Say NO to Film Censorship!

Article: Say NO to Film Censorship!
Author: Eternality TAN
Published: 12-Aug-2012

*This is not a research paper.  Just a 1000-word argumentative essay that I had to write for class back when I was an undergraduate.

Film censorship has been prevalent since moving pictures begun in the late 1890s. Over the course of the history of cinema, there have been striking examples of films that have been censored for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons include explicit portrayals of violence, sex, and nudity. Other reasons include disturbing or mature content that could be political or religious in nature.

There have been much debate over the years whether censorship is effective and worth all of the controversy and media frenzy that come along with it. This brings us to the big question: Should films be censored?

My answer is simply no. Films should not be censored. I strongly believe in protecting the freedom of artistic creation. Cinema, like other art forms such as dance and literature, is a medium of expression. Filmmakers translate their vision onto the big screen through months, sometimes years, of hard work.

Thus, to wield the metaphorical scissors to snip off portions deemed undesirable in a film is unfair to the filmmaker, who deserves far greater respect, not only as an artist committed to artistic expression, but also for his work – an end product of labor and love to be cherished for its ability to inspire, provoke, and entertain.

Furthermore, films should not be censored when they seek to portray the idea of truth. Truths are sometimes hidden from view, away from society, only to be exposed later by somebody. That somebody could be a reporter, a victim, or even a filmmaker. When a filmmaker uses the cinematic medium to expose or probe the truth of certain issues, sometimes through narrative features, but more often through documentaries, he or she is doing a courageous and admirable contribution to society.

Thus, when the authorities censor a film because they refuse or are unable to accept the truth, it impedes the very notion of democracy, transparency, and accountability. In other words, people have the right to know what is going on around them.

Films should also not be censored because doing so would further encourage piracy. Viewers would generally feel unsatisfied and unhappy if parts of a film are cut. Their curiosity would be roused and they would become motivated to search for the censored film in its entirety from the black market or through illegal downloading. Piracy, which is already rampant today, could be made worse with censorship, and could have devastating effects on the political economy of the film industry.

Hence, films should not be censored as censorship is more inhibitive than effective: It causes the filmmaker to lose creative control of his vision, society to be blocked from the truth, and risks increase in piracy.

Of course, I am assuming that all filmmakers want to inspire, provoke, and entertain with their films. However, there are filmmakers who make films for the sake of exploitation, producing films that are unnecessarily violent and disturbing as exemplified by the “torture porn” flicks such as The Human Centipede (2009) and A Serbian Film (2011).

There are calls for such films to be censored, or even banned so as to uphold the morals of society because many of these films are degrading and misogynistic. I feel that these calls are justified if the film’s exploitative nature does not appear to inspire, intellectually provoke, or entertain, but disgust and sicken viewers instead.

Other advocates of film censorship may argue that censorship is a form of protection for consumers. They feel that films sometimes espouse a certain way of life such as drug subculture, gangsterism, or illegal prostitution. This might corrupt the minds of viewers and could influence them in a negative way. However, I feel that this argument is weak because there are regulations in place in most countries so that such films receive the most restrictive rating possible.

In other words, films that contain mature content should only be seen by people who are old enough to understand what is portrayed on the screen. This begs the question: Why still censor parts of films when they already have the most restrictive rating? It does not make any sense at all to do so. It is not only unfair to the filmmaker, but an insult to the mature, paying viewer as well.

Some feel that films with strong violence such as A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Natural Born Killers (1994) result in copycat crimes, thus the need for strict censorship. But research remains inconclusive if watching violent films would cause a person to behave violently. In fact, it could be that people already with violent motivations tend  to select and watch violent films before committing their crimes.

Frankly, with or without these films, violence continues to occur. I feel that the authorities and the media are just trying to lay the blame on somebody or something. Hence, to censor such films would be a step backwards as they could illuminate the human condition and provide socio-cultural insights in ways that only art can.

I recommend that censorship bodies be ideally separate from governmental influence, though this is usually and sadly not the case. The government should not decide on what is moral or immoral for society. In fact, it should be society that decides what is good for itself.

Films should not be censored just because they contain material that are considered offensive or disturbing. To guarantee the freedom of expression for filmmakers, to expose the hidden truths in society, and to discourage piracy, there should be, as far as possible, no form of censorship of films.


daniel said…
"I feel that these calls are justified if the film’s exploitative nature does not appear to inspire, intellectually provoke, or entertain, but disgust and sicken viewers instead."

But you see... that's where the problem lies. These filmmakers are churning out these ludicrously abhorrent schlocks under the guise of arthouse sensibilities. If I argue that each of the tortures depicted in Salo symbolizes a torture with the Holocaust, shall we simply forgive this movie for its visual excesses? What about the "subversion of human desire" arguments for nudity on celluloid? Or the all-too-familiar "sexual repression" that is used as an excuse for hardcore violence? Can these be justified on non-sectarian grounds alone?
Eternality Tan said…
Excellent points. Perhaps the best way is to leave the choice of watching any film to the individual viewer?
daniel said…
.... and therefore we need censorship! Some are gratified by viewing pointless hardcore violence. That's when censorship is needed to draw the boundaries between what should be morally acceptable and what is not. Leaving it to the viewer's discretion is NOT the answer. That's the reason for the degradation of the movie culture- moviemakers satisfying the unending consumers' demands for violence and sex. There is so little artistic value in these 2 arenas.

Secondly, your essay fails to come grasp the fact that censorship actually defends the case that film can be art. Even if it restricts certain forms of expression to reach the audience, at least it filters out the unwanted trash that we see so often in many movies. You fail to see that veritable and genuine art eludes the most obtrusive of censorship. In order to evade the censors filmmakers would have to employ new means of subtlety and/or expression, thereby in the process expanding the medium of cinema.

Eternality Tan said…
Filmmakers should never try to evade the censors. They should push the boundaries, conceptually, technically, and artistically. For when they even start to think of censorship, they are not making films anymore.

Although I'm against censorship, and perhaps I've not made it clear enough in the article, I'm looking at the context of films that do not deserve to be censored, but end up being manipulated by entities outside of the filmmaker's control.

Censorship is needed, that I agree, and as I have mentioned for films that are only and solely exploitative. But censorship encourages exploitative filmmakers to continue to pursue their agenda because when their films are banned or censored, it is the best measure of success.

I am arguing for minimal censorship in the broadest sense, as far as possible. Film literacy and education can do much more than censorship in the long run. By empowering consumers of films with the knowledge and ability to filter out trash from art, to decide under their own terms, if they should or should not watch a film, in its entirety or otherwise, then self-censorship takes on a whole new meaning.

The individual viewer should hold power on what he or she chooses to see. As far as I'm concerned, I want the choice of watching any film in its entirety to be in my hands.
daniel said…
Thanks for clarifying, I mean no offense at all in my previous comments - I am an opponent of censorship as well, just trying to give some opposing viewpoints. As you correctly pointed out, censorship would not put exploitive filmmakers out of business but also increase the curiousity of an audience bent on seeking out the uncut film. Have you seen Royston Tan's short film Cut! in response to the MDA? Perhaps the most provocative and daring of artists in Singapore.
Eternality Tan said…
Have seen Cut! Pretty hilarious. Anyway no offence taken. It was an article I wrote for a class assignment, and decided to put it up on my blog for archiving sake, just like the other articles.
Anonymous said…
I am working on a research paper on film censorship and i wish you included actual people who voiced their opinion against film censorship but what can we do in a dire situation.
Anonymous said…
I don't like how you can approve our comments or not when you are talking about no to censorship you are just a huge hyprocite. Same person 20 seconds ago.
Eternality Tan said…
Hi Anonymous, I think it would be advisable to start on a friendly note, wouldn't it? In any case, I forgive you for your judgmental comments. Sometimes when you haven't met the person, it's easier to judge.

I only censor spam with strange links. I hope you understand where I'm coming from. I would like to think most people would do that too. Other comments, including yours, I have no plans to remove.

This small little piece is for a weird argumentative class I had to take when I was an undergrad at NIE. I did an elective over there. Apologies if you expected it to be a research paper with anecdotes.

All the best for your paper! :)