Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive," happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.
American society has always been deeply ambivalent about these questions. On the one hand, our history is filled with examples of overt government censorship, from the 1873 Comstock Law to the 1996 Communications Decency Act. On the other hand, the commitment to freedom of imagination and expression is deeply embedded in our national psyche, buttressed by the First Amendment, and supported by a long line of Supreme Court decisions.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment's protection of artistic expression very broadly. It extends not only to books, theatrical works and paintings, but also to posters, television, music videos and comic books -- whatever the human creative impulse produces.
Two fundamental principles come into play whenever a court must decide a case involving freedom of expression. The first is "content neutrality"-- the government cannot limit expression just because any listener, or even the majority of a community, is offended by its content. In the context of art and entertainment, this means tolerating some works that we might find offensive, insulting, outrageous -- or just plain bad.
The second principle is that expression may be restricted only if it will clearly cause direct and imminent harm to an important societal interest. The classic example is falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a stampede. Even then, the speech may be silenced or punished only if there is no other way to avert the harm.
SEXSEXUAL SPEECHSex in art and entertainment is the most frequent target of censorship crusades. Many examples come to mind. A painting of the classical statue of Venus de Milo was removed from a store because the managers of the shopping mall found its semi-nudity "too shocking." Hundreds of works of literature, from Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, have been banned from public schools based on their sexual content.
A museum director was charged with a crime for including sexually explicit photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in an art exhibit.
American law is, on the whole, the most speech-protective in the world -- but sexual expression is treated as a second-class citizen. No causal link between exposure to sexually explicit material and anti-social or violent behavior has ever been scientifically established, in spite of many efforts to do so. Rather, the Supreme Court has allowed censorship of sexual speech on moral grounds -- a remnant of our nation's Puritan heritage.
This does not mean that all sexual expression can be censored, however. Only a narrow range of "obscene" material can be suppressed; a term like "pornography" has no legal meaning . Nevertheless, even the relatively narrow obscenity exception serves as a vehicle for abuse by government authorities as well as pressure groups who want to impose their personal moral views on other people.
PORNOGRAPHIC! INDECENT! OBSCENE!Justice John Marshall Harlan's line, "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric," sums up the impossibility of developing a definition of obscenity that isn't hopelessly vague and subjective. And Justice Potter Stewart's famous assurance, "I know it when I see it," is of small comfort to artists, writers, movie directors and lyricists who must navigate the murky waters of obscenity law trying to figure out what police, prosecutors, judges and juries will think.
The Supreme Court's current definition of constitutionally unprotected Obscenity, first announced in a 1973 case called Miller v. California, has three requirements. The work must 1) appeal to the average person's prurient (shameful, morbid) interest in sex; 2) depict sexual conduct in a "patently offensive way" as defined by community standards; and 3) taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
The Supreme Court has held that Indecent expression -- in contrast with "obscenity" -- is entitled to some constitutional protection, but that indecency in some media (broadcasting, cable, and telephone) may be regulated. In its 1978 decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica, the Court ruled that the government could require radio and television stations to air "indecent" material only during those hours when children would be unlikely listeners or viewers. Broadcast indecency was defined as: "language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs." This vague concept continues to baffle both the public and the courts.
PORNOGRAPHY is not a legal term at all. Its dictionary definition is "writing or pictures intended to arouse sexual desire." Pornography comes in as many varieties as the human sexual impulse and is protected by the First Amendment unless it meets the definition for illegal obscenity.
VIOLENCEIS MEDIA VIOLENCE A THREAT TO SOCIETY?Today's calls for censorship are not motivated solely by morality and taste, but also by the widespread belief that exposure to images of violence causes people to act in destructive ways. Pro-censorship forces, including many politicians, often cite a multitude of "scientific studies" that allegedly prove fictional violence leads to real-life violence.
There is, in fact, virtually no evidence that fictional violence causes otherwise stable people to become violent. And if we suppressed material based on the actions of unstable people, no work of fiction or art would be safe from censorship. Serial killer Theodore Bundy collected cheerleading magazines. And the work most often cited by psychopaths as justification for their acts of violence is the Bible.
But what about the rest of us? Does exposure to media violence actually lead to criminal or anti-social conduct by otherwise stable people, including children, who spend an average of 28 hours watching television each week? These are important questions. If there really were a clear cause-and-effect relationship between what normal children see on TV and harmful actions, then limits on such expression might arguably be warranted.
WHAT THE STUDIES SHOWStudies on the relationship between media violence and real violence are the subject of considerable debate. Children have been shown TV programs with violent episodes in a laboratory setting and then tested for "aggressive" behavior. Some of these studies suggest that watching TV violence may temporarily induce "object aggression" in some children (such as popping balloons or hitting dolls or playing sports more aggressively) but not actual criminal violence against another person.
CORRELATIONAL STUDIES that seek to explain why some aggressive people have a history of watching a lot of violent TV suffer from the chicken-and-egg dilemma: does violent TV cause such people to behave aggressively, or do aggressive people simply prefer more violent entertainment? There is no definitive answer. But all scientists agree that statistical correlations between two phenomena do not mean that one causes the other.
INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS are no more helpful. Japanese TV and movies are famous for their extreme, graphic violence, but Japan has a very low crime rate -- much lower than many societies in which television watching is relatively rare. What the sudies reveal on the issue of fictional violence and real world aggression is -- not much.
The only clear assertion that can be made is that the relationship between art and human behavior is a very complex one. Violent and sexually explicit art and entertainment have been a staple of human cultures from time immemorial. Many human behavioralists believe that these themes have a useful and constructive societal role, serving as a vicarious outlet for individual aggression.
WHERE DO THE EXPERTS AGREE?Whatever influence fictional violence has on behavior, most expert believe its effects are marginal compared to other factors. Even small children know the difference between fiction and reality, and their attitudes and behavior are shaped more by their life circumstances than by the books they read or the TV they watch. In 1972, the U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior released a 200-page report, "Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence," which concluded, "The effect [of television] is small compared with many other possible causes, such as parental attitudes or knowledge of and experience with the real violence of our society." Twenty-one years later, the American Psychological Association published its 1993 report, "Violence & Youth," and concluded, "The greatest predictor of future violent behavior is a previous history of violence." In 1995, the Center for Communication Policy at UCLA, which monitors TV violence, came to a similar conclusion in its yearly report: "It is known that television does not have a simple, direct stimulus-response effect on its audiences."
Blaming the media does not get us very far, and, to the extent that diverts the public's attention from the real causes of violence in society, it may do more harm than good.
WHICH MEDIA VIOLENCE WOULD YOU BAN?A pro-censorship member of Congress once attacked the following shows for being too violent: The Miracle Worker, Civil War Journal, Star Trek 9, The Untouchables, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What would be left if all these kinds of programs were purged from the airwaves? Is there good violence and bad violence? If so, who decides? Sports and the news are at least as violent as fiction, from the fights that erupt during every televised hockey game, to the videotaped beating of Rodney King by the LA Police Department, shown over and over gain on prime time TV. If we accept censorship of violence in the media, we will have to censor sports and news programs.
Read the rest here:
- Study: North Korea, China, and Russia top internet censorship charts - The Next Web - January 22nd, 2020
- Cries of censorship in Sudan as media outlets linked to old regime closed - Middle East Eye - January 22nd, 2020
- Aichi Triennale Exhibition Will Be Restaged in Taiwan Following Censorship Controversy - Artforum - January 22nd, 2020
- Censorship On and By Social Media Platforms - Legal Reader - January 22nd, 2020
- Internet Censorship In Africa Is A Trend In Africa - What To Expect In 2020 - WeeTracker Media - January 22nd, 2020
- The spy who fell off my family tree and nearly got away - The Jewish News of Northern California - January 22nd, 2020
- Some people in China help the party police the internet - The Economist - January 22nd, 2020
- Nepal: Information Technology Bill threatens freedom of expression - Amnesty International - January 22nd, 2020
- Web needs an element of censorship as some of it is bordering on pornography: Niki Walia - IWMBuzz - January 22nd, 2020
- Facebook and Google Balance Booming Business with Censorship Pressure in Vietnam - The Information - December 13th, 2019
- Orban targets theaters, prompting protest against censorship - The Boston Globe - December 13th, 2019
- Self-censorship is the enemy of creativity - Spiked - December 13th, 2019
- Ben Shapiro, conservatives blast YouTube policy on harassment: 'Insanely vague' - Fox News - December 13th, 2019
- Anti-war artworks removed in censorship row - The Age - December 13th, 2019
- Women Are Pretending To Be Men On Instagram To Avoid Sexist Censorship - HuffPost - November 24th, 2019
- When a comedian is pro-censorship, I start finding them funny - The Spectator USA - November 24th, 2019
- Cancelation of 'The Foreigner' at WC leads to claims of censorship - The Star Democrat - November 24th, 2019
- Democrats are not "censoring" Donald Trump his increasingly desperate staff is doing that - Salon - November 24th, 2019
- The right to know: How does censorship affect academics? - Big Think - November 19th, 2019
- Even with the best intentions, censoring books is dangerous - The Aggie - November 19th, 2019
- Will the U.S. Follow East Germany on Self-Censorship? - National Review - November 19th, 2019
- Tougher Than Leather: The Tom of Finland Foundation's Fight Against Censorship Continues Into the Social Media Age - L.A. Weekly - November 19th, 2019
- Sara Lee Responds to SNL's Sexually Charged Sketch, Reverses Instagram Censorship: 'We Are Taking It in Stride' - Yahoo Entertainment - November 19th, 2019
- MENstruation: A full analysis of censorship on television networks - The Gateway - November 19th, 2019
- Inside the "Reckless" World of In-Flight Movie Censoring - InsideHook - November 19th, 2019
- Disney Plus Censors Gravity Falls, The Simpsons - Pirates and Princesses - November 19th, 2019
- Russian internet censorship could come the U.S. - Inverse - November 13th, 2019
- Campus censorship: a tyranny of the minority - Spiked - November 13th, 2019
- TOTO: Disney, Netflix Wave White Flag On International Censorship - The Daily Wire - November 13th, 2019
- Delhi HC's order for social media censorship is an end to the internet as we know it - The News Minute - November 13th, 2019
- Censorship and online threats against the press spell trouble for the future of Pakistani journalism - Global Voices - October 1st, 2019
- No trivial censorship at Hayner: Librarians bust out the banned books - Alton Telegraph - October 1st, 2019
- China: Sinisation of the Catholic Church, Censorship, and Repression - FSSPX.News - October 1st, 2019
- Censorship and Contemporary Banned Books - Pinnacle - October 1st, 2019
- YouTube reverses the not-so-subtle censorship of Steven Crowder and others - Reclaim The Net - October 1st, 2019
- Joe Biden wants to censor Rudy Giuliani - Whats on Politics - Politics - October 1st, 2019
- Censorship leaves us in the dark: Keep the light on! - Del Rio News Herald - October 1st, 2019
- Censorship - Wikipedia - April 26th, 2019
- On Censorship - The Catholic Thing - April 26th, 2019
- How Media Censorship Affects the News You See - April 26th, 2019
- Censorship - Definition, Examples, Cases - Legal Dictionary - April 26th, 2019
- Censorship | Encyclopedia.com - April 26th, 2019
- China Is Trying to Scrub Bikinis and Smoking From the Internet - April 11th, 2019
- American Censorship - The Government's Act of Altering Media - January 12th, 2019
- Censorship | Define Censorship at Dictionary.com - January 3rd, 2019
- Censorship Synonyms, Censorship Antonyms | Thesaurus.com - September 12th, 2018
- Godless Comedy YouTube Censorship - Godless Comedy - August 20th, 2018
- Sen. Chris Murphy calls for more Silicon Valley censorship ... - August 13th, 2018
- Censorship of Facebook - Wikipedia - August 2nd, 2018
- Project Censored - The News that Didn't Make the News and Why - June 22nd, 2018
- Project Censored The News that Didn't Make the News and Why - March 17th, 2018
- Banned Books That Shaped America | Banned Books Week - March 17th, 2018
- FACT - Freedom Against Censorship Thailand ... - February 24th, 2018
- GELLER: Social Media Censorship Panel at CPAC James Damore ... - February 23rd, 2018
- Censorship in Turkey - Wikipedia - February 6th, 2018
- Censorship by country - Wikipedia - February 1st, 2018
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- Tech Companies and Censorship: Where Should We Draw The Line? - Inc.com - August 25th, 2017
- At Beijing book fair, publishers admit self-censorship - Yahoo News - August 25th, 2017
- 10+ Years of Activists Silenced: Internet Intermediaries' Long History of Censorship - EFF - August 25th, 2017
- Cambridge University Press battles censorship in China - The Economist - August 25th, 2017
- World's oldest publisher reverses 'shameful' China censorship - CNNMoney - August 25th, 2017
- Delingpole: Thomas Wictor Is the Latest Victim of Google Censorship - Breitbart News - August 25th, 2017
- In reversal, Cambridge University Press restores articles after China censorship row - Washington Post - August 25th, 2017
- Rewriting history is a form of censorship - The Journal - August 25th, 2017
- Concerns About Censorship Soar As Russia Detains Director - Forward - August 22nd, 2017
- Why India's Battle Against Film Censorship Isn't Over Yet | IndieWire - IndieWire - August 22nd, 2017
- Ban of white nationalist website raising fears of government censorship - Washington Times - August 22nd, 2017
- Measuring the Internet for Freedom - Project Syndicate - August 22nd, 2017
- Protecting Democracy from Online Disinformation Requires Better Algorithms, Not Censorship - Council on Foreign Relations (blog) - August 21st, 2017
- Daily Stormer ban raising fears of government censorship - Washington Times - August 21st, 2017
- FCC Censorship Rules Vary for Broadcast, Cable, and Streaming - Variety - August 21st, 2017
- 'TapDance' Networking Technology Designed to Beat Censorship - Breitbart News - August 21st, 2017
- In banning white-supremacist websites, progressive tech giants set a dangerous precedent. - National Review - August 21st, 2017
- Trump campaign accuses CNN of censorship - The Hill - August 21st, 2017