I know I’m a little late for Banned Books Week, but I had a discussion with Moritheil on Twitter the other day that turned from why people were more enraged about a certain webcomic’s rape joke and not a Colombian telenovela about an abused girl living in poverty to a debate on censorship and self-censorship. I feel like the debate needs a bit of further exploration.
First of all, I’m against any form of legal censorship. I would never ever want to legally ban a book, a theme or any other thing that would hinder creators from expressing something in their works. However, journalism ethical standards were pounded into me during college. Not only was I required to take a class purely on ethics, but many of my other degree-related classes talked about ethics as well. What I took away from those classes is that your article, novel or other form of creative work could very well hurt a person or cause them to harm themselves. Every professor I had classes with had a story where an article they wrote and published caused a subject to kill themselves or lose something that impacted them a lot, like a job, their family, etc. There were many other times when one of their subjects would threaten to do harm if they published the article. Whenever such stories came up, my classmates and I wound up being questions on what we would do. Did we risk publishing if it meant someone was harmed? Was there something else to be gained by going ahead and printing it? Even when there was some benefit behind it all, how did we feel knowing that we might have blood on our hands? It was heavy stuff to consider when none of us had ever published much more than local news stories.
While I wouldn’t say this issue comes up much on this blog, my twitter or the other places I write the most, I have been thinking about the potential emotional and physical impact creative works have on other people. There have been more than a few webcomics that have taken jabs at rape, women and other things that weren’t funny to a lot of people who got very mad about said jokes.
But forget for a second the people who are able to get loud and vocal about it, what about the people who don’t speak up? What about the men and women who were raped? What about the women who are mistreated every day by men? What about jokes about murder or suicide, for example, and how it affects those who lost someone? How does it feel to be a victim of rape, abuse and murder and read these jokes? It must hurt a lot, I imagine. Yet do creators stop to think about who they’re hurting as they write these gags? Doesn’t seem like it.
Comics creators are one of the creators that think the most about whom they’re creating for. Living with one creator, having read manga for so long, it’s obvious to me that a lot of them think about “will this sell” and “will my audience like this.” While a lot of comics creators love what they do immensely and do it in part to fulfill their needs to create what they love, very few never think about who’s going to be reading. But do they think about who they hurt at the same time? Sometimes, but I’d really like to see them do it more. Here’s where self-censorship comes into play.
I’ll reiterate that I don’t want to put any bans on any creators. What I would to do is encourage creators, especially comics creators, to think about whom they might hurt with a joke and make the choice whether or not that needs to be their punch line. Would they actually change their material because they stopped to think about it? I don’t know and it’s up to them.
On the other hand, plenty of creators do this all the time. They decide whether or not a certain subject would be appropriate for what they are doing, tossing out ideas left and right that they are against or think their audience would react poorly to.
Now, dear readers, do you think trying to encourage creators to think about those who might be negatively affected by their work is outright censorship? What about self-censorship? How do you feel about comics creators choosing to specifically avoid certain jokes and topics? Is it wrong for people to be enraged and hurt by creators who choose to include such topics? Are we oppressing these creators’ choices by saying we’d like to see more sensitive punchlines or are our values as a society changing ahead of some creators’?
What do you think?