween there is much more gore. Yet the former is as 15, and the latter 18. This shows is the subjective nature of violence, and to absolutely ban an image over another cannot be done with any mathematical certainty. Unless it’s because Halloween had a sex scene... Also, to ban images gives a film a dignity and credibility it can market, rather than allow it to be judged in itself. The vast majority of films that use graphic violence do so a cheap tactic through lack of imagination, or to hide a bad script. The effects are usually so rubbish that they end up hilarious rather than shocking. A good example is that most banned “video nasties’ from the eighties are now passed uncut. Taken out of their own hysteria, they really are not very good films. 'The Dorm That Dripped Blood', 'The Driller Killer' and many more can now wear the badge of honour that is ‘previously banned’ gives them is a merit it simply do not deserve, giving it a wider audience than if they had been just left alone in the first place. To ban fictional cinema because it is violent would under similar rules lead to banning vast amounts of material from Shakespeare to modern art to comic books. It forces poor quality material into the spotlight, and gives it far more publicity than if it had just been let its run its course. It makes sex still seem naughty, making social morality appear at the level of a primary school taunt. But seriously, Driller Killer should be banned. It is rubbish. And you don’t even get to see anyone’s head chopped off.
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Dylan is currently producing a few short films, in the midst of directing a documentary, and he writes for ChewTV. Follow Dylan on Twitter