Censorship: An Ineffective Cure for Society’s Ills

Censorship: An Ineffective Cure for Society's Ills

Censorship is dangerous. Giving an individual or an organization control over what can and cannot be experienced is a lot of power that can be corrupted. As Americans we value our freedom of speech but this value is not limited to citizens of the United States. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes freedom of speech as a human right and it is recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Freedom of speech and the freedom to express our views are basic human rights. When we censor expression we stifle creativity; it is creativity that holds the answers to the questions we seek and the cure to the ailments from which we suffer. Censorship in fact brings more attention to the subject the censor wishes to eliminate. Adding the allure of secrecy often makes the subject more curious and the draw to the object more intense. In the following paragraphs, I will assert that censorship is not the proper tool to use to protect those we deem vulnerable, we must oppose censorship of sex work, homophobia, pornography and sexism/violence in advertising.

As we recognize the importance of free speech as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ineffectiveness of censoring information some may deem harmful we must have uncensored sex workers in order to put proper safety measures in place. There is and has always been great controversy surrounding the sex work industry. Prostitution, often referred to as the world’s “oldest profession,” has been both a means for economic empowerment for women as well as a source for social degradation and or embarrassment. In her article, Defending Prostitution Charges Against Ericsson,” Carol Pateman argues, “To be able to purchase a body in the market presupposes the existence of masters. Prostitution is the public recognition of men as sexual masters; it puts submission on sale as a commodity in the market…”1 If Pateman’s claim s true then certainly we as a society should be working towards the end of prostitution specifically, and sex work in general. Consider, though the effectiveness of censorship on eliminating a social ill. We need only travel back in history to the prohibition of alcohol to see that making something illegal or legally inaccessible will not quell the desire to consume that which we censor. Speakeasies ran rampant across America. Homemade stills produced alcoholic beverages affectionately known as moonshine without being regulated or monitored. Moonshine “runners” modified their engines so that they could deliver the product quickly and out run the law if necessary. The government taking matters into their own hands and making the decision for society that the consumption of alcoholic beverages should not be consumed did nothing to cure the social ills the censorship was intended to alleviate; it actually heightened the desire for the banned substance and created more ills than it sought to cure. Harry White views sex work as a profession and not a subjected position; one that might benefit greatly benefit from being “unionized.” It is his view that if the sex work industry is censored it would drive it underground and would expose the women some are motivated to protect to “violence they did suffer from police, pimps and others when pornography was strictly illegal.”2 He likened censoring sex work to closing factories to solve the problems of low pay, insecurity and poor working conditions among factory workers. The simple fix of imposing the you can’t do that anymore rule on society will not eliminate the sex work industry nor will it solve the problems generated by the industry.

Neither can homophobia, though it may be offensive and even detrimental to our society, be successfully thwarted through censorship. Homophobic speech is more common than some may realize. It works it’s way into our everyday vocabulary without us even realizing it. Take for example the term “gay.” My mother would use the term to mean happy. I would use the term to mean homosexual. My teenaged son used the term to mean bad, until I corrected him. In 2002 a student, Rebecca Rice used the term “that’s so gay” at school and was reprimanded receiving a warning and a notation on her file. Her parents sued, and claimed that Rice’s first amendment rights were violated because she used a phrase that “enjoys widespread currency in youth culture.”3 That is disturbing for more than one reason. It’s hurtful to those individuals that you’ve categorized as stupid, silly, or dumb by associating their group with a negative connotation. It’s unnerving if Rice did not realize the harm she was causing with her words. (This could likely be the case as I determined from speaking with my son and his friends.) It’s tragic if Rice understood how hurtful her words were and decided to use them anyway. According to the list compiled by Warren J. Blumenfeld4, among other things, “Homophobia can be used to stigmatize, silence and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as gay, lesbian or bisexual but who are in actuality heterosexual.” We can all agree that this is only one of the terrible consequences of homophobia. As a cure, however, shall we stigmatize, silence and on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as homophobic? Certainly not. And if we did, would that stop people from feeling or thinking hurtful or negative things about homosexuals that may be kindling to incite violence or other hurtful actions towards them. Then, maybe we should start monitoring and censoring thoughts. Ridiculous, I know.

Censorship of sex work and homophobic rhetoric cannot be tolerated neither then can the censorship of pornographic materials. We are afraid. We fear how exposure to what we deem immoral material might effect our most vulnerable in society. We are afraid of what may become of those who study images on paper or screen might do when found in similar real life situations. Wendy McElroy in her article “A Feminist Defense of Pornography,” states her position as a “pro-sex” feminist: Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically.5 In his article, “Why Pornography Should Not Be Censored,” Antony Grey says of censorship, “Censorship – whatever its pretext – is the denial of our freedom to choose what we can read, see, hear and do. It consists of arbitrary interference with free communication and is a distortion of the marketplace of ideas.”6 We want to protect our young and our vulnerable from the unwanted attention and actions of those influenced by pornographic materials but can we reasonably expect to remove the influence of pornography from society by censoring it’s publication or will driving the pornography industry underground and even more mystic to the already taboo trade? For the most part children already know pornography is not accepted in society but that hasn’t stopped little boys from sharing Playboy in their secret clubhouse. Though the society stigma may keep Hustler Magazine off the living room coffee table it certainly hasn’t kept it from under the bed, in the tool box or being delivered on thin the brown kraft paper wrapper. As we have seen in the examples of sex work and homophobia, censorship does not eliminate the dangers society seeks to eradicate. Censoring an industry only moves it away from society’s ability to regulate it; once it goes underground we no longer have the ability to enforce laws that make the industry safe for it’s participants.

As we see the ineffectiveness of censoring sex work, homophobic messages and pornography it is clear that censoring violence/sexism in advertising would not give us the desired effect. Advertising has a purpose: to entice it’s audience to buy. As long as the message is filling that purpose, it will remain unchanged. Social action then, like a boycott of a particular manufacturer that produces violent or sexist advertisement would be of maximum effect to remove this disturbing media. Charlotte Hilton Anderson calls a study that claimed women see these sexist and violent advertisements as high art or as a type of fiction shenanigans.7 She goes on to say, “And if the point of advertising is to sell something then I’d have to see proof that these ads move merch before I’ll believe my fellow sisters really do like it rough.” I agree that a photographed image of a gang rape scene will not move me to purchase Dolce & Gabana however, are the advertisers pushing the envelope of acceptability so that they may be accepted in the high end glamour magazines? And, once accepted in the publication, not to be glazed over with the other 80% advertising content but be dramatic or shocking enough to make the consumer stop the page turning frenzy and focus long enough for the company logo to register? “…we expect censorship to work for social change; in the past it has always worked against it. A government of feminists can be usurped overnight by a government of wowsers, offended by tampon advertising or any hint of sex.”8 States Adele Horin in her article “Why Censorship is Worse than the Sexist Ad.” She states that self-regulation is a different matter from “hauling in the government to set the rules.” Clearly this would be the better solution; asking the industry to come to a reasonable set of guidelines to hold itself accountable to and holding court on itself to ensure that the industry remains an integral part of society rather than having an outside entity determine what it can and cannot produce.

It is the responsibility of society to protect it’s vulnerable but censorship is not the best protection against the ills created by sex work, homophobia, pornography and sexism/violence in advertising. Some might think censorship rids society by removing the message but thoughts, intents and desires cannot be censored. When we act in fear as a defense to things we find offensive our efforts are negated by the allure of the taboo. And if we persist in censorship we run the risk of capping the creativity of society by making it unacceptable to imagine, think or create outside of the accepted norm. Messages can be damaging, especially those directed towards are youth. I submit a better defense against these dangers is education. We must as a society educate our citizens early and thoroughly. As early as primary education, we must implement media awareness education so that we understand the role that media plays. Citizens should know the difference between advertisements and news, opinion and fact, healthy behavior and violent fantasy. It is our responsibility and our duty to educate ourselves. Media awareness education curriculum should be created and implemented in the public school systems across the nation. An informed citizen is not easily beguiled by hate messages, imitator of violent or sexist messages, or a participant in risky behavior that endangers his own health or that of his community. We cannot take away the basic human right of the freedom to express self by censoring the message we must instead arm ourselves with education that we may rightly disseminate what is good for our own self.

1Carol Pateman, Defending Against Prostitution: Charges Against Ericsson 2Harry White, Anatomy of Censorship: Why the Censors Have it Wrong (University Press of America, 1997) 3Gimme Five | the blog of a busy guy, Censorship vs. Hate Speech and the Word Gay, http://www.gimme-five.com/censorship-vs-hate-speech-and-the-word-gay/ 4Warren J Blumenfeld, How Homophobia Hurts Everyone: A Theoretical Foundation 5Wendy McElroy, “A Feminist Defense of Pornography” 6Antony Grey, Why Pornography Should Not Be Censored, http://www2.libertarian.co.uk/sites/default/lanotepdf/polin085.pdf 7Charlotte Hilton Andersen, Dolce & Gabbana Says Women Like It Rough, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charlotte-hilton-andersen/dolce-gabbana-says-women_b_547268.html 8Adele Horin, Why Censorship is Worse Than the Sexist Ad, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=6ZxjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=aeQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3251%2C165096


In My Best Interest?

In My Best Interest?

J. Gay Williams makes arguments in his article “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia” to the contradiction of the practice to human nature, miscarriage of the procedure due to misdiagnosis and the slippery slope argument. I have always been against euthanasia primarily because, like capital punishment, there is always a chance that something could change: new information could become available, there may have been an error in the diagnosis, or technology may be developed that could change a hopeless situation to a hopeful situation.

The argument I had not considered before reading this article is the slippery slope argument Williams makes. Often those who have made the decision for euthanasia are too weak from illness to perform the action for themselves. The subject then designate someone empowering them with the ability to make the decision on when to end the subject’s life. The author states then that it is a short step from voluntary euthanasia to directed euthanasia given to a patient with who has given no authorization. This is a slippery slope none of us want to be standing on.

Going from acting in my own best interest to acting in her own best interest is not that big a journey. How many times have we said or heard “he’s not able to make decisions for himself anymore” or “that’s what she would have wanted”? Although we may have the best of intentions we often miss the mark when acting in someone else’s own best interest.

Who is to say when someone else is suffering too much? Is the suffering too much for the family to bear? Is the “hopeless” condition of the subject taking medical attention that could be “better spent” on other patients?

Who makes that decision? In the case of a long time and progressive disease or ailment the subject may designate someone to make the decision of when the suffering has become too much. What about when the suffering is due to an accident? There is no warning. John is a marathon runner who loves the outdoors. He is independent and strong willed. We watched a movie together when the star was in a coma for a prolonged time and he said, “I wouldn’t want to live like that.” No John is in a coma and the doctors have said that if he should come out of the coma he will never walk again and he will need assistance for the rest of his life. Can we assume that if John had the time to plan it he would have planned for euthanasia at this point?

And those who we deem mentally or emotionally unable to make decisions… or children… or those with no family… who should make the decision for them?

None of My Hereos

None of My Hereos

As I began reading chapter 12 “textbooks” the 1989 revolutionary song “Fight the Power” came to mind. It was the soundtrack that played behind the entire reading for me. In the song Public Enemy, says (or maybe screams) “Don’t none of my hereos appear on no stamps!” Forgive the poor grammar and listen to the message; Chuck D and Flava Flav were asking for inclusion in America’s history.

I am older than my present classmates. I finished high school in 1985. I began my education in an impoverished public school district. My history books made no mention of Martin Luther King. George Washington Carver had a paragraph headed as “Negro Inventor.” Yes, that was it. I am certain that history books and other texts had become integrated by then but they had yet to trickle down to my school; many of my school text books had student signatures from the 70s in 1985. There was little for the 85% African American student body to relate to in the textbooks we were offered. Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and each occupied approximately one paragraph in the text.

I remember reading about the “Negro Inventor” while in elementary school. I was intrigued; I looked up the word Negro in the World Book encyclopedia (an ancient form of google) and it said a person who had the potential to grow (intellectually) as tall as the knee of a normal person. I asked my mother what that meant and she said, “it means never let another person define you or place a value on what is yours.”

Referring to history text books of the present day the author states: “In an effort to avoid ethnocentrism, they pay the same attention and respect to all cultures, past and present, promoting a cultural
relativism that misleads students into thinking that all cultures are equally important.” How is teaching that all cultures are equally important misleading? I’m not sure. No matter how many times I read and re-read that statement and at what angle I held my text it still implied the same thing. Disgusted.

I can say that I agree with the author that textbooks have become much more inclusive then they were in the 1980s. The textbooks my children bring home are worlds away from what I had. Have they gone too far? Are the over-compensating? I don’t know.

I see them through my own “life eyes.” Acknowledging the contributions from different cultures that made this country what it is, good and bad is a positive thing.

As a grade school and high school student I had no interest in history because it had no interest in me. In contrast, my children love history. It’s like story time to them and I can only believe the difference is they can see their story in his-story.

By the way, in 2012 Public Enemy came out with a song “Most of My Heroes Don’t Appear on No Stamps.” I’ve yet to listen to it. Flava Flav lost all cool revolutionary points with me after “Flavor of Love.”

*fist raised in protest*

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?

We've Come a Long Way, Baby?

Sexist advertisements have always been. Whether they bring more sales or do they just catch and hold our attention. Are they are just the inner thoughts and desires of the men of Madison Avenue seeping out through their creativity? Is this art or the programming of another generation?

We have this conversation all the time. “Sex sells,” he says. “Sex attracts,” I say, “but does that attraction really lead to dollars changing hands?” When it’s all said and done, when the commercial has played or you’ve turned the magazine page, do you want the product? Do you even remember the product? Or are you only left with the impression… the one that was once shocking to you, then accepted, then expected. We’re not really being told what we should buy; we’re being sold on an idea, a lifestyle.

The Herbal Essence shampoo commercial for instance where the women have orgasmic experience while shampooing. Well? Although the commercial was wildly popular, I’ve never purchased the product. The commercial itself did not lead me away from the product, either. I think a coupon probably would’ve appealed to me more.

I think to be moved to purchase by an advertisement I need to see myself in the advertisement– myself as I am, or how I’d like to be. I just don’t see myself in these advertisements. I don’t fit in the picture and so my eyes glaze over unless my husband is watching with me and says, “hey, maybe you should try that shampoo…” Then, all hell breaks loose.

Does Pornography Define the Woman?

Does Pornography Define the Woman?

Until this reading I never considered the feminist’s point of view on pornography. Really never considered that there might be opposing views within the feminist community on pornography. I will say, although the magazine article depicted is over-the-top ridiculous, it kind of what I had in mind. Feminists are anti-porn. Right?

According to Wendy McElroy’s article feminists take three distinctive stances on pornography. The first being that pornography is wrong, it objectifies women and is the root of all problems between the sexes. The second stance is women can do what ever they want with their bodies, even if it’s yucky like pornography. The third one is women can do what ever they want with their bodies including but not limited to pornography and may consume it as well if they choose.

Wendy takes the third stance in her article. She doesn’t argue that pornography objectifies the woman but says why is it wrong to objectify someone sexually but not mentally, to see someone as a brain only.

I think pornography consumption is a personal choice. It is no more my business if you read Hustler as it is if you read the Koran or romance novels. What you feed your brain is your own business. I don’t believe that pornography defines how society defines a woman, or that because its existence makes men rape.

After reading the three feminist views I would have to say I side with Wendy. Of course, it was through Wendy’s voice that all views were represented so it may be a little biased. However I don’t think we can or should regulate what people can do with their bodies. Nor should we dictate what should be published. Where would it end? Who would get to decided what is “decent” for publication? And why would we treat adult women as if they were incapable of making their own decisions? Because, if that is true, should they be allowed to vote, or own property?

We can’t take every thing we don’t like and make it illegal. Just because it’s not right for me doesn’t make it wrong. We’ve got to stop being afraid of what’s different and agree that the right to choose should be the same for everyone.

It’s [Not] A [Beauty] Secret

The first time I’d heard of Female Circumcision was while reading Alice Walker’s sequel to “The Color Purple”, “Possessing the Secret of Joy.” I could not finish the book. I had nightmares. I was angry with Alice Walker for exposing me to something so evil. It would be more than a decade before I would read Alice Walker again.

The assigned readings for Female Genital Cutting were equally disturbing. I averted my eyes and my mind from the readings several times. I forced myself to attend the readings when I found my mind glazing over. Loretta Kopelman made several compelling arguments most of which I’ve made myself over the years. Of course, I’ve also made the opposing arguments over the years, too.

So here I take my stand, firmly on the fence.

Even as a child watching movies where they sacrificed a young girl to the volcano I thought, “Poor girl. But if those are the rules where she lives then, how dare some outsider come in and disturb it.” So with my left foot, the one closest to the relativists, I would say this is a horrible tradition, an unfortunate part of the culture but it is something that would be corrected from inside the culture and not from the outside.

Can we really force our values on a culture not our own? Can we pass judgement on a cultural tradition and deem it wrong because it doesn’t fit our norm? And, as my right foot argues, Can we sit idly by while millions of young women are mutilated?

In the video clip I’ve included, Alice Walker demands accountability from the “midwife” who performs female circumcision. Demanding answers to the questions: What have you done? and How many have you done it to? To which my right foot screams, “Right On!” The woman attempts to keep her tradition cloaked in secrecy but Walker pushes on, “it’s no secret.”

And how, in heaven’s name, could a mother inflict this pain on her child? Education is key. The debunking of the myths that surround this ritual is vital to it’s elimination. Because when we know better, we do better… but who is to say what’s better?

One of the arguments of the relativists compares the breast augmentation surgeries so prevalent in our culture with the female genital cutting in other cultures. At first read I thought, yeah, no way. However upon contemplation we go to great lengths to achieve what our culture tells us is what a beautiful woman looks like. Could these women be doing just the same?

Greed and Weakness

Matchstick Men is a story about con artists, their relationship with each other, and their relationship with their con. It stars Nicolas Cage as Roy Waller, Sam Rockwell as Frank Mercer and Alison Lohman as Angela.


Roy is a seasoned con man with obsessive compulsive disorder who works with Frank a less experienced but more enthusiastic partner. When the story opens Roy and Frank are running a telemarketing scam taking an initial few hundred dollars from each victim. Then following up posing as agents sent to catch the con artists, they gain access to the victim’s bank accounts.


When Roy accidentally drops his medication down the drain, Frank finds him a psychiatrist to see so he can gain access to medication. The psychiatrist puts Roy in touch with a 14 year old daughter he never knew and offers him a week’s supply of medication for each visit.


Frank convinces Roy to work a con with a much bigger pay-off. The two put an $80,000 scam together but the plan goes awry when Frank’s daughter Angela gets pulled in as a diversion. The victim uses Angela’s booking photo (she was arrested for shop lifting) to find Frank and Roy and attempts to extort money from the trio but Angela shoots him in defense.


Frank awakens in a hospital which turns out to be a façade. He discovers it isn’t real only after he has given his banking information to the man he thought to be his psychiatrist. Frank has been conned out of his life’s savings approximately a million dollars.


There were several ethical dilemmas in this comedy. I will focus on three: the “prescription” Frank’s psychiatrists provides him, the deception of the victim enticed by his own greed, and the conning of the con artist.


When Frank visits his new psychiatrist it is for one purpose only. Frank is out of his prescription medication and his illegal connection has dried up. There’s only one way the psychiatrist can keep Frank coming in and that is to give him a weekly prescription of pills that help him to control his OCD tendencies. The psychiatrist, who we later find is not really a psychiatrist, gives Frank a soy based hormonal supplement for menopause. Although it is not medication for his condition, Frank feels better when taking it. When Frank confronts the psychiatrist with the truth, the psychiatrist responds that he was doing better while taking the soy supplements before he knew what they were.


In conversation with his psychiatrist Frank explains the difference between who he is and who a criminal is. His victims “give” him their money and he has never taken money from anyone who didn’t “let” him out of “greed or weakness” and he never uses violence. What part does the victim play in the con?  When Frank and Roy plan to take $80,000 from their big stakes victim, could it have been accomplished without the victim’s own greed playing a part? Likewise with the housewife in the opening con, if her greed had not played in to the opportunity to get a new car would she have given them the $700 they’d asked for? And then if not for her husband’s weakness (anger) would they have been able to gain access to their account?


Roy puts together an elaborate plan to con Frank out of his life’s savings. He hires a daughter, a psychiatrist, police officers and a victim. Together they manipulate Frank into believing he has developed a loving relationship, has gained control of his OCD tendencies and should give up his career as a con artist in an attempt to play a more active role in his daughter’s life. Frank is initially brought in to this con by his greed and is blinded by his weakness, the loving relationship he has developed with his daughter. He is then the victim, being conned out of the money he has conned so many others out of in his career.


The two fallacies I detected in this story were ad hominem and two wrongs make a right. In the case of the ad hominem fallacy the argument being that it was not  wrong of Roy to manipulate Frank’s emotions and mental state to gain access to his money. The fallacy would put the attention on Frank’s character and his repeated disregard for the emotional well being of others. In the case of the two wrongs make a right the argument would propose that Roy was only following the “Golden Rule” and doing unto Frank what he had done unto so many others.


I picked this movie because I am a huge fan of Nicholas Cage and I’d never seen it before. It was entertaining and thought provoking. Admittedly, I was sucked into the con along with Frank. Although he was a “bad guy” taking money from housewives and hopefuls, his flaws made him more likeable. I felt a personal connection to him; his stutter, twitches, door closings and obsessive cleaning endured me to him and I was truly disappointed in Roy for taking advantage of his friend. It was not until the end when Frank tells Angela he “gave” her the money that I truly connected him to his victims. Earlier he’d stated that his victims had given him the money out of greed or weakness and he was admitting his own weakness to her.


I personally find con artists detestable. The term matchstick man was initially a term used for a stick figure.  It became a slang definition for a con artist because they create temporary personas that are fleeting and simple. Take away my Nicholas Cage groupie status and the lovable quirkiness of his character Frank and I’d say he almost got what he deserved. He and the rest of the list of characters should have been jailed for their crimes and the money they stole should have been returned to their victims. But that would not have been as good a movie.