The reissuing of the book Art of the Nasty which Salvation originally published in 1998, which has now been revised and updated and published anew by FAB Press, has, along with the passing uncut of Lars von Triers' new film The Antichrist and the reclassifying of an episode of Friends from PG to a 12 for the use of the expression ‘laundry spaz’, meant that film censorship is again in the news. Has the BBFC gone too far? Is the BBFC too soft on sex and violence? Is the reclassifying of Friends politically correct lunacy?
Who knows and who cares?
What matters ultimately is the quality of the work on screen and our response to it. Adults will respond to something that they don’t like or which offends their tastes by switching off, not buying something or through disinterest. They do not need a censor telling them that this year's PC bugbears are offensive ‘words’, but showing a close-up of a woman hacking off her clitoris or a man ejaculating blood, as is the case in The Antichrist, is now OK.
Jennifer Aniston’s Friends character, Rachel, used the expression ‘laundry spaz’ to describe her ineptness in using a washing machine. According to the BBFC’s head of policy, Peter Johnson, ‘spaz’ is “short for spastic or ‘mong’ (originally a reference to people with Down’s syndrome), which is quite common in American works and we (the BBFC) have found that UK audiences are quite offended... research told us that for the public this is now as important as drugs or horror or sex”. Boo hoo.
What Mr Johnson and co at the BBFC mean is that they now seek offense, that they see racial and disability discrimination, sexism, agism, homophobia and religious hatred seeping out of the cinema screen relentlessly. Now censorship is morphing, moving away from the old taboos of the sexually explicit and the gratuitously violent and into a new, quasi Orwellian world of thought control and new speak where disapproved words and ideas outside of the new norms are excised and erased forever.
This move is the censors Shangrila where they can be part of the brave new world where hatred and wickedness are excised not just from film but ultimately from our minds. Spaz may have been one small word for Rachel but it was a whole dictionary for the BBFC. Already, filmmakers and scriptwriters are pouring over their Thesauruses in search of nicer, more cryptic ways, of calling a dwarf a ‘dwarf’ or of insulting a black or gay man without using the ‘n’ or ‘f’ words. If they can’t find the appropriate ‘nicer’ euphemism then rest assured that the BBFC will have a whole selection of tasty morsels in their new ‘it's a wonderful world’ lexicon of life. When opened, it plays ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’, unless you’re a spaz of course in which case you can just dribble along to the chorus. Offensive? Well yes. Should I or anyone else be stopped from saying things like this? No.
The episode of Friends that caused all the fuss was an early episode that consequently fell foul of the BBFC’s new offend-thee-not word holocaust, which is currently culling non pc words from our vocabulary faster that you say spastics elastic to someone with a speech impediment. Such is the odious advancement of the notion that we are all equal and of equal worth (except white, working class males and Christians who are of course scum), and being of equal worth should not be offended or discriminated against in any way least we get upset or emotionally damaged. Hence highlighting the noxious and improper use of the word ‘spaz’ in Friends which might not only ‘offend’ us but legitimate spazes as well, that is someone born with spastic diplegia, or hypertonia, which is better known as cerebral palsy, or just plain ‘spastic’ but which has now be reclassified by the generic term ‘disabled’. Likewise the ‘Spastics Society’ was rechristened ‘Scope’ in 1994 which of course means nothing and offends no one and therefore conforms to the new pc mantras of inclusivity, touchyfeely, niceness where no one gets hurt. No matter that you have an incurable neurological disorder that will probably kill you by age thirty, just so long as no one refers to you as a spaz it’ll all be alright and life is so much better for the rest of us now that your offensive sounding ‘spastic’ disability has morphed into ‘scope’, which of course rhymes with ‘hope’, which is wonderful and sounds so much nicer.
Likewise, the BBFC will no doubt be removing words like nigger, poof, faggot, cripple, spic, yid and so on from films where their use is deemed inappropriate or likely to cause offense. Yet, why is it so offensive? ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us’ children use to chant in response to being called a fat pig, or indeed a spaz. Yet in our new utopian society where you can get three months community service for mugging someone yet years for offending another race or religion, words not only hurt they are deemed so dangerous that they cannot be heard or spoken. Silence in Brown’s Britain is indeed golden.
What is it that modern society now fears so much that we have to censor words, and has in a sense made words more alarming to the BBFC than the sight of a woman mutilating her vagina? Is it that words hurt? Or that words make us do things, that they inspire us to hate as well as to love or like? That they can make us despise someone or something that pictures cannot, or is it that these now ‘forbidden’ words are part of something intangible that the new politically correct quasi religion of mainstream soft left/right political thought cannot tolerate? That some thoughts and the words that represent them are now deemed so dangerous that they have become the new taboos? I think so.
Hatred of a religion or race is a taboo. Hatred of a particular sexuality is a taboo. So is questioning women’s rights or the rights of the disabled or rights for other groups. All are now protected and enshrined in law. Discrimination is in many cases a crime as is the telling of racist or sexist or religious jokes to various degrees a crime. One may argue that this is a good thing. That allowing groups and individuals the freedom to express hate or to promote hatred against an ethnic or specific minority is bad and unnecessary in these enlightened times. Yet there is a balance to be struck between protecting society from those that potentially would destroy it or aspects of it and an individual's right to express his or her disgust, or hatred of that society.
By censoring words, the BBFC and the government that sanctions and endorses their decisions are denying those individuals, and the wider voice of dissension that doesn’t buy into this new nicetopia, a voice. And when people are denied a voice they get angry.
In the US, freedom of expression is enshrined in law as the First Amendment and protects the extremes from the mainstream. So pornographers and the Ku Klux Klan can sup with Pro Lifers and radical Islamists and no one gets hurts. American society manages to be what the UK aspires to be, but which in our new politically driven times is failing to be; a true Democracy. The BBFC and those that seek and take offense so readily should remember that the first recorded case of word censorship was of the philosopher Socrates whose writings were believed to be corrupting youth, his punishment was death...