Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Our Lips Are Sealed

June 1977 and there’s a blank space at the Number One slot in the charts.

As a kid I didn’t even know why there was a small but vital omission from the chart rundown.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that at the height of our most patriotic period – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee – something else was going on.

The BBC (and other media) had decided, in their ultimate wisdom that The Sex Pistols’ new single God Save The Queen was not fit for public consumption.

For anyone whose never listened to the song the worst thing that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) says in the song is that she “ain’t no human being” and the head of a “fascist regime”, but there were those who thought the youth movement of the day could bring down society as we knew it. The Pistols would famously appear on a Live interview programme where a drunk presenter would dare them to say rude things to shock. Each time Lydon said a word (mostly not that offensive) he looked slightly embarrassed.

Skip forward 31 years and I’m watching a comedy programme at 9:30pm. The comedians are making jokes and comments about the news of the week. It takes me a short period of time to realise that they’re not even bleeping out the F word. Everyone is using it like punctuation (as everyone tends to do these days)

And yet the news this week in the UK has been dominated by the increasingly dull story of two Radio presenters.

The two radio presenters made a series of pre-recorded prank phone calls to a well known British actor – one of which implied that one of the presenters had had sex with the actor’s granddaughter.

At the time of the original broadcast there were only 2 complaints – since when it has escalated to 30,000? Why?

The purpose of this posting isn’t to comment on the rights or wrongs of censorship – that’s far too thorny an issue and an ongoing fight between the freedom of speech and the freedom of privacy that will not be solved any time soon.

The reason that there have been 30,000 complaints is that anyone who wants to go and be offended by the broadcast has a multitude of formats to do so with. If you miss the original programme you can go to the BBC site, YouTube, Google etc etc and be offended time and time again.

Another example of this is the film Saw V. The Saw franchise is not one that holds any interest for me – I really can’t see the attraction of torture for shock and entertainment purposes (makes you wonder how far we’ve come since we chucked Christians to the lions for entertainment) – but there are posters on the side of busses advertising the latest edition with the message: “Image Banned – go to www… to see the poster in full”

Presumably the point of banning the poster was to stop people seeing the image – but it is freely available on the internet for anyone to look at.

Whenever a programme gets complaints about levels of violence it seems to be written off as “necessary for the plot” and everyone shrugs and carries on as if that makes it ok and the boundaries of what we can and can’t do and show get pushed further back.

Of the two presenters one (a comedian and known womaniser) has resigned – but his programmes are still showing on other channels, whilst the other (a presenter and critic) has been suspended without pay for 12 weeks. Both have books out at the moment – the sales of these will have increased during the argument and their programmes will return to increased ratings as we all tune in to see what the fuss was about. Even the granddaughter (who, it turns out, is an exotic dancer of some kind) of the actor has cashed in and sold her story for a few fleeting minutes of fame.

I’m sorry if you find this posting a bit random – as usual I am in two minds about the issue. Part of me thinks that the presenters went to far and a person’s sexual practices, regardless of their status and job, are really no-one’s business, whilst another part of me thinks that other comedians and presenters have said far worse about other people.

Perhaps the boundaries of what we consider to be tasteful have been pushed so far back that we no longer know where they are? Perhaps we should all be allowed to act like adults and decide for ourselves what we do and do not consider acceptable and use our ability to press the off button accordingly?

If anyone has an answer please let me know – though I suspect there isn’t one


Captain Steve said...

I've heard the Saw movies called torture porn. I don't feel the need to see that. Though most posters I've seen have just had that creepy Jigsaw on them. I'm surprised they'd make posters with censored stuff, but it's probably just so their website will get more hits.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Hi Captain Steve - that's exactly it! They're actually using the idea of censorship to sell the product and put bums on seats!

One other thing i forgot to mention was The Metro - a free magazine on the busses that always makes me laugh (though i don't think it's supposed to be funny)

Sometimes their articles and comments are a touch on the risky side - like a recent review for High School Musical 3 described it as "Squeakier than Minnie Mouse at the point of climax" - whilst this is, by turns a disturbing image to be given first thing in the morning and also very, very funny - i did wonder about this kind of comment in a magazine freely available for kids to pick up...

This Brazen Teacher said...

It seems like humanity swings like a pendulum:

We're too corrupted!
Now let's advocate purity!
Now we're too uptight!
Now let's integrate four letter words into family sitcoms!

Eek. We're such an extreme lot aren't we? Taking ideological middle ground doesn't get your opinion heard however. So perhaps that's why we' are always swinging back and forth from one extreme to the other.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

TBT - i think you've hit on a really interesting point there: sometimes we're so busy swinging from one extreme to another that we lose sight of the centre.

Anonymous said...

*sheaths my sword and sits* The problem is that people have lost grip on morals and maturity.

art is to imitate life, and there is an infinite amount of events, ages, people and eras in life that are filled with violence and sexuality. the maturity comes in showing how these things are important to the logic or mood or whatever of the art.

Secondly, if morals were strong amongst us in this age, things like Saw wouldn't even be entertained on that seriously a level (they'd be going straight to tape and not that many people would be watching it). I mean, people should be fully free to make and show such films, but if we knew better, that stuff wouldn't get more than the raise of an eyebrow at the commercials. One can try to argue that the franchise is a comment on violence in the media, or even a critique of it. But they always say that, and I find it seldom true. I seen the first one, to check out the idea behind the story, which was good. After that, the story had nothing more to offer.

Additionally, here in the U.S., they show the posters everywhere in their full glory, which is nothing but Jigsaw with another face attached to his own. Regardless of the explicit content, I'll give something a chance if it hass something tangible to offer (to me). But explicitness for its own sake is about as good as going to a bar to drink water.

Lydia said...

I wonder why humans are attracted to trash words and entertainment when we also have the capacity to create and appreciate great art and expression. It makes the animal world seem really even keel and just plain superior to humans in some ways.

Honour said...

I have no coherent response to your questions. But, I think it's interesting that somehow us humans have convinced ourselves how "decent" we are -- and yet, we would be shamed to look back on our past and see what we thought was appropriate and entertaining.

I don't know. Maybe looking at the past would give us a better sense on what kind of future we want to build?

How's that for a completely not-related but somehow related in my mind answer

pohanginapete said...

Crikey, I really don't know what to add to all these good, thoughtful comments. I can say I've often wondered about the ease with which I can pick the list of "most viewed" articles on media websites — anything weird or with sex in the headline is likely; anything with both those is certain. I'm sure the sociobiologists would have plausible explanations.
Anyway, it doesn't fill me with optimism. But we have an election here tomorrow, so maybe it's just the prospect of three years of environmental vandalism and the screwing of the disadvantaged that's at the root of my pessimism.
As for your guess that there isn't an answer — I suspect you're right.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samuria - i agree with your comment about the freedom of expression and the fact that these films are only made because there is a market for them. When we look back at films like Alien (which i love) it's hard to remember that the same debate would have gone on about the chest scene (though one could argue the film is perfectly good without this)

lydia - i agree: we spend so much time considering ourselves to be superiour to the animals (though i hear the Dolphins and Mice have different ideas) - but really we're just shaved monkeys

Honour - thanks for responding in kind to my ramblings! You are right that we need to remember our past and learn from it instead of repeating our errors

Pete - thanks and yes: these things are popular. Will a change of government make any difference? probably not

Michael said...

I'm with you about just turning off. The only karma I can try clean is my own. But by keeping my own house clean (my success at this varies from day to day) I contribute a bit to the whole. We can all do that and no laws have to be written or enforced.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

michael - i agree: if only everyone led by example...