What it Means
In our society today, censorship is so prevalent that it is difficult, if not impossible, to encounter any medium which is not affected by it to some extent. Censorship affects every single one of us and Brocket and Ball (in “The Essential Theater”, 2004) emphasize this by asserting that when a person or individual engages in self-censorship, they are basically attempting to “…prevent others from experiencing…” something which they themselves consider “…offensive…” (P.10). Attempting to force ones views on another person poses an even greater challenge for the arts, because artists in particular must be allowed complete and unbridled freedom of expression in order to grow and realize their absolute potential. It becomes progressively more challenging to each of us individually to balance and put into proper perspective the negative and positive aspects associated with censorship.
The United States has different guidelines regarding censorship than do other countries and there is a wide range of opinion as to what is considered acceptable material, media and behavior. There is conflict between members of the same society extending to differing opinions within the very same family and household as to what is deemed socially adequate and morally suitable. Individuals of every age, race, and socioeconomic status (as well as the opposing sexes) possess varying opinions regarding what should be censored, to what degree it should be censored, and how to literally enforce censorship. Since everyone has a different opinion on censorship, it is of the utmost importance to understand first and foremost exactly what censorship is and why it is so important. Which brings us to the crucial question: What is censorship?
Merriam Webster (2002) defines censorship as “the suppression of all or part of a publication, play or film considered offensive (53).” A censor is described as “one with power to suppress anything objectionable (as in printed matter” (53.) In the English (U.S.) Thesaurus, censoring can also be called “restricting, suppressing, controlling, cutting, or editing.” It is of special interest to note that in the Thesaurus the antonym of censorship is freedom.
In order to completely understand what censorship is, a person must literally possess a keen awareness of the world around them. For instance, in the United States most of us believe that we enjoy complete and total freedom. For example, we are taught from an early age in History books, as well as other media, that our country is always right, superior to other nations, and therefore we should be very proud to be citizens of this great land. According to Moody, Knox, and Schacht in “Understanding Social Problems”, what we are not told is how this country practiced, and continues to practice in some cases, genocide, expulsion (or population transfer), colonialism, and segregation. From childhood, we are taught fallacies, such as; Columbus and the other explorers were heroes. In reality “the “European invasion of America, beginning in the sixteenth century, resulted in the decimation of most of the original inhabitants of North and South America” (P.166) Just as Americans are taught what our government would like us to believe in the name of patriotism, in maintaining the code of censorship, other countries, (as well as leaders in every society), also dictate what they want their citizens to believe. This is where another important question comes into play: Just who has the authority to censor and who draws the line on censorship?
The only answer to this question is a simple one, and William Shakespeare (1602) sums it up quite eloquently, when he interjects; “To thine own self be true (Hamlet, 1.3.69.)” Each and every one of us has an important obligation to ourselves as well as the world around us to become informed on the practice of censorship and how it affects us individually as well as our society as a whole. Education is the only means available to us which will ensure every one of us our right to freedom from imposed suppression. Knowledge is power, and the more educated we become about the abuse as well as the benefits of censorship, the more equipped we will be to look at censorship objectively, become open to new and rewarding experiences and develop a greater tolerance, sensitivity and understanding of other people and their views. This knowledge is the key to understanding, living with, and utilizing censorship to our advantage. This will allow us to enjoy true freedom of speech and expression in every medium in the United States as well as all nations both today and in the future.
Brocket, Oscar G., Ball, Robert J. (2004). The Essential Theatre. Allen, Holly J.: Belmont, CA.
Merriam-Webster, (2002). New World Dictionary of the English Language.New York, N.Y.: The Popular Group, LLC.
Mooney, Linda A., Knox, David, Schacht, Caroline. (2005). Understanding Social Problems. Thomas Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.
Shakespeare, William. (1602-1604?) Hamlet.
Sharon Lynn Van Meter