“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion,” (Henry Steele Commager). There are many purposes of censorship, ranging from protecting individuals to making sure that no one gets influenced by other media, so that everyone can have his or her own opinions. However, censorship defeats its own purpose. Henry Commager stated that it does not let people express themselves freely to form their own opinions. Doesn't that contradict the purpose of censorship? The answer is yes because what censorship will do is block a person's art from being seen to the public. Art is a way to express one, and censoring denies the individual's opinion. Our history has a lot of examples of censorship, as this has been a problem for a very long time. Although government censorship has not been very active in the past few years, the topic is becoming a great concern as more people favor blocking harmful material. Thus it must be made clear that censorship should be stopped.
Over the years, censorship has been demanded in the United States. Censorship goes back all the way to the 1700's. According to Proquest Staff, the right to free speech is a longstanding U.S. tradition, but actually respecting the right to free speech is not, (Proquest Staff). In 1798, John Adams had signed a bill that made it illegal to criticize a government official without backing up one's criticisms in court (ProQuest 1). Adams was censoring speech. He made it so that no one can say anything negative about a government official. According to ProQuest, another example of censorship was a book called Fanny Hill by John Cleland, (ProQuest, 1). Fanny Hill was supposedly about what the author imagined what a prostitute's memoirs would sound like. This book has been banned for 145 years, the record for the longest ban in the United States. Another example of censorship ProQuest had talked about was how in 1873, the Comstock Act allowed warrantless searches of the mail for “obscene materials.” In 1872, Victoria Woodhull published a book about an affair between a minister and one of the parishioners (ProQuest 1). Anthony Comstock had retrieved this book, and had Woodhull arrested. Another example from our history is in 1921 when the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice blocked the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses, citing a relatively tame scene as proof of obscenity (ProQuest 1). Again here a book is being censored, which is depriving the author's right to freedom of press. ProQuest then explained how a few years pass and in 1930, the Hays Code regulated the filming industry and banned violence, sex, profanity, and even interracial and same-sex relationships. This code was never enforced by the government; however, it was agreed on by film distributors, but the threat of government censorship made it necessary (ProQuest1). As of today, there are more current books that have been banned in some areas such as Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness, 1984, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. These books were banned because it either contained violence, references to communism, or even promoted satanic values. In the end, censorship has been a part of many people's lives.
In the United States, we follow the fundamental laws of the Constitution. If people go against it, they are punished by going to prison. Within the Constitution, people are given rights. If censorship went against one of these rights, then should it even be allowed? The answer is no. According to Kate Burns, author of the book, Censorship, states “The First Amendment is based upon the belief that in a free and democratic society, individual adults must be free to decide for themselves what to paint, draw, read, write, see and hear,” (Burns 1). If the government gets the right to censor material, then we as individuals do not have our first amendment rights anymore. People should be able to decide what they think is too inappropriate for themselves. We live in a free country, thus we should be free to decide on what we think is right. It is not our government's job to tell us what we can see or listen to. Also, Kate Burns states that, “The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment's protection of artistic expression very broadly. It extends not only to books, theatrical works and paintings, but also to posters, television, music videos and comic books—whatever the human creative impulse produces,” (Burns, 1). If censorship arises, then all forms of art and books are in danger.
There are two principles that the courts follow when they decide a case involving freedom of expression. These two principles are content neutrality and direct and imminent harm to an important interest of society. Content neutrality basically means that the government can not just limit expression just because someone is offended. Direct and imminent harm to an important societal interest is hard to define, but an example of it would be shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre. As a result, it is difficult to say that books and art can be banned. First of all, people do have the right to freedom of expression, and secondly, it does not fall into one of the two principles deciding whether or not it can be banned.
These two principles lead to the next example. The case of Schenck vs. the United States was concerned about the ability of the government to regulate speech against the draft during World War I. The question in every case is whether the words used in such circumstances create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent (Burns 1). There is no clear and present danger in reading a book, or looking at a painting of some sort. Just because one person gets offended by it does not mean it is a danger for everyone else.
Supporters for censorship have many reasons for their position on this topic; however, their reasons are incorrect. According to Uttara Manohar, “Children of impressionable ages are constantly being exposed to excessive violence as well as sexually explicit content. Media exposure is an instrumental factor in shaping the opinions and values in these children,” (Manohar 1). According to this promoter, the media affects individual's actions and opinions, especially children. However, this is wrong as there have been tests that prove that the media have no effect on children and how they behave. According to Diana Zuckerman, Dr. David Satcher, Surgeon General of the United States, held a position in the Bush Administration. In a press conference (2001) when the report was released, Dr. Satcher was asked about media violence, and he responded that the media is not a major influence on youth violence. Studies that try to find out why some aggressive people have a history of watching a lot of violence in television programs suffer from the chicken-and-egg dilemma: do violent television programs cause people to have an aggressive behavior or do aggressive people prefer to watch violent television. There is no clear and definite answer. But all scientists agree that one does not cause the other. If the government starts to censor these programs, then the question that pops up is what is too inappropriate to be viewed? Not one person or group can decide for a whole country what they believe is too inappropriate. It is too difficult to set the barrier, where in the end they might as well just remove all violence. Therefore, there should be no censorship because no matter what the government does, a new problem will arise. As a result, the opposition is wrong, proving that censorship should not be used.
If government controls censorship, how can we even trust a government that has known to have been corrupt at times? “The Watergate scandal was a political scandal in the United States in the 1970s, resulting from the break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington D.C.,” (Gill 1). Richard Nixon ultimately resigned from his position on August 9, 1974. It also resulted in the conviction of several Nixon administration officials. According to Gill, the scandal began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in 1972. As evidence mounted against the president's staff, it was revealed that President Nixon had a tape recording system in his offices and that he had recorded many conversations (Gill, 1). Recordings from these tapes put the president in danger for his job, revealing that he had attempted to cover up the break-in. After a series of court battles, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that the president had to hand over the tapes; he ultimately complied. Since Nixon was closed to being impeached he resigned the office of the presidency. Here is just an example of how our government can be corrupt. This leads to the possibility to the government censoring something that would be harmful to them, and would be chicanery to us. They would censor something from the people of the United States that would make the government look bad. It is almost like the question, if the world was going to end, would the government tell us?
Recently, in the state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich was removed from office. Beginning in 2005, Rod Blagojevich, former Governor of Illinois, was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for corruption. Blagojevich was charged with corruption by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. As a result, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois General Assembly and removed from office by the Illinois Senate in January 2009. The federal investigation continued after this removal, and Blagojevich was indicted on corruption charges in April 2009. According to Rick Pearson, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, the investigation became public knowledge when a federal judge revealed that Blagojevich was the "Public Official A" in the indictment of Tony Rezko. The case gained widespread attention with the arrest of Blagojevich on December 9, 2008, at their homes by federal agents (Pearson 1). Blagojevich was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes. Even locally, we have a corrupted government! Again, how can we trust our government to do the right thing? Obviously they have no problem being corrupt. What will stop them when they are given even more power, and start censoring things that do not necessarily protect us, but protect them so that they can keep their job and do not have to worry about looking bad? A corrupt government could lead to excessive bans also. Like George Orwell's novel, 1984, the government tells people what to do, and what they can watch, have, and even speak. Government corruption could basically lead to a big change for the United States.
Books and Art have history to them. If the government starts banning books and art, it is depriving kids an education. Books have lessons and opinions to teach. The purpose is not to convince others to conform, but it just shows how other people acted in the past, for example. Books are the base of the learning pyramid. Surely without books, that pyramid would fall. Books help people improve their vocabulary, and learn more about the author. Children do have the right to learn, and there should be nothing to oppress that. Not only does banning books deprive a person's education, but it also would upset the writer as well. The writer spent money, time, and hard work in creating a book. They would be very upset to learn that the book they wrote, the book that they wanted everyone to see, is banned. If books and art get banned, it makes an author's work a waste of time. These people took so much time doing what they love to express themselves, only to have their piece of work to not be seen by others. Isn't art a form of expression?
Since this is government censorship, it would affect the whole country. Locally, people will begin to not see artwork, books, and even some of our favorite television programs. We will also lose some of our freedom of speech. Basically, the government will come in and tell the people what can be watched, said, seen, and heard.
Honestly, there is no solution. There will always be controversy no matter what happens. If censorship arises, then the question of what is too inappropriate, and if there is no censorship, then more activists will try to get the government to go for it. Everyone deserves to have a freedom of expression, and no one should be denied this freedom, just because one person or even a small group thinks that a certain piece of work is offensive. Some people believe that some television shows are offensive to their children. Well here is a solution, just block the program. In today's society, technology is rapidly growing and with what we have today, it is possible to block television channels. Do not ruin it for everyone else. According to a survey called Censorship, it was found that as age increases so does the likelihood of favoring censorship (Roller, Censorship). 42% of people 65 years of age and older, had stated that they thought it was a good idea for the government to censor obscene materials. On the contrary, 10% of the people in the 15 to 39 year old age group favored it. Overall, 75 %, of all the people surveyed, were against censorship. According to these statistics, most people believe in their freedom of expression, so why deny it with government interference.
Censorship seems to be getting stronger, however, if it gets enforced, it will ruin our society and what we have gone by in the past. If Censorship does happen, society will be deprived of our freedoms and rights. We can not trust our government to make the right decisions. In the future, it may become like George Orwell had predicted in 1984. There will be words that we can not speak, things we can not see, and things that we can not have. The government could end up choosing to censor things that are not necessarily dangerous but may put the official's job in jeopardy. Censorship will blind us from reality.
American Civil Liberties Union. "Government Censorship Would Be Harmful." Contemporary Issues Companion: Censorship. Ed. Kate Burns. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Burns, Kate. "Government Regulation of Media Violence Is Unconstitutional Censorship." Opposing Viewpoints: Media Violence. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Cooke, Dominic. "The Arts Should Not Be Censored." Opposing Viewpoints: Censorship. Ed. Scott Barbour. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Heins, Marjorie. "Indecent Broadcasts Should Not Be Censored." Current Controversies: Censorship. Ed. Julia Bauder. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Manohar, Uttara. "Violence in the Media Does Not Justify Censorship." Opposing Viewpoints Digests: Censorship. Ed. Bradley Steffens. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center
Pearson, Rick. “Rod Blagojevich.” Chicago Tribune 9 Jan. 2009.
ProQuest Staff. "Censorship Timeline." Leading Issues Timelines 02 Mar 2010: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 05 April 2010.
Roller, Robert. “Censorship.” Questionaire. Mount Prospect, 2010.
Union, the American Civil Liberties. "The Government Should Not Censor Art." Current Controversies: Free Speech. Ed. John Boaz. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Zuckerman, Diana. “Censorship.” National Research Center For Women and Families. Washington D.C. American Youth Work Center, 2001.