Saturday, June 22

The horror show of censorship

A few months ago, I interviewed David Gregory for the Free Speech Union podcast. David is the co-owner of Severin Films, an L.A. based film restoration and distribution company that rereleases classic horror, fantasy, and exploitation titles.

OK, full disclosure: I’m a massive horror fan and have been since I was a kid. So, on that level, it was a thrill to engage with a kindred spirit (another former horror kid). But be assured, I wasn’t abusing my office: the topic we discussed was in the free speech wheelhouse. Censorship. Or, more specifically, British film censorship.

As excited as I was, I wasn’t expecting much more than a surface history lesson as a pretext to fangirl films like ‘Driller Killer’ and ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’. But our talk turned out to be seriously enlightening as to what type of people society’s censors are, their modus operandi, and the question never seriously interrogated: what are the pro-censorship trying to achieve?

It’s a great episode that I will link to below, but to summarise the explosion of home video in the early 80s led to a type of moral panic in the UK, as new communication technology often tends to do. The intolerable change brought about by this medium was you could press pause on the dirty or violent bits, rewind, and watch them again. And again. And again…

The British Chief Censor at the time was a man named James Ferman. Ferman’s 24-year tenure extended through the birth of home video. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was created to ensure commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK carried a classification that had been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. This led to many outright bans, including of films that had previously been available such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film “Straw Dogs”.

Commenting on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Ferman stated that he was specifically worried about the film’s effect on the “car worker from Birmingham” and would also speak of the danger of “people in their bedsits”, utilising their revolutionary new pause and rewind buttons, whipping themselves into a frenzy with a flood of new uncensored films tailored for a burgeoning market.

Ferman’s unashamed classism – that the uneducated and unskilled worker was more susceptible to influence from controversial material – was also confirmed by the fact that high-brow artistic films were treated more leniently by his office. They were for the educated, of course! The wealth class is incorruptible!

There was no science to any of this. For example, Ferman had a thing for nunchucks and demanded cuts of a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film accordingly. Blood on breasts was another big no-no, despite no study affirming that viewers would become instantly inflamed by exposure to this visual cocktail. Ferman, it seems, was totally going off vibes – as most censors do – and was potentially revealing his own idée fixe in the process.

So, how is this relevant to us? Because these same conservative, haughty impulses are driving our own government’s current censorship push and the broader censorship agenda so central to the luxury causes of today’s faux-Left. The classist idea that the unwashed are more susceptible to misinformation, which was given full voice by many in our media, and activist groups like ‘The Disinformation Project’ post the parliamentary protests, is indistinguishable from Ferman’s pitifully low expectations of the British working class of the ’80s.

Censorship is primarily a tool for denying the working class.

New means of communication, from the translation of the Bible through to the printing press, the videotape, and the internet, have always troubled society’s most powerful. We are living through such an age, where a power class is once again fearful of unfettered speech and information threatening their positions and exposing the mendacity of their pet causes – causes they are using to distract from pressing issues such as inequality.

You will often hear our government speak of wanting societal cohesion when they try to justify their censorship agenda. But ‘order’ is what they mean, and order means the top remaining on top, and those on the bottom rung equally staying put. The contemporary push for censorship is the wealth class attempting to reaffirm their positions in the face of new technology that potentially threatens their positions.

Who would have thought it would be a Labour/ Green government that saw, as maybe its central project, a recommitment to the caste system?