Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Screw Censorship


Title photo credit: Piotr “VaGla” Waglowski

I was thinking recently about how I don’t like censorship.  (I suppose that’s not much of a surprise, given that I’ve already written about how I wish all movies were R-rated.) I can’t really pin down a specific reason as to why I don’t like the idea of censorship; I just don’t.  I suppose it could be since as a kid, my mother never really tried to shield me from more adult content in terms of movies or TV shows that I was watching, leaving me simply unused to things being censored.  Conversely, I always thought it was kind of pathetic watching other parents trying to shield their kids from anything that wouldn’t be allowed on Sesame Street.  They were fighting such an obviously losing battle.

I’m not saying that I feel everything needs to have cursing, gore, nudity, and so on.  I’m fine with the fact that if I were to suddenly launch into a profanity-laced tirade in my next Listverse article, that part would probably be cut.  I’d certainly cut such a thing from an article that I was editing, unless it was a direct quote from a source.  (By the way, I’m aware of the arguable irony of an editor dissing the concept of censorship.)

Of course, censorship doesn’t necessarily have to refer to bleeping out curses or blurring out nipples.  If I’m writing something and think of a line that feels just perfect but slightly risky and I decide not to write it, I’d say I’m definitely censoring myself.  I’ve done that plenty of times writing for this blog, I hate to admit.  I find myself thinking that I shouldn’t hold myself back like that, given that I think of this blog as a place where I can write whatever I want.

As for the fact that as an editor, my job could be seen as censoring the words of other Listverse writers, the only rebuttal I can think of would be to distinguish between sensible and ridiculous censorship.  If I’m correcting grammar and spelling mistakes or rearranging an awkwardly worded sentence, that makes sense.  It’d be much more ridiculous if I cut a sentence in an article about religion because it had the word “Hell” in it, for a generic example.

Here’s a more specific example of ridiculous censorship:  As an undergraduate, I became a tutor for my college’s academic resource center.  It seemed like an obvious job choice for me; classmates were already frequently coming up to me and asking me to explain stuff to them, so why not get paid for it?

I applied at the end of a spring semester, got hired pretty much instantly, and was set to be a tutor next fall.  All the new tutors went through several days of training the week before the fall semester started.  Those all-day sessions were grueling; I hadn’t had to spend so much time learning in one day since high school. 

One thing we learned about was what to do if the person we’re tutoring is making us uncomfortable, such as if they’re making sexual advances.  (Apparently that happens.)   Later, also much like high school, there was some pointless busywork involving each new tutor lecturing the rest about some of the stuff we’d learned.  This was also being filmed for use in future training videos.

Part of my spiel included what to do if a tutee (I still think that word sounds stupid) is making us uncomfortable.  I phrased that part as something like, “Now, say the person you’re tutoring is making you feel uncomfortable.  You know… they’re threatening; maybe they want to get in your pants.”  Everyone in the room, even the people teaching us, laughed.  I guess phrasing it that way was pretty funny. I was pleasantly surprised.  Well, I should say that everyone laughed except the head of the academic resource center. She had a nervous smile, but her eyes were wider than a colossal squid’s. 

But aside from her, people seemed to like what I said. I was feeling good about myself, feeling like the comedian I always wished I could be in middle school.  Later on, there was more pointless busywork in the form of some group activity.  My group was done with whatever it was we were doing, and that head person who didn’t like my line came up to me and said, “You know we’re going to have to film someone else for your part, right? What you said wasn’t appropriate.”  I was like, “Really? It didn’t seem that bad to me.”  She responded, “I think ‘in your pants’ is a bit too much for a video that we’re going to show to future tutors.  You understand, right?”  She also had one of those faces where the mouth is smiling but the eyes aren’t.  I hate those fake smiles.  I just said something like, “Yeah… I guess.”

Okay, I admit that I don’t know what standards professional training videos follow.  Perhaps they have to be as mild as a 1950s family show.  But frankly, I can’t even begin to see “wants to get in your pants” as profane.  If anything, it’s a euphemism for much more colorful ways to drive the point home.  It’s not like I said, “Maybe the tutee wants to fuck you right into the next cubicle.” So, yeah, I’d call that a case of ridiculous censorship.

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