The United States is a country filled with censorship from television, radio, and advertisements to liberties and freedoms. Certain materials, which society deems to be indecent or too risqué for the general public, are restricted or banned. Violence in advertising and pornography are restricted based on their content. Advocates for censorship argue that without it, our children would be susceptible to these resources. They also argue that allowing appalling material to exist in society will eventually lead to desensitization of its content. If this is true, then hypothetically, boys who grow up watching porn will subconsciously develop the belief that women are supposed to be submissive. Religious and spiritual groups say prostitution has no purpose in society and only breeds bad morals. All of these arguments stem from a lack of education and a fear of the unknown. On a philosophical and practical level, censorship should not exist in any aspects of entertainment or life. Altering or prohibiting certain materials can seem productive, but often leads to ignorance in society. Laws should only be made to restrict freedoms when those freedoms cause physical harm to others or attempts to incite violence. I am not advocating for a world in which society lets risqué materials govern humanity, but a world in which all people understand all aspects of its culture. Responsibility lies on society to teach children and each other what is real and not real. In the following analysis, I will argue that since censorship prohibits progress in society, we must support the legalization and regulation of porn, prostitution, and violence and sexism in advertising, in the general public.
In order for censorship not to prohibit progress, the American people must support the existence of the porn industry. Porn is adult entertainment that does not always avoid the eyes of children. In the 21st century, porn is very accessible and children and adolescents often get their hands on it. Is the problem that teens watch pornography or that they do not understand all of its conditions? The problem is not that it exists; because on a pure level, pornography is entertainment just like other films and television shows. The problem is the way pornography shows life as a fantasy. Pornography is not real and therefore if misunderstood, can yield harmful implications. Some of the arguments against pornography are the industry is grotesque, does not contribute anything positive to society, and commercializes women, making them sexual objects. Arguments like these are not first-class arguments to restrict pornography in society, but rather arguments to have full transparency. Discussions, based on these claims about pornography, further progress when it comes to gender equality. Claims advocating for anti-censorship are not pro-pornography, but state that “great works of art and literature would be banned; the First Amendment would be breached; political expression would be suppressed; and a creative culture requires freedom of speech.”[i] Censorship on pornography is fundamentally against the First Amendment. Regulation within the industry is acceptable because we want to protect the individuals working in the industry. Nevertheless, the solution to the problems of pornography is education about the matter. The solution is to provide education methods that teach children and other individuals what is real. Nudity should not be restricted on television. The ratings system currently in place is a good system in which pornography can be rated for mature audiences. It is not the government’s job to restrict pornography but the responsibility of schools and adults to educate their children about. Looking at other countries where nudity and sex are allowed on television, there are much lower pregnancy rates. As of 2007, the birth rate among teens in the United States was 42.5 % compared to only 9.9 % in Germany.[ii] Disregarding materials like pornography as offensive or indecent in our country, can lead to harms like teenage pregnancy. If teenage pregnancy is such a prevalent issue in the United States, what is the answer? The public school system as well as general morality of American society has failed at properly educating teenagers about sex. People will end up making their own decisions in the end, but they can at least be guided in the right direction. Education and discussion can prevent the harms described by advocates for censorship without restricting individual freedoms.
Building on the claim that censorship is harmful to society, we must support prostitution as a legitimate industry. The problems people have with prostitution are: it is not always a choice, it is not a good model to set for women, and it instills the belief that a woman’s job is to service a man. These arguments are against sex slavery, not prostitution. There is a difference because in its purest form, prostitution is a choice. Lars Ericsson claims that people are against prostitution because the industry sells something that is so fundamental to humans, which makes it indecent. We have to pay for food and clothing, but we do not have an essential problem with this because it is not seen as indecent. He states, “That we have to pay for the satisfaction of our most basic appetites is no reason for socially stigmatizing those individuals whose profession it is to cater to those appetites.”[iii] Prostitution is just like any other service industry. What does this mean for censorship if prostitution is legal? Advertisements would be able to broadcast on television and posted on billboards. The harms of the sex work industry currently are the dangers for women. In the story The Bacchae by Euripedes, Pentheus attempts to keep the dirty worship of the Dionysus, out of his kingdom, “But don’t infect me with your madness. As for the one who in this foolishness has been your teacher, I’ll bring him to justice.”[iv] Pentheus is eventually murdered by the very thing he tries to keep out of his kingdom. This story is a great example of having a sort of “controlled chaos” in society. The United States cannot let prostitution have a strong hold on society, but cannot try to get rid of it either. Banishing prostitution only makes it more unsafe for women and more of a problem for the public. The American people have the responsibility to treat the sex work industry like any other industry. Recognizing prostitution as a legitimate industry makes it regulated. By not censoring advertisements for prostitution, the public can further recognize it as a service industry. We can disestablish this taboo in society by legitimizing prostitution.
In supporting anti-censorship, along with pornography and prostitution, we must also support violence and sexism in advertising. There is a problem in advertising with stereotypes that are purported. Advertising methods are reflective of what catches the public eye. I agree that the violent advertising is not a good fad, but disagree that the way to change that is by censoring ads. Advocates against these advertising methods want truthful advertising that does not oppress women. They believe companies are very irresponsible for purporting these ideas. Companies have the obligation to sell their product. We cannot blame them for the methods that make an impact on consumers. We can only blame ourselves. Charlotte Hilton Andersen, a writer for the Huffington Post, says “I have found myself flipping mindlessly through a fashion mag only to be jerked out of my reverie by a bizarre ad.”[v] She would not buy the product, but she recognizes the engagement of “bizarre” advertising. Censorship of sexist and violent ads does not address the problem of sexism and violence in culture. Individuals can be harmed by this type of advertising. However, the root of the problem starts with our culture. Including education about the media and advertisements in elementary schools has the potential to eliminate sexism and violence. Since advertisements are often reflective of society, the best way to change them is to change our culture. A former New York City mayor was quoted by the New York Times saying, “Our laws forbid the publication of any libelous, obscene, indecent, immoral, or impure picture or reading matter. Is not that enough?”[vi] Obviously it is not enough to solve the female inferiority complex in our culture. The attempt to eliminate pornography, prostitution, violence and sexism is an attempt to ignore our problems.
Since censorship is antithetical to progress, we must permit pornography, prostitution, and violence and sexism in advertising, in order for humanity to grow. We need to realize there is a difference between regulation and censorship. Regulation makes the thing safe, whereas censorship eliminates the thing entirely. There are two problems with censorship: Is there a stopping point, and does it help humanity? The answer to both of those questions is no. Government agencies think the appropriate response to problems like violence and sexism is to eliminate anything which has the consistency of being violent or sexist. Through censorship, the government creates the same problem they are trying to combat in these subjects. Individuals do not have moral obligations to keep “indecent” materials private. Society has no right to determine morals when it comes to a woman’s right to her body. If we want less violence and oppression, we need to change those things. We cannot make laws that restrict individual freedoms, unless they physically harm others. We can make laws forcing companies to tell us what is real and what is not, without prohibiting their right to advertise. Schools should be required to educate on subjects like pornography, prostitution, and advertising. The biggest harm for children would be for society to protect them from the problems. Children will grow up one day to have their own beliefs and make their own decisions; the best civilization can do is to make sure they are well educated to do so. With the lack of censorship, we have the ability to solve the problems of our culture without restricting personal freedoms. Society needs discussion and progression, not condemnation and stagnation.
[i] McElroy, Wendy. “A Feminist Overview of Pornography.” A Feminist Overview of Pornography. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2013.
[ii] United States: (2010). Births: Final data for 2007. National Vital Statistics Reports, 58 (24). Other Countries: United Nations Statistical Division. Demographic Yearbook 2007. New York: United Nations.
[iii] Ericsson, Lars O. “Charges Against Prostitution: An Attempt at a Philosophical Assessment.” Ethics 90.3 (1980): 367-70. Print.
[iv] Euripedes, David Grene, and Richmond Lattimore. Euripedes. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992. Print.
[v] Andersen, Charlotte Hilton. “Dolce & Gabbana Says Women Like It Rough.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 May 2013.
[vi] “Censorship and Advertising.” Censorship and Advertising – View Article – NYTimes.com. New York Times, 16 Feb. 1919. Web. 24 May 2013.