Monday, October 22, 2012

Think of the Children!: Censorship and Taking Offense

            Censorship is a funny thing. It’s not really ha-ha funny, but there it’s something that interests me a lot. Aside from the FCC (which deals only with content on public airwaves, meaning AM and FM radio and over-the-air TV) the vast majority of American media is self-regulated. The MPAA, ESRB, and CCA are all industry based regulatory bodies who have no actual power to prevent content from being released, but do control what major stores or theaters will carry. Most theaters will not show movies rated NC-17 or that have not been approved by the MPAA, and most stores don’t sell unrated games.

            Of course, with the Internet being incredible for disseminating digital content, selling something in a store is no longer important, meaning more and more content can skirt past regulation. And while the ESRB is weak (at best) the MPAA has a lot of weight in terms of mainstream movie content. A lot of their rules are interesting and their policies on sex in cinema (especially homosexual sex) have come under a lot of scrutiny in the last decade.

            The marketplace does a phenomenal job of regulating indecency (a term that I don’t like to use but will anyway) simply because if something makes the vast majority of viewers uncomfortable, they won’t watch or play. Advertisers will pull out and the producers ultimately lose money. The only time the government will step in if it is being broadcast over the air, on networks like Fox, NBC, or ABC or on AM or FM stations. The last big to-do was the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, but honestly the FCC can’t really do too much except send out fines. They may be big fines, but honestly it’s not as bad as the advertisers that would leave.

            More recently there was the Don Imus incident. He didn’t get pulled off the air by anyone, but by the market. Advertisers said they wouldn’t support him, and CBS chose to go with that.  That’s the lesson, do or say something that goes too far and people will treat you like you have the plague.

            Comics went through all of this in the ‘50s thanks to Dr. Freric Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent. After the book incited a moral panic and led to a congressional inquiry into the business, companies formed the Comics Code Authority, which placed draconian censorship rules on the medium and decimated the titles available, leaving mostly only superhero comics.

            Comics couldn’t even use the word “zombie”. It was bad, and it nearly destroyed comics. However, after Dr. Wertham’s panic stopped, pretty much everyone forgot about it and the code and the Comics Code Authority are no longer things. The symbol for the CCA has actually been adopted by the Comic Book Legal DefenseFund, which is a pretty great organization in the fight against censorship.

            I stand strong against censorship, and believe (like a true American) that the market will decide what is and isn’t appropriate. If most people find something offensive then it will go away simply based on backlash. If you find something really offensive and most people don’t then try and explain your point of view. Back during the summer there was the whole thing with Daniel Tosh making some rape jokes, and I’m sure a lot of boys who have grown up on X-Box live where rape is a verb of choice didn’t really see what the big deal was.  Granted, explaining anything to a 14 year old boy is damn near impossible, but they need to get it sooner or later.

            However, sometimes if something offends you it may be just you (this does not include rape jokes, those are not cool, just making that clear) . There’s a group out there called One Million Moms, which is a part of the American Family Association. They are awful. They have a serious problem with gay people, calling for boycotts of everything from Glee to Friggin’ Archie Comics, mostly for featuring homosexual characters. When you’re offended by Archie, that’s the time to reconsider your life.

            America is meant to be a place of tolerance for our fellow man/woman/dog regardless of who they are. A lot of people think this means we have to tolerate offensive humor, but they’re wrong. One of the most interesting things about American culture is how we slowly come to national terms about what’s acceptable. If someone does something uncool with the majority they get punished for it in the most American place they can: the wallet.

            After OMM made their statements about a gay wedding in Life with Archie #16, CEO John Goldwater responded with this:

"We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I've said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It's an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.

We're sorry the American Family Association/ feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people."

America. F$#% yeah.

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