Censorship can be defined in quite a variety of ways but the most commonly used definition is that it is the act of suppressing images, ideas or words that are regarded as “offensive” by the censor (one who succeeds in imposing his/her personal moral or political values on other people especially without their will). This can be done by private groups exerting pressure on others or by the government. Governmental censorship is unconstitutional in any country that practices it.
Censorship can also broadly be defined as the cyclical, official banning, suppression, editing or expurgation by a group, individual, government or institution that influence or enforce its authority or decision on public members concerning any pictorial or written materials which the said individual, government, group or institution deem utterly obscene and with no social value. This is under the sole determination of the laid down contemporary society standards. It also involves publication, transmission as well as exhibition of information and materials that are considered to be destructive and undesirable for the interest of the public. A good example of private censorship is the enforced or promulgated infamous Hollywood blacklists that happened at the time of the McCarthy period. These and many other examples make people of good will and integrity like me to regard censorship as a social and economic evil which should be addressed with utmost concern for the general welfare of humanity (Newman, 2002, p.21).
Censorship has been in existence in the United States for a very long time, since the colonial era. The emphasis has metamorphosized from political censorship to sexual censorship not overriding the press or the media censorship. Throughout these historical censorship developments, there have been many drastic effects on society not only in America but in almost all other countries in the world. This has provoked or stimulated a battle that seems to be never ending regarding what is wrong or what is right. This is particularly so where churches, parents, music industry, the media and other social institutions have continually struggled to identify the appropriate and inappropriate materials and information that should be exposed to the children (Price, 2002, p.31).
American censorship has caused much ambivalence on its society since there have been many overt government restrictions that have violated fundamental human rights in many perspectives. This has been in existence since 1873 at the time the Comstock law was instituted to the latest 1996’s Communications Decency Act all of which have compromised the freedom of expression and imagination especially by being embedded deeply in the national psyche and buttressed through the First Amendment with substantial support of the many Supreme Court’s jurisdictions (Mark, 2003, p.66)
There is evidence of the more negative effects than positive ones that these children are forced to. The controversy concerning these censorship issues therefore seems to be eternal since different groups and individuals have expressed different feelings or opinions regarding the moral and ethical implementation of this policy. There unanimous understanding that this policy of literature and other works banning has outweighed the possible positive outcomes. It seems to be a tool that restricts children’s ability of reaching their full intellectual potential. It is therefore not a good factor enough to be considered detrimental to the child’s attitude, behavior, or personality. Furthermore, the fact those social institutions such as the churches, schools, the music industry, parents or the media have the power of controlling the youth does not significantly imply that such control is in the youth’s best interests to be protected without their will (Johnpoll, 1994, p.56).
The Supreme Court has applied the First Amendment in many social aspects particularly to theatrical works, books, posters, music & video industry, television, paintings and many others. Censorship rationales are varied, some targeting contents that are viewed as obscene or indecent, others considered treasonous or seditious while others deemed to be blasphemous or heretical. These ideas have thus been promulgated in disguise of providing protection to three fundamental social institutions which are the church, the state and the family.
All censorship is not of the same magnitude and direction. Some do not necessarily arise from external forces or government force but are in the form self-censorship. One time for example artist Shahn Ben wrote on a poster that silencing a man didn’t mean that s/he was converted. There is therefore a shock epithet attached to this terminology especially when it is uttered for the first time. Every community or society has one time or another had some laws, customs or taboos through which some things in the society has been admonished including the code of dressing, sexual orientation and expression, religious or cult observance, speech among others have been regulated (Khalidi, 2001, p.43).
Censorship is known to have existed in Athens, the first known democratic nation and was used to enforce the doctrines of the prevailing orthodox cult. Plato himself has been identified as the critical thinker who deliberated on this controversial issue where he came up with a rationale that was used in religious, artistic and intellectual censorship. In his book, The Republic, he proposed that nurses and mothers were not supposed to tales that were supposedly evil or bad. He further suggested formal procedures that would be used to suppress unorthodoxy heresy or notions about God which he said should be regarded criminal offences. The church soon allied with the government in perpetuating censorship especially by insisting on the biblical injunction that prohibits man from mentioning the name of the lord in vain. This put more emphasis on the censorship of that time where freedom of speech was a reservation of those in authority. A cross-sectional observation in America and the whole world today testifies of this especially where censorship has shifted direction from religious rationale to matters of national security.
For hundreds of years now, massive information is kept from the reach of common man by the government in bunkers that cannot easily be accessed and this has denied us basic and fundamental knowledge. There is persistence of dramatic censorship spirit where the church, state or school committee boards have exerted superb pressure to restrict publishers and authors as to what to include or omit in school publications. These include information relating to some sensitive issues such as racial or religious groups, sexist materials, biblical creation accounts as well as the evolution among others. My question here is, why should any one have the right to know and at the same time deny this knowledge to another who equally has the right to access this knowledge for objective and independent decision whether it is appropriate to them or not? For me the answer is no one, not my government, parents, religion or political affiliation (Werhan, 2004, p.35).
Whatever the category of censorship, censorship of obscenity, private action censorship, government censorship, terrorism censorship, UFO censorship, torture, or any other whatsoever, I regard this is the cunniest cunning evil that involves infringement of the basic and fundamental human rights and which should not even be debated but unanimously objected and abolished. I equate it to the slave trade where some are more people than others or to the animal farm’s scenario where some animals are more animal than others. Let one and all cogitate upon the crucial common knowledge articles such as the bill of rights and the universal declaration of human rights that expressly give the way forward as regards the individual and collective wellbeing in our society.
Johnpoll Bernard (1994) A Documentary History of the Communist Party of the United States-Vol.2, New York: Greenwood Press, pp.56
Khalidi Rashid (2001) American Anointed: How the United States Sowed the Whirlwind. The American Prospect, Vol.12, pp.43
Mark Wisniewski (2003) Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, German, and the United States. Pacific Affairs, Vol.76, pp.66
Newman Stephen (2002) Liberty, Community, and Censorship: Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression in Canada and the United States. American Review of Canadian Studies, Vol.32, pp.21
Price David (2002) A Social of Anthropology in United States. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.8, pp.31
Werhan Keith (2004) Freedom of Speech: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution. Mahwah, NJ: Praeger, pp.35