For as long as there are limits and boundaries to what is acceptable, there will be those who both flirt with, and intentionally cross them. As the nature of our being, it provides us with some of the biggest successes and most catastrophic failures of our history. Crossing the line is a risk, and as long as there is a chance to potentially profit, it will be a risk many people deem worth taking. Apply this to the discussion of censorship and it is obvious some sort of action is necessary to filter the material we are exposed to. Without oversight, those voices intent on shocking, offending, disgusting, scaring, hurting or whatever other destructive behavior one could conjure up for consumption, would have immediate access to our children’s eyes and ears. Having said that, just as a regulation is necessary when deciding what our society is exposed to, we must also make sure to oversee the overseers and ensure that over-censorship does not occur as a result. When discussing this topic, it is important to remember that censorship is not the same as program selection, or moderation, or editorial judgment. These are all different concepts then just simply “censorship” in general.
The roots of contemporary efforts to curb free expression in the arts reach back to the early 1980s, when a backlash arose against the cultural freedom of previous decades. Religious fundamentalists and others, with overt support from the administration of President Ronald Reagan, began to advocate censorship of books, films and television in an effort to enforce cultural conformism. Today, we are reaping the harvest of that backlash as rap singers and museum directors are prosecuted for "obscenity," performance artists are denied government grants and Congress passes new censorship laws. The history of human culture has always been engaged with classifying and upholding the politically and socially acceptable, ethical and moral. On the flip side, it has also been equally engaged with what is deemed as forbidden, shocking, inappropriate, tasteless, improper, reprehensible and even scandalous. Censorship and freedom of expression are not just modern-day issues or debates. To be heard, seen, erased or silenced in written, spoken or visual form has stumped humanity since the ancient and classical debates on good governance and freedom of speech. In fact, from the destruction of books in Ancient China, Medieval inquisitions, Salem Witch trials, McCarthyism to the culture wars of the 1980s and today¹s concerns about technological communication, surveillance and scientific advancements, censorship has been at the forefront of cultural practices throughout history.
Violence, bans and seizure of content are just some of the methods used to directly censor and suppress people and their ideas. Censorship is often unjustifiable and is used simply to stop truths or ideas emerge which draw attention to powerful people or governments, or undermine ideology. This is inexcusable. When the exercise of the right to free expression clashes with the rights of others or threatens the safety of the nation, legislators face a difficult exercise of drawing lines; is a restriction necessary and how far should it go? As James Madison, who framed the US Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression, wrote, it is often prudent to permit some abuse of freedom of expression in order to ensure that legitimate use of the right is not discouraged:
“Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It ... is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.”
Yet in recent times, the argument for parents serving as the only filter for what content enters their home has lost even more validity than before. Not only are parents a questionable resolution…