In the seventies, a man was driving with his son when he heard a comedian on radio station WBAI. That comedian’s name was George Carlin. He was this biggish name at the time, and he was doing this (now famous) routine called the 7 Filthy Words. The man in the car, upset by the indecency of what he heard, called the FCC. The FCC in turn slapped WBAI with sanctions, and WBAI’s parent company (Pacifica Foundation) took the case to the federal court. In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld the sanctions and the FCC was officially given the ability to censor. And by censor, that meant the US government could obliterate any material on public media in the interests of:
The important part of this whole thing, dudes? THE GOVERNMENT MAKES THIS CALL IN THE INTEREST OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND DECENCY. It is an authoritative body making the determination for a less powerful body of people.
What censorship is and isn’t.
Example one: Joe Buttcracker has a brilliant idea. He is going to crowdsource a book. That means he’s going to go on the internet and ask his peers to give him money to create a product. He’s depending on the deep pockets of other cretins to make this book a reality. Joe wants to really do something wild and daring, though, so he’s going to write about how Hitler wasn’t such a bad dude, and really, the Jews weren’t such great people, so we should just get over what happened in the forties because that was so long ago. Because the internet is a horrible place, a lot of anti-semites come out of the woodwork and drop cash on Joe Buttcracker because HELL YEAH, THAT WAS ANCIENT HISTORY, AND FUCK THE JEWS. Unfortunately for Joe, the crowdsource website catches wind of what Joe’s up to and kills the campaign. They say they will not allow their platform to be used to spread hatred. Joe screams censorship. The reality? No. The crowdsourcer has the right, as the owners and designers of the service JOE WAS USING, to determine which types of projects can and cannot get funded using their platform. If Joe would like to go and code his own crowdsourcing website, he absolutely can. But this crowdsourcer holds the reins (and will continue to hold the reins) on what people can do with the tools they’ve provided.
When this would be censorship: if the crowdsourcer allowed the project to go through and someone of greater power — as in King Sparkle Pants the Conquerer and his army of Mutant Toads — forced them to pull it.
Example two: Douchecanoe Magazine has decided to publish art from a rather controversial artist who tackles a lot of social commentary in his work. One of his favorite themes is beauty in abhorrence, meaning that even though a pile of poop might be disgusting to look at and smell, the kernels of corn in it are still a lovely shade of yellow. Said artist paints a picture of a rather notorious serial killer that fed forty-six little kids into a woodchipper. In the picture, the serial killer is smiling kindly and posing with his hands out to offer benediction. Like Jesus. In fact, there’s a crucifix right behind him. The artist wants to communicate that with a few other choices, this man could have been a savior to us all. Instead, he’s the dude that fed kids to a woodchipper. Douchecanoe Magazine, interested in the inevitable public shitstorm that will sell the magazine (because collectors love that stuff) puts this particular picture on the cover with a scandalous tagline. Various businesses step up and refuse to sell the magazine citing sympathy for the victims.
When this would be censorship: The government forces Douchecanoe Magazine to pull all issues of the magazines with the Woodchipper Killer and slaps fines and other sanctions on the magazine for publishing tasteless, human-harming art.
Example three: A beloved American novel was written two-hundred years ago and it uses time-appropriate racial slurs. All people with green eyes were called FROGLICKERS. Since then, society has determined that FROGLICKERS is a horrible term, should not be used, but two hundred years ago, FROGLICKERS was prevalent in speech (because people were sorta more horrible to one another back then than they are now. Hard to believe, yeah?) Anyway, now that FROGLICKERS is the worst of the worst to call green-eyed people, a publisher has stepped up and changed this classic work by eliminating all mention of FROGLICKERS and, in the interest of public decency, has changed FROGLICKERS to GREENIES. The classic American novel has been altered in the name of political correctness.
When this would be censorship: It IS censorship. Because an authority — in this case the publisher, who controls the distribution of this particular book — has removed language or changed a body of work to fit into moral parameters.
The facts: People, businesses, organizations – anything privatized has the right to decide what their threshold is for good taste. They have the right to determine how they will conduct their affairs, whether that’s to financially support something, or in the case of, say, Kickstarter, allow their internet code to be used on various projects. Sure, a lesser form of censorship is, “someone (could even be self) is not allowing me to do or say _____ in the interest of public decency,” but real censorship is much bigger than “JOE CENSORED ME BECAUSE HE SAID I COULDN’T CALL PEOPLE DICKWEASELS AT CHURCH.” Real censorship is beyond “Have some goddamned manners, you dirty ape.” It’s an authoritative body restricting the voices of those who are somehow lesser. It’s someone manipulating which messages you receive and in what guise (or if you even get the information in the first place.) It is not businesses versus Douchecanoe Magazine. It is not Crowdsourcer tells Joe Buttcracker to Eff Off. It is not angry consumers taking someone to task for offensive or ignorant behavior. It’s an authoritative body controlling what information reaches the masses and thereby restricting the people’s rights to the information. The implication here is that the receivers of said information are powerless to stop the authority from dictating what they see and hear. And just so we’re clear? It is not just government that has that authority. See the example of the publisher above who controls how people read their books. It can be the media who controls how you receive the facts pertinent to a particular news story. It’s anyone who is in a position to manage or restrict the distribution of information and uses it for personal gain or to control the public.
We got it now? Cool? Cool!