Why Censorship is making a Comeback|
Posted: February 22nd. 1998
Times Viewed: 26,615
Liberty wasn't guaranteed by the Constitution...
It was only given a chance." -Stephen Chapman, Chicago Tribune
What IS Censorship Anyway?
It depends on who you ask. To some it is ANY suppression or restriction of speech, word or artistic expression. These folks are called "absolutists." They believe that the First Amendment protects all these categories "absolutely."
Other people are "qualified absolutists." They will reluctantly admit that some forms of speech, artistic expression or written language may indeed need to be monitored for certain content or for certain age groups.
But if you ask the average person what censorship is, they will usually say something about pornography, obscene images or hate speech. The waters get a little muddy when they begin to try to define just what they think would constitute any of the above. Muddier still, when asked what they think would constitute pornography, obscene images or hate speech for EVERYONE...
That is what censorship really is. Someone, somewhere deciding that some book, some picture, some idea or some words are inappropriate for them...AND for you...AND for me.
We do not recall ever being introduced to these censors. Try as we may, we do not remember even being asked what our views on speech, writing or art were. But despite the fact that they do not know us- that they have not asked us-somehow the censors KNOW what we want to see and read and view. Maybe "they" really ARE watching us through our television sets after all....???
So, censorship for most of us is defined by the fact that something we want to read, want to watch or want to view has been removed from our reach without our knowledge or our consent.
'Well,' you may ask, 'just when did all THIS start?'
PAST CYCLES OF CENSORSHIP:
Historically, it seems whenever there is a breakthrough in new communication technology, there is also a cycle which initially triggers a round of robust free expression, followed by cries for regulation, threats of censorship and finally an outraged protest in the name of freedom of speech.
The Roman censors banned the budding Christian church which in turn "grew up" to ban "heretics" by prohibiting freedom of choice on matters of faith and morals. (Ironically, "heretic" comes from a Greek word that MEANS "choice") Well, that wasn't too difficult at first. Just about all books were handwritten by monks and clerics under the rule of the Church anyway. Not too much wide-spread or mass produced dissenting materials were going to rock the establishment's authority for quite some time yet.
But then, in 1450, along came the printing press. Only thirty-five years later, the Archbishop of Mainz established the first official office of the censor. By 1493, the Venice Inquisition had issued its first list of banned books. In 1529, the German government instituted censorship, followed by Britain in 1557. A short one hundred years from the invention that made ideas and words widely accessible to the general public to organized restraints on that expression and censorship. (A good summary of these events is available at Censorship and The Index.)
Book burnings took place from the medieval inquisitions to Nazi Germany to probably just a few minutes ago-if not in your town, undoubtedly somewhere in the world- and the battle to keep books in schools, stores and libraries rages on.
Television? T.V. sets were mass produced in the early fifties. From the beginning, programs were run by the censorship panels. (Remember those "family" shows where the married couples always slept in separate twin beds? How'd they GET that family anyway?) But then in 1997, we saw the introduction of that little item known as the "V" chip. Only about fifty years this time between availability and coerced "voluntary" restriction.
The Internet? Only about three years old at the consumer level. Restrictions? Shall we talk about the Communications Decency Act ( happily ruled unconstitutional) and "filtering" software?
O.K., we will later.
WHAT DRIVES CENSORSHIP?
"...If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by processes of education, the remedy to be applied is MORE speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such, in my opinion, is the command of the Constitution."-Judge Louis Brandeis (Whitney v. People of California, 1927)
An "emergency" that justifies censoring thoughts, ideas and the dissimulation of such words is just what censors will try tell you is happening. There is always some emergency lurking on the horizon. The rhetoric starts flying about "family values" and the underpinning of society because of some book, some painting or some web site content. "Save the Children!" is always a good slogan to get the campaign rolling off to a good start.
That is why when you hear these censors expounding on the evils of (insert the name of your pet evil here), it almost never in the soft, even tones of logical thought or in the discussion of both sides of the issue. No, the speech by-passes right through all your mental processes as they paint visions of yourself or your child (gasp!) gripped helplessly in the clutches of some perverted madman (or woman)....And all because of the contents of a book, magazine, work of art or web site article!!!! "Oh, my! What ARE we to do?"
Burn it, ban it, keep it from destroying our glorious civilization, that's what!!!
Whoa...slow down. Just what ARE the statistics that prove the link between this article, book, magazine and picture and these heinous crimes? The DIRECT and utterly backed up by scientific research links?
For example, to attempt to link the "decline in morals" (whatever that is...) to the removal of prayers in schools is like trying to link it to the introduction of frozen chicken dinners. They both happened around the same time. It could be either one, really then, couldn't it? Yes, frozen chicken dinners are definitely involved somehow. Its a conspiracy, you know..."Chicken" seems so much more, well, "wimpy" than "beef." So somehow the frozen chicken dinners are eating away at our moral fiber.
Just ask the censors to prove their point and you may get a story like the on-line chat room predator running off with the innocent teenager to a motel room somewhere in Alabama. Uh-huh, I read that one, too.
But what about the gay teen contemplating suicide (there ARE statistics that state that gay teens are more prone to suicide than others of the same age group) and who then decides to forgo such an act because he/she found others out there in books, magazines, articles and cyberspace who understood and could offer alternatives? No stories about that, eh? Hmmm....
So, censorship is driven by emotional reactions to complex issues-issues which really should encourage MORE speech on the subjects, not an avoidance of them altogether. Every good propagandist worth his/her salt knows you have to whip up a person's emotions to get them on the bandwagon.
Now, there really may be some material that you do not want your three-year-old to see. But to say that ANY material not 'suitable' for any three-year-old should be banned for EVERYONE is censorship.
At three years old, we also often introduce a child to the use of the butter knife. Some day that apple of his/her mother's eye may plunge a similar knife into someone else's little darling. Should we stop using knives to butter our bread then?
Well, check the logic:
Well, no. Not always. There are a lot of factors and circumstances that induce a person to take that mental leap from thinking of a knife as an eating utensil to using it as a lethal weapon. Very complex and disturbing circumstances with no easy answers. The "easy answer' is often merely an extrapolation.
- Children learn to use knives.
- Knives are used to kill other people.
- Children who learn to use knives will use them to kill other people.
YOU HAVE BEEN CENSORED!
You probably don't even know about it yet. You may never find out. Here are some of the things that we DID find while doing research for this article:
And these are just the ones that have slipped quietly by without too much fanfare or press coverage. Many other challenges to free access to materials occur all over the U.S. every day.
- A Texas student was suspended from school and dropped from his emerging technology class after a woman complained about his private "Chihuahua Haters of the World" Web page.-(John Borland, Net Insider, 2/18/98)
- Esquire Magazine yanked a 16 page story about homosexual sex when Chrysler Corp. threatened to pull four full-page ads if the story ran. (Chrysler states that they have revised their censorship policy since then, but admits that they still "monitor" content.)-(Dave Phillips, The Detroit News, 10/14/97)
- Winn-Dixie refused to carry a "Cosmopolitan" magazine which featured an article about orgasms.-(Florida Times-Union, 10/22/1997)
- Wal-Mart banned "Vibe" over a "risquŽ" cover and, along with K-mart, Walgreens and other outlets, routinely asks publishers for advance copies to "preview."-(ibid.)
- Toot'n Totum's 63 stores will no longer sell any adult oriented magazines after being approached by a group of Christian businessmen. The president of Toot'n Totum's convenience store chain, Greg Mitchell, is quoted as saying, "This group is willing to go out and help us bring in new customers and replace our revenue. EVERYBODY wins."-(Amarillo Globe-News, 3/11/97)
- Lindale Texas schools ban "To Kill A Mockingbird", "Moby Dick" and "The Scarlet Letter".-( ibid.)
UH-OH, HERE COMES THAT BEAST-THE INTERNET!
"Throughout our history, one group or another, right and left, has been labeled as unworthy of being heard. Or worse, too dangerous to be heard."-("Free Speech For Me-But Not for Thee", Nat Hentoff, Common sense, Inc., Harper-Collins, 1992)
Did we mention that this site that you are now reading is banned by CyberSitter? We have earned ourselves an "XXX" rating for...well, we don't quite know for sure. Maybe it is our links to the "Gay Pagans" section?...Or our graphically stunning sunset silhouette image?...Our criticism of Judge Moore and the Christian Coalition?...Or maybe just the word "Witch"? Do any of those things make us "unworthy"...or "dangerous"? Apparently in some eyes, it does. And we think THAT is where the real danger lies...
The public statements of most of the manufacturers of these cyberware 'filtering' devices declare that they are the parent's front-line defense against pornography slipping in under the mouse pad to invade your home and upset your child. But there is nothing pornographic on The Witches' Voice site. There is also nothing obscene about information on birth control or sexual orientation presented in a medical or educational site. The "obscenity" in these cases are truly in the mind of the beholder. And if that beholder is your filtering software's manufacturer, then you are being lead around by THEIR values and not your own determination. You will only go where they will lead you and that, dear reader, is how- one small step at a time-you have begun to give up your right to choose.
The First Amendment is indivisible. There is no sliding scale on these freedoms of speech and expression where the 'worthy" deserve more and others get less. The same equal right to speak and be heard applies to each and every American citizen. No one need prove themselves "worthy." By the sheer luck of the draw, having been born in or having adopted America as your homeland, you have gained this fundamental right. But now you may have to fight to keep it...
The Internet is a new technological communication medium. Its potential is just beginning to emerge. Also beginning to emerge are those who want to regulate and restrict your access to information and your ability to make information available.
There are those who would like to blur the lines between public and private forums. What one person may not want on his/her home computer screen should NOT determine what others in public libraries and in THEIR own home are able to view. That is censorship, that is control of information and that IS dangerous.
It is also extremely short-sighted. What a group promotes today in the way of filtering devices may turn around tomorrow and censor that very group's message using the same criteria.
Words alone cannot hurt you if you can rebut them. Ideas alone cannot hurt you if you can challenge them. But the censoring of words that you are not allowed to speak and the repression of ideas that you are not allowed to hear CAN hurt you...
BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE NASTY PEOPLE OUT THERE?
There have always been "nasty people" out there looking for the opportunity to do nasty things.
The printing press came along in 1450. Printed materials were censored shortly thereafter. But the nasty people were still out there.
Television came along in the fifties. T.V. programs were censored since the first day that the broadcasts hit the air. But the nasty people were still out there.
The Internet is the latest techno communication device. Censors want to control that now, too. And if they do, do you really think those nasty people will at last go away...?
Neither do we!
| What CAN you do? |
If You Have Small Children Using The Internet-
You know your child better than any censoring software manufacturer. Together, you can decide what is appropriate according to YOUR values, not those of the software censors.
If You Have Young Adults Using The Internet-
- If you DO decide to use a blocking filter, make sure that you know what content is being blocked. You should be capable of making the changes in the program that you may want and to adjust it to suit your family.
- Talk with your child and let them know that no question is too embarrassing or "off limits" for you to discuss with them. Start off with small sets of choices, such as "Do you want to read this page or that one?" Build from there. Teach them how to make decisions based on their maturity level and not on what the software censors list as "acceptable" for their age.
- Your child is your child, your joy and your responsibility. Be involved in your child's life and let he/she be involved in yours. Your "family values" are what YOU decide that they will be.
If You Are An Adult Using The Internet-
- Discuss topics of interest with your teens. Some of these may be difficult to talk over freely, but do you really want someone else to tell them about sex, drugs, peer pressure, religion or ethics?
- Go to on-line pages TOGETHER and share your views on the content. Listen to what your teen has to say. You may surprised to find that your teen is more like you than either one of you thought.
- Know what is going on at your teen's school. Approach the school's librarian and ask for a tour. Discuss what is available in the library and through the computer system.
- Caution your child-at any age-never to give out personal information over the Internet. Encourage them to share with you any incidents that made them uncomfortable and take appropriate action. The nasty people ARE still out there.
- Your computer, your choice.
- See Number 1.
What to do if YOUR SITE is Banned
Ask for the criteria by which this decision was made. If the determination seems incorrect, ask for a review. If you still feel that your site was blocked unfairly, complain to anyone who will listen.
CyberPatrol, known as the "friendly censor," has been moderately responsive to concerns of web site authors. However, anyone can submit a site that they think SHOULD be blocked for Cyberpatrol's consideration and the web sites are not notified that they are being blocked. You can check to see if a site is blocked with their CyberNOT Search Engine.
But be prepared for some flack if the filtering software is CyberSitter. Read about the experiences of some others who voiced criticism of Solid Oak-
PEACEFIRE - THE WITCHES.COM
"If there is an fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescibe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matter of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us."
--Justice Robert Jackson
(West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943).
So, keep your eyes on that "fixed star" and protect your right to view it whenever and wherever you wish to do so. Your religion, your political leanings, your children, your opinion and your words are still protected as long as that "constitutional constellation" still shines.
Walk in Light and Love,
The Witches' Voice - Clearwater, Florida
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