What is Censorship?
I wrote this for Destructoid today, but I figure I might as well put it here too.
I think first we should figure out exclusively what it is not. Censorship is not exclusively censoring done by a government body. That’s a kind of Censorship. Think of how a square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square.*
“The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security:” – Oxford Dictionary
“the act or practice of censoring” – Dictionary.com
“the institution, system, or practice of censoring” – Merriam Webster
“The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security:” – Cambridge Dictionary
(For what it’s worth, since a few of these mention Censoring: Both censor and censure are used as both verbs and nouns, but censor means ‘scrutinize, revise, or cut unacceptable parts from (a book, movie, etc.)’ or ‘a person who does this,’ while censure means ‘criticize harshly’ or ‘harsh criticism’.)
We could extend this to Wikipedia if we wished. And if that wasn’t enough we can add actual Dissenting and Majority Opinions in the SCOTUS. In that latter sentence I’ll be referring to the King of Censorship that is most relevant in our entertainment domain: Self-Censorship.
As with any discussion of a topic there are going to be outliers to some of my points. I’m going to stick with one of the better quotes from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it.” Which conveniently was a supreme court case involving the state level form of censorship that a few folks here adore. (Jacobellis V. Ohio, if you were curious).
Hopefully folks are willing to agree that Self-Censorship is Censorship. PH.D thesis’ are written about it, the highest courts in the land use it, and I use it. I’d hope that’s high enough praise to deem it correct. And, if my cute little penguin face (as opposed to my not-so-cute human one) isn’t enough, you can find it in just about any dictionary under the sun. Or just ask your local professors, I doubt any of them will dissent with what I’m about to say.
What is Self-Censorship?
“control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary:”
“Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one’s own blog, book, film, or other forms of media. This is done out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities or preferences (actual or perceived) of others and without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority.”
You might be curious about the “without being told officially”. This is because it wouldn’t be “self” if someone else was telling you to do it.
So then, in my eyes, Censorship is the act of changing anything in order to avoid harm to oneself. In the case of a business that personal harm can be towards one.
If you change a product for any other reason. You are simply changing the product. If you decide to say “Flapjacks” instead of “Fuck” because you think it’s hilarious, that’s not Self-Censorship. You weren’t intending to say Fuck in the first place. However, even if it is subconscious, if you change who you are (or what you create) in order to avoid harm, you are Self-Censoring and completing a transaction of censorship between you and either actual or perceived aggressors.
I think that’s that? I’m sure this’ll be bantered on for a long time to come. But now everyone knows where I’m coming from at least. For me this isn’t about seeing TnA, it’s about being what I perceive to be reasonable. There are forms of media that exist right now that I could watch that would literally cause me to have a breakdown. You could fuck me up emotionally with a single hit of play on Netflix. But I don’t think it benefits anyone for me to try and alter the landscape to avoid that danger.
I prefer to shape my own world and make my own decisions. If people create things I don’t enjoy I nicely tell them about it and I move on. If they are concerned and change things, neat, if they don’t, still fine. I can barely find the time to play the games I like, much less the ones I don’t, if anything variety is what keeps me from being completely broke.
Something I’d like to write about sometime is the strange (and it appears largely baseless) narrative that these changes are necessary to move forward as a society. That in keeping them we are legitimizing or in some manner supporting harassment or other destructive acts. It would be too long to add here, but I just wanted to note I’m aware of the claim. If it were true history would be more terrifying than even its worst actual moments, but I’ll leave that for another day.
*[Not all Censorship is Self-Censorship, but all Self-Censorship is Censorship. If the analogy wasn’t clear, I realized it might be confusing while I was getting food. Or wait…is that a Metaphor? Flapjacks…language ruins me sometimes.]