Definition of Censorship:
The practice of [officially] examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.
Throughout the month of September our focus is on censorship. What is it? How and why are things censored? Who imposes censorship? We’ll wrap up the month with Banned Books Week.
What we know is that there has long been a penchant for censorship both within and without the confines of the written word. Usually it involves the imposition of a moral code of some sort, whether those at the receiving end of the restrictions want it or not. Connecticut’s Blue Laws, for example, were meant to curb activities such as entertainment, work, or travel on Sundays. Only in 2014 did the last remaining Blue Law get struck down so we can now pick up a six-pack of beer on a Sunday at our local liquor store or supermarket.
In 1919, during the “Red Scare,” the Connecticut General Assembly enacted laws, actual laws, aimed against the Industrial Workers of the World for speaking in a “disloyal, scurrilous or abusive manner,” addressing ten or more people in a way that could “injuriously affect” the state government or carrying a red flag. It’s an appalling thought that freedom of speech could be curtailed because the State of Connecticut was leery of unions during this period.
The censorship crusade against films began in the late 1920s and became codified in the early 1930s with the Hays Code which defined “do’s and don’ts” in a film—in other words what would or wouldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. This was a universal thing, of course, not restricted to Connecticut, but Hartford’s Sophie Tucker, an early film star, complained of the restrictions.
Music, in the form of rock and roll, faced its own censorship battle in the 1950s, partly, at least, because of race. Many whites simply didn’t approve of “jungle”, “cannibalistic” or “tribal” music—code words for music established by blacks—and wanted to suppress exposure of the musical form by forbidding concerts. Rock on, rock and roll.
Lest you think that censorship was something that happened “way back when,” think again. In March 2015 “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was pulled from the Wallingford Public Schools freshman reading list after a parent objected to its content.
So… who gets to decide what is censored? Who gets to decide what’s morally acceptable or not? Who decides whether or not music or films will have a negative influence on our behavior or potentially scar us for life?
It’s a sticky set of questions with a sticky set of answers.