To begin, I learned that an email containing my last blog Special Fourth of July Interview with A Mugwump was not sent. Read it.
For today, read on to reveal the secret.
Censorship is murder. To be a human, as opposed to all other known life forms, requires an unfettered ability to communicate one’s value (in the form of words, images, or music) to other humans. And an external restriction of a person’s expression of value is the same as telling them they have no value. In other words, to censor is a malicious attempt to end the censored’s life.
Defining censorship in this way is meant to cause careful consideration of censorship. Exploring censorship at its most basic level is the only way to get to the root of the issue, by definition.
The fairly recent article, “The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties”* is the case study in question. In it, Ian Inglis discusses the widely popular Ed Sullivan Show and its unique experiences with censorship. That television show showcased up and coming performers every Sunday night. Popular wisdom states that if a performer appeared on the show, he/she would achieve great material success. The article discusses three now well-known performers and their experiences with Ed Sullivan’s censorship.
First, after being selected to appear on the show, Bob Dylan was asked to perform a totally different song than the one he had planned to perform on the show. Second, the Rolling Stones were asked to change a lyric; they did. Third, The Doors were asked to change a line from one of their songs. They paid lip-service to the request, but when live, they did not change it. Inglis concludes, “Ironically, one consequence of the censorship suffered by all three performers was that their positions were unequivocally enhanced (Inglis 571).”
Inglis rather wordily describes the simple fact that censorship is murder. Each instance demonstrates this perfectly. First look at what happened to the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song in question, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Before their performance, an outside entity changed the lyrics. Logically, though subtlety, this means that while the performers looked similar to the Rolling Stones, they were in fact some other band, some new band. By allowing their lyrics to be changed, in effect, the Rolling Stones murdered themselves for that night. Next, take Bob Dylan. He wouldn’t concede to the censor, so he didn’t perform on the show. It is now clear that The Ed Sullivan show never wanted Bob Dylan to perform. They wanted someone who looked, acted, and sounded like Bob Dylan to perform. When they couldn’t get what they wanted, they murdered him. Finally, take the Doors. Long live the Doors. They played the game, they fooled the “man”, and they played their song, uncensored. The only performers who remained unscathed, then, were the Doors.
In my own life, an even more appalling proof that censorship is murder took place when I was young. My mom censored my sister from the New Kids On The Block “Step By Step” album. To the uninformed, this may not seem like murder. But those of us who are close to the situation know that the New Kids On The Block died after releasing that album. The New Kids On The Block never released another original studio album after “Step By Step.” The five men who made up that group did eventually release more original songs, but under the name NKOTB instead. How can this be explained except to say that censorship is murder?
The question remaining is why did Ed Sullivan and my mom choose to murder these performers? To discover the answer, we must turn inward. Violence is often committed against those who we find threatening. Murder is the fullest expression of violence and is resorted to when all other attempts fail. Time and time again we see that if humans feel they are in danger, they remove the danger. If necessary, they remove the danger through violence. What danger can possibly exist in the form of words, music, and/or images? In and of themselves, they are unable to physically harm a person. Therefore, the danger in question must be regarding the mind. A short story can help explain the deficiencies in this way of thinking.
Aircraft pilots are people who professionally deal with avoiding death on a daily basis. To draw the metaphor, we could say they professionally deal with avoiding danger of any sort. This is very different than most other professions. But it is common knowledge within the aviation community that at the end of the day a pilot really just wants to have successfully completed the same number of landings as takeoffs. The point being that a pilot counts success as being alive at the end of each daring flight, not whether or not some particular mission was accomplished.
Pilots avoid danger. Censors believe they protect people from danger. It should prove very instructive, then, to learn how pilots avoid danger. Pilots avoid danger, not by actively avoiding danger. Over time, the community of pilots discovered that if they attempted to avoid danger, they only compounded the danger already inherent to human flight. Instead, they fly correctly. They focus their energy on learning the right way to fly. Naturally, this matches the safest way, but it is important to note that pilots think in ‘correct vs. incorrect’ not ‘safe vs. dangerous’ terms.
Regarding words/music/images, the same principle should be applied. Artist’s (people) should not be censored because their art may cause harm. They should be encouraged to achieve their fullest potential. Regardless of whether the work is appropriate or inappropriate, it may have value. The only way to measure the value is to determine its quality. Ancient wisdom would have us believe that there is a time and place for everything. Rather than focus on the–as demonstrated by pilots–ineffective idea that danger can be avoided if it is censored, how much better informed could a population be if it only cared about quality?
Returning to the thesis then, we need to remind ourselves that what we’re really discussing is freedom and value. If Ed Sullivan would have simply acknowledged those three performers had value and the public wanted to see them, not look-a-likes, the results would have been untainted. As it stands, the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” rues the day. Would those three performers have had such success if no censorship attempt was made? Probably. So the fool, then, is Ed Sullivan. The fool, then, is the censor. Humans require the freedom to communicate their value. Inherent to the act of censorship is the death of this freedom to communicate. Furthermore, we have seen that censorship does not—cannot—deter any coming danger.
*INGLIS, I. (2006), The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties. The Journal of Popular Culture, 39: 558–575. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00279.x