It’s a hot topic. Some say it’s the only way to protect people, others say it’s an insult and a violation of the freedom of expression- a basic human right. Censorship has existed for many years and has evolved across time. What once was considered as blasphemous and shocking- such as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover- no longer possesses that same power to horrify. I can’t help but wonder what kind of reception Fifty Shades of Grey would have received in 1929, but I know almost for certain that it would have been banned.
In my opinion, banning books for being too sexually explicit is wrong. People can decide for themselves whether or not they want to read erotica. However, in the United Kingdom at least, the banning of an erotic novel hasn’t happened for a long time (Fifty Shades of Grey is currently being displayed in almost every bookshop and supermarket), which I’m glad about. I understand the concerns over young people reading this kind of material, but banning a book is probably the worst way to get people to stop reading it.
Things get a little more blurry, however, when it comes to issues of race. I am completely against the publishing of any racist books, but a ‘racist book’ is difficult to define. Recently there have been concerns over the use of the word ‘nigger’ in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with some suggesting that the word ought to be removed from the book. I am against this for two reasons, the first of which being that Steinbeck himself wasn’t calling Crooks a ‘nigger’- the label was given to him by other characters; the narrator does not refer to the character in this way. Secondly, one must consider when the book was written. At the time of writing, racism was rife in America and sometimes people didn’t even call black people ‘niggers’ out of spite- it was just the done thing back then and no-one really thought about it. Nowadays, of course, if you call someone the n-word then it’s a completely different matter. Books written in the twenty-first century citing views that are racist shouldn’t be published, in my opinion. However, how do we discern which works of literature are and are not racist? If a character in a book says the word ‘nigger’ then that doesn’t mean that the author is trying to put across any racist ideas, and if the antagonist in a book is black that doesn’t mean that the author is racist. It’s difficult to know where to draw the line.
Swearing, too, is a difficult one. Today in the UK I don’t think too much censorship goes on in terms of the use of language in books but I am aware that it perhaps does in other places. Personally, I do not think that potentially offensive language should be removed from a book- we all hear it in our everyday life, regardless of the walk of life from which we hail, and there are very few words left today with a real power to shock. However, I can understand that repeated offensive language could put some people off of a book and thus put a potential publisher off.
All in all, I think censorship should only be used in extreme cases. People are intelligent enough to make their own minds up about what they read and react to it appropriate. A poem in which the speaker grabs a kitchen knife and is suggested to have the intention of using it as a weapon was removed form my GCSE poetry anthology, but I read it anyway and after reading it I did not take to the streets with a knife. However, in extreme cases I can see the need for censorship, namely to prevent an indoctrination of the people- I wouldn’t like to see Mein Kampf on the shelves at Waterstone’s.
What are YOUR views on censorship? Please let me know!