Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What’s the point of censorship?

The question is prompted by news from across the water. As you may be aware, the British Board of Film Classification has refused to issue a certificate to the even-more-gruesome sequel to the already fairly hideous The Human Centipede. That …

Sun, Jun 12, 2011, 23:04

   

The question is prompted by news from across the water. As you may be aware, the British Board of Film Classification has refused to issue a certificate to the even-more-gruesome sequel to the already fairly hideous The Human Centipede. That film concerned a mad scientist who grafts the mouth of some captors onto the bottoms of others, thus creating a particularly hideous process of defecation and consumption. Let’s not dwell on the variations that Tom Six, mischievous Dutch director, has dreamt up for The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. Suffice to say, the events are very unlike those depicted in Curious George: The Movie.

The decision has prompted some wringing of hands in the UK. The BBFC has strongly objected to suggestions that they have “banned” the film — The Guardian felt minded to belatedly remove that word from all reports — but this is, surely, dallying in semantic wonderland. Yes, you can, if the distributor allows, show the film to your friends in a private screening room. But, for all intents and purposes, “ban” describes the Board’s intentions fairly accurately.

Many have, quite rightly, pointed out that, in the current digital age, it will be quite impossible to stop punters from seeing the film. Indeed, the BBFC’s actions positively ensure that younger viewers — those particularly adept at locating illegal files — will search out the film in the magic cinema on the internet. Territories such as Australia have granted the film a cert. We can, thus, safely assume that it will be floating about the electronic ether fairly soon.

Ah yes, the moralists mutter. But that is not the point. We know that we’ll never stop people killing one another. We do not, however, make moves to legalise murder. The fact that Mr Six relishes the ban is neither here nor there.

Fair point. But the real question, surely, is ¬†whether we should be banning fictional entertainments merely because we find the events depicted objectionable. To anyone of an even vaguely liberal disposition, the answer must be a firm, aggressive no. The only argument that could hold any water here would be one suggesting that the impressionable viewer might be tempted to capture his own collection of innocent people and graft them together in imitation of Mr Six’s horrible improvised creature. Hardly likely. Indeed, efforts by The Daily Mail faction to prove links between notorious acts of violence and “video nasties” have always failed miserably.

Here’s the thing. If you believe in freedom of expression then you should argue most strongly for those works that you find somewhat suspect. Any duffer can put up a case for nice, liberal films — or books, poems or plays — written by political prisoners in Chinese prisons. Such beliefs only mean anything when one is confronted with a threatened art work that seems a little politically or morally dubious.

It reminds me a little of those posters you used to see round universities saying “No Free Speech for Fascists” Huh? If you don’t believe in free speech for fascists then you don’t believe in free speech. Simple as that.

None of which is to suggest that I think Mr Six is a Nazi. Actually, I thought The Human Centipede was a bit of a lark. For the record, part 2 has not yet been submitted to our own Board.

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