Thursday, 4 March 2010

Better ban it, just in case

Another day, another TV show for middle-England to get its laundry-day knickers in a twist about.

This time, it's a historical drama called Spartacus: Blood and Sand that's ruffling tunics with its (seemingly accurate) depiction of the debauched Roman lifestyle.

Curiously, the Daily Mail is attempting to remain impartial for a change. Rather than taking the default 'Ban This Sick Filth' route, the easily outraged tabloid is opting for a '(They want to)Ban This Sick Filth' approach instead. Which is obviously vastly different.

Perhaps tiring of its own reactionary reputation, the Mail has opted to focus on the actions of MediaWatch UK - the curtain twitching killjoys who are working themselves into a frenzy of non-violence over this latest affront to viewers' decency.

Of course, despite all this disgust, the Mail can't resist making constant reference to the 'sex, nudity and orgies' that feature in this popular new drama. It even manages to liberally illustrate its article with a bunch of titillating screen grabs (although some of the titillates have been covered with little black bars) to make sure no-one is left in any doubt of just how depraved Spartacus is.

It's a 'best of both worlds' approach that might best be described as 'having your cock and eating it' - "Let me just have one last look to make sure I'm as appalled as I think I am. And, if I wanted to maintain my sense of indignant moral superiority, is there a website where I might find higher resolution screen grabs of this reprehensible revoltingness? Or film clips?"

This conflicting combination of fascination and disgust is ultimately what undermines the argument of self-appointed moral guardians like MediaWatch. The group's director Vivienne Pattison makes the bold claim that "There are numerous studies linking exposure to violence on TV with violent behaviour at large and if there is the slightest possibility that explicit sex and violence on screen can cause this harm, is it worth the risk in the interests of entertainment?"

But given that her organisation must have sat through more than its fair share of filth, shouldn't they all have devolved into porn loving, violently inclined beasts by now? Wouldn't the BBFC viewing panel be a be a bunch of gun-toting sexual predators? Of course not, because MediaWatch puts its faith in the kind of science that makes intelligent design look believable.

The alternative explanation is that they they don't actually watch the films and TV shows they're in a rush to condemn. They're quite happy advocating the censorship of content they know nothing about.

This abdication of responsibility lies at the heart of most censorship debates. The mentality is "we don't need to see it to know it's bad. But we know enough to want to prevent you from making your own choices."

Perhaps they just think we're all too stupid to know what's good for us. And maybe they have a point - Pattinson herself points out that "Ofcom research shows that fewer than a third of parents use the password-protected services available to screen what their children can access."

So, the logic goes, everyone else should pay for their mistakes. Well that sounds perfectly fair to me.

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