Friday, March 27, 2009
Big boxes, how they censor, et al...
The week that ends today was centered around our class discussion of ch.8 of No Logo, by Naomi Klein. The topic of said chapter is the existence of a movement to censor, perhaps normalize, the output of artists of mostly the recording media in retailers of a certain heft. Corporate entities like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart, to name a few exercise their influence upon corporate parents to recording artists like Nirvana, Marilyn Manson to have their content restyled until it passes muster or is removed or never placed in shelves.
This practice effectively creates censorship boards at the corporate level, in an otherwise freely expressive society. Censorship per se is not unheard of. The consumer exercises such power on a daily basis. On a community basis, we live among people that share some common belief with us, and we effectively censor our surroundings.
This ability to move into a neighborhood of people of similar income, religion, number of children, etc. is not really practical in other places, like Manhattan. You don't know what kind of freak lives next door there and you tell yourself that you don't care in any case. But you do. The fear is there. You hope it'll be a nice freak, one that won't put you through the ordeal of finding another place to live.
Here in Happy valley, we can be sure that the person next door is actually more wholesome than you, listens to less weird music than you, and we hope they won't judge you as harshly as you do others.
Censorship is at the heart of community building. By common accord a community can ban a set of elements that it determines are hostile to its survival. Similarly, corporate agents can and do select for us those things that they decide are suitable for us, the buying public. We the public have a critical element available to us, and that is the ability to directly research and bypass the retailers by finding online sellers of whatever is banned or unavailable locally.
That democratic freedom, unnamed in the Bill of Rights, of finding whatever you can imagine online is not altogether defended, exactly. Yearly it seems there is an attempt or another to put in place censors to web content.
Let's get real for a moment. The United States won't turn into China anytime soon. But China already leads the world in one thing, and that is the ability to censor content in large scale and in real time. The day may come soon when the people of China will be free to surf the web at will and without fear of plainclothes police visiting them at their homes. For now though, it's our turn to enjoy a pretty close to wide-open society.
In page 169 of No Logo, Klein writes about the personality conflicts of Disney, Inc. and their attempts to distance themselves from one of their holdings that ended up acquiring the exhibition rights for a movie, Kids by Larry Clarke. In her analysis, Klein points out that "On the one hand, [the Disney label] Miramax now has deep resources...; on the other when the company decides whether or not to carry a politically controversial ...work...[like Kids], it cannot avoid how that decision will reflect on Disney and ABC's...reputations as family programmers..." This means that the censorship not only happens in corporate identity layers (at one point, said movie was released by a corporate facade, to further put it away from the parent) but also because, interestingly in this example, censorship was shielding a reality.
I won't defend the movie in question, but I will say that airbrushing, as it were of reality and turning it into an ideal was a topic of discussion in several lectures in Errin's class in the past. In Susan Douglas's book we accepted censorship because it was meant to portray our ideals, not our deeds as a society necessarily. When there was a couple talking about 'going all the way', it really meant that they were in a way, turning the heated moment of passion between teens into something ritualized, debated and full of hand-wringing, like kabuki theater. Reality, um, ain't like that. You know who you are, and what you did. But the point is, we as a society accepted the subterfuge and took it to mean, yes it's reality. A version of it.
In bell hooks' perspective there is censorship that affected her directly, and our american perspective as well. Someone dutifully exercised censorship over the cultural output so that the black footprint was adroitly blended and co-opted to appear as invisible as possible.
Censorship in Klein's book shows that there is a great deal of content that could possibly change our common perspective, but it gets shut down and goes unseen. In war time, we want to cheer for the soldiers, but those that have seen war up close know that the one thing 'people back home' don't get is the harsh images they carry in their scarred minds. Someone censors what the people should view from the battlefield, someone that calls it either kosher for back home or documentary-only footage. Or how about coverage of crime in New Orleans post-Katrina. Do we really know what is going on there, or do we Want to know?. Someone is censoring the feed from those TV stations and making sure the American public doesn't fixate on the 'violent black city' stereotype. Someone is always going to censor content.
I propose we recommit ourselves to always finding the truth, no matter how unsavory it may be...