Tag Archives: censorship

I Take Offense!

Recently, I attended an event which began with a choir performing several songs. Later on that same day, I learned that a number of attendees had been offended by the irreligious nature of several of the songs and where minded to complain to the organiser of the event.

The above incident caused me to consider to what extent (if any) I (as a poet) am under an obligation to avoid causing offense. Should I censor my writing and/or performances to avoid upsetting my readers and/or listeners?

I am, by instinct a liberal as regards such matters. If you don’t like a book, a television programme, or a poetry performance then you can stop reading the work in question, turn over to another channel or walk out of the performance.

Having said the above, where young children are present it is, of course wrong to expose them to adult material. I have never known of a poetry performance where it has not been made clear as regards those who will be attending. Of course where a performance is advertised as being suitable for all ages, young children etc, it would be wholly wrong to read poems touching on adult and/or erotic matters. Some of my poems do contain adult themes and I would never dream of performing them at an event at which children where present.

However, I am deeply concerned at the growth of the view that there exists a right not to be offended. Let me qualify the foregoing statement somewhat. Of course we all have a right to be offended. Indeed one can not help finding certain things offensive. What we do not have is the right to use our sense of offense (how ever genuine that may be) to censor artistic expression. Most of us are offended by something or other, whether that be swearing in public or the person standing next to us on the tube who has failed to clean their teeth! However we do, as adults have the capacity to either ignore the offending behaviour or to walk away. To argue that certain songs, literature etc should be prohibited and/or restricted simply because I (or you) don’t like it, is deeply iliberal and ends in a society where poets and other producers of art confine themselves to writing about flowers and sweet little lambs frolicking in the countryside. Whilst there are some wonderful poems and other artistic creations touching on these themes, no artist should be compelled (or feel so compelled) either by the state or the force of public opinion (whether majority or minority opinion) to self-censor. To do so leads to an anodine world in which little (if anything) of artistic value flourishes.

I well remember having a conversation with a person of deep faith in which they stated that no one should be allowed to criticise their religion and, in particular their god. I find this perspective deeply disturbing. We do, thankfully live in a liberal society wher you and I have a right to be offended. However we have no right to use that offense (however deeply felt) to call for the censoring of the opinions of others, whether in the field of art, politics or in any other sphere.

Students At Manchester University Paint Over Kipling Mural

Students at Manchester University have painted over a mural of Kipling’s poem “If”. They say that they where not consulted regarding the murel, that Kipling was a “racist” and an “imperialist” and that it was not appropriate for the mural to have been painted.

I agree that the students should have been consulted (as the mural was in their student union building). However I am in agreement with the editor of the Kipling Society’s Journal when she says:

““Of course he was a racist. Of course he was an imperialist, but that’s not all he was and it seems to me a pity to say so,” she said. Montefiore argued that Kipling was “a magical story-teller” and that his perspective was part of history. “You don’t want to pretend that it all didn’t happen,” she said.

“Dickens said dreadful things about black people in the Jamaica rebellion. Does that mean you don’t read Dickens?” (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/19/manchester-university-students-paint-over-rudyard-kipling-mural).

I am not, as it happens, a fan of “If”. I feel that Kipling produced far better verse, including his “Danny Deever”, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46782/danny-deever, in which he describes the hanging of a soldier for killing a comrade “while sleeping”. However the tendency to project our own values onto the past is worrying and (if we are not careful) can end up with censorship.

In my poem “Rhodes” I deal with a not dissimilar issue, namely the demand by “The Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College Oxford, https://newauthoronline.com/2016/11/23/rhodes/. In the case of the Rhodes statue those campaigning for its removal have (thus far) been unsuccessful.

China Bans George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

On reading that the Chinese government has banned George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm”, (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/china-bans-the-letter-n-and-george-orwells-animal-farm-as-president-xi-jinping-extends-grip-on-power-a3777686.html), I was reminded of Lord Acton’s remark that:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are
almost always bad men,…”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dalberg-Acton,_1st_Baron_Acton).

The Acton quote, jostled in my mind with that famous quotation:
“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whom_the_gods_would_destroy).

I have visited mainland china or, to give that country it’s full title, The People’s Republic of China (PRC). While there, I found the people whom I came into contact with both friendly and helpful. I did, however feel an underlying sense of unease, a feeling which I can best describe as a sense of being observed.

Today’s China is not that of the country which suffered under the dictatorship of Mao and which is so chillingly described in Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans”, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Swans). It is, however a society which, on the on the one hand wishes to embrace the market economy while, at the same time shying away from the values of individual freedom which (at it’s best) distinguish liberal societies from authoritarian ones.

There will, no doubt be those who say what do values of individual freedom matter when, at bottom people are concerned with their own material comfort? Sitting here, writing this with no fear of the midnight knock Ion the door, I, for one know the answer to that question.

The Great Wall of China

Those who control
And patrol
Are accepted
(not rejected),
For they prevent disorder
By protecting the cyber border.

Who needs Mill
When you can shop
As you will.
And the chop does fall
On those who look beyond the Chinese wall.

On BBC Radio 4’s “The World Tonight”, which was broadcast on Thursday 3 August, an interviewer asked a number of Chinese people what they thought of their country’s heavily restricted internet. (In China Twitter, Facebook and Google are banned and government approved channels are utilised by those wishing to go online). A few chinese do bypass blocking by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNS) and other similar services, however the majority of the Chinese population search for information and interact online using the approved (government) channels.
None of those interviewed criticised censorship. Indeed one interviewee went so far as to say that he approved of it, as the government needs to prevent disorder.
The interviews took place in a public park, which cause me to wonder whether all those being interviewed would have been quite so supportive of the Chinese Wall had the questioning taken place in private.
While I have visited China, I did not go online while there so have no experience of the great cyber wall surrounding that country.

Some Thoughts On Clean Reader

(The below post contains, of necessity some profanity. If you are offended by such words you may wish to stop reading now).

Today’s Guardian has an article about Clean Reader, an application which allows the user to reduce or eliminate the amount of profanity in a book, (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/28/clean-reader-is-freaking-silly). The author’s contention is that Clean Reader is a silly idea but, in the final analysis readers have the right to put their own interpretation on the books they read. So, for example the owner of a print book is at liberty to cross out words they don’t like provided they don’t pass off the amended text as constituting the author’s original work.

My concern as an author is that Clean Reader alters the original meaning of my work. Take, for example my short story Samantha. In Samantha we meet a young woman who has been forced into prostitution by her brutal pimp, Barry. For reasons of authenticity Samantha contains scenes of violence and, yes the use of profanity. For instance Sam is told by Barry not to let a client “anywhere near your sweet little fuck hole” until he has paid. This is how a man of Barry’s stamp, a brutal pimp with no respect for women, would address those who he controlls. Yet Clean Reader would render “fuck” as “love” making Barry’s words risible as no pimp would refer to a vagina as “a love hole”.

To take another example, Nick, the client Sam is visiting, says that he wants to “fuck”. Nick’s desire for sexual gratification has nothing whatever to do with romance so to change “fuck” to “love” as Clean Reader would is to render the story risible and to change it’s meaning to boot.

I don’t want anyone to be offended by Samantha or any of my writing for that matter. However if someone downloads Samantha I fervently hope that they read it as written. If a tool such as Clean Reader is utilised the true horror of Sam’s situation is sanitised (I.E. forced prostitution is portrayed in a downright risible manner with clients making love, rather than “fucking” sex workers).

In conclusion, I have concerns regarding Clean Reader, specifically that it has the potential to alter the author’s original meaning and convey an inaccurate view of the work being read. I suspect though that most readers will avoid the app and, given time it will fade into obscurity or cease to exist completely.

When Does A Book Review Become Trolling?

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The old saying seems particularly apt when discussing the issue of trolling and, more specifically it’s relationship to book reviews. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a troll is an individual who makes comments in order to provoke conflict. Here we are not talking about a reader who provides a 1 or 2 star review and furnishes a reasoned explanation for his/her perspective on the work. Authors may not like such reviews (although one can learn from constructive criticism), however they can not be considered as constituting trolling. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the taking of offence at the expression of opinions with which authors (or anyone else) may disagree is not a valid reason for labelling such expressions as trolling.

Genuine trolling is, however sadly alive and well on the internet. Take, for example the following review and the comments generated by it, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/499148682. The reviewer takes a positive delight in ripping the author’s work apart. It is, to the reviewer a source of considerable hilarity to point out grammatical errors (real or imagined). He appears to revel in making his followers laugh and laugh they do in response to the reviewer’s tearing apart of the author’s work. What should be a serious forum for discussing literature degenerates into an arena in which the reviewer and his/her followers rip their quarry apart. Blood sports are banned or curtailed in many countries but they remain alive and well on the internet.

As a libertarian (with a small l) I am wary of banning activities. There is a thin line between a person expressing their strong objection to a book and an individual deliberately looking to stir up conflict for the sake of so doing. However it strikes me that forums such as Goodreads need to look at whether they have strong enough measures in place to prevent, so far as is possible, unproductive and often vicious attacks on authors.

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book in question nor am I acquainted with it’s author).

Fame at Last

I was surprised and delighted to be asked by International Business Times to write a blog on the subject of self-publishing. You can find my article here, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/516626/20131024/rape-incest-books-banned.htm