By Cynthia Ray
“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Recently, I came across a list of previously banned and censored classic books, which got me wondering about the phenomena of censorship. It has taken many forms and faces over time, in different governments, countries and cultures, and looms over us now.
In her new book on censorship; Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love – a dramatic historical investigation of the roots of modern censorship in Britain and the US, Naomi Wolf exhibits a grim optimism:
“Let’s just say that I have now looked at the issue of censorship in Britain and the United States over the last 2½ centuries and I can tell you categorically that censorship never stops anything from happening. It didn’t stop abortion, homosexuality, contraception. If anything, censoring ideas just makes them stronger. And bad ideas are only ever changed through sunlight, scrutiny and debate.”
Powerful books that confront the status quo, like Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird, or Margaret Atwoods The Handmaidens Tale, provoke debate and shine a light on important issues, bringing them to the forefront for discussion.
The desire to censor something could only be based on FEAR. Fear of seeing that which makes us bothered, uncomfortable, troubled and disturbed. It is fear of exposure to ideas, images or actions that go against the prevailing values of a group or a society and belief that exposure to those images, or ideas will taint or corrupt.
Censorship is defined as the supervision and control of the information and ideas circulated within a society. The ALCU points out that in the United States, censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups, but censorship by the government is unconstitutional. Individuals and groups are protected by the First Ammendent, but that doesn’t stop efforts to censor certain ideas, groups, in an ever-evolving conversation.
I had to ask myself what makes me so uncomfortable that I would censor it? What were my own boundaries, and where did I think people should be made to behave in certain ways, whether they agreed with them or not.
If the society we live in wishes to turn away from uncomfortable truths, we should not be surprised. Do we welcome someone telling us something unpleasant about ourselves? Often, our first response to become angry at the messenger, or to deny and turn away. On the other hand, who defines truth, and for who?
Artists, poets, writers and thinkers have always pushed the limits and boundaries set by the government, by religion, by the culture or prevailing mindset of the time. That is why the book, the photograph, the movie is so important. It remains available for consideration and examination, inviting us to confront our discomfort and encouraging a conversation to be had in “sunlight, scrutiny and debate.”
As writers and artists, it is important to ask:
- Do we censor ourselves?
- Do we allow boundaries to be set by other or by conditions outside of ourselves?
- Do we tell our truth courageously?
- How far do we allow ourselves to push our limits?
When we are able to rise above the prevailing thinking of the time to see and express what others only sense, making the invisible visible, and have the courage to express what we see, it brings us forward together.
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451