Culture / Film

The UK and its perpetual obsession with arbitrary censorship

Since moving images became a viable form of entertainment in the late 19th century, successive governments in the UK have adopted an approach to it which can only be described as backward.  The first example of such censorship (a short film of a piece of cheese through a microscope) proving as ridiculous as current forms (the recent attempts to curb innocuous sexual acts on the Internet).  As such, successive governments continue to operate in this arena by utilising policies which are incredibly patronising as well as misguided.

Tom Dewe Mathews in Censored: the story in censorship in Britain provides an early history of the Governments’ attitude towards this burgeoning form of entertainment in the late 19th to the early 20th political undercurrent as the establishment seemed to perceive this as supplying those of a lower socioeconomic with entertainment which the establishment felt was unbecoming.  They also feared that this form of entertainment would not profit them financially; something which led to government legislating to curb their success.  This politically motivated distaste for peep shows was reflected later with the government ban of Battleship Potemkin  in the 1920s.  This was down to the Baldwin governments’ fear that it could facilitate a working-class insurrection against the establishment.

Perhaps the most infamous episode of this debate is the video nasties debacle of the 80s. Leading a coalition of people with nothing better to do with their time, Mary Whitehouse crusaded against films which she perceived to have the ability to corrupt their viewers. This was caused by the arrival of a hitherto unimaginable form of entertainment being become incredibly popular: video. This seen a plethora of content arriving in peoples’ homes. In response, the Director of Public Prosecutions felt that this was providing people with too much freedom and drew up an arbitrary list of violent films (dubbed video nasties by Whitehouse) which she felt had the potential to corrupt their viewers. The list included a variety of different horror films which ranged from innocuous fun (Evil Dead) to thought provoking films which have received a lot of critical praise (Possession) As such the hysteria surrounding these films was completely over-egged; something which was augmented by the fact that that the people in question had not even seen the films.  Consequently, all of this outrage facilitated the introduction of the video recordings act in 1984; a law which created the British Board of Film Classification and demanded that all films appear before it so they could be provided a rating.  Although this bill was separate from the aforementioned list, the presence of a movie on the list automatically made the BBFC less likely to approve its content according to Matthews.  Consequently, not only did the government give in to irrational fears but they also adopted an incompetent approach to legislating them.

But despite this issue being almost resolved, the same hysterical reaction has been applied to a new medium of entertainment: the Internet. Instead of films, this time the debate as begun to encompass specific forms of pornography which many legislators feel are unnatural and, once again, have the ability to corrupt its viewers.  This is most evident through a bill was passed in 2014 by the government led the Audiovisual media and services regulation act.  As such, innocuous acts were banned because they are perceived as unnatural. By many this has been seen as sexist as a lot of these acts promote female domination yet mainstream pornography (which often has men in the ascendency) has not been curbed in any way whatsoever as well as completely ignoring the fact that all of these sexual acts can be accessed on tube sites. As such this is both useless as well as discriminative on the grounds of gender.

It seems, however, that the government has still not learned it’s lesson as a result of them preparing the digital economy bill (which is due to be passed this spring). This act seeks to force people to confirm who they say they are in order to access to pornography, which in and of itself will provide a field day to hackers and seems odd that they would do this in light of the Ashley Madison debacle last year. It also makes it easier for blackmail too with the number of men reporting such crimes to the police increasingly significantly over the past year.

Consequently, it almost seems futile to even document all of this as far more eloquent writers than myself have presented arguments against such things it seem to have failed.  More should therefore be done to prevent such measures as to be repressed in such way on a liberal democracy is truly worrying.  One way of achieving this is by broadcasting this to everyone in order for a healthy discussion about what it censoring these things will actually do.

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