Lessons from Bollywood: why censorship is bad

(Disclaimer: it’s technically not Bollywood, at least not the whole Mumbai giant machine industry, but eh. Sounded good in the title.)

Image from Wikipedia (click for a link)

I was watching ‘The Dirty Picture’ last night. Let me just say that I’m impressed it got released at all…Indian cinema—and culture—is conservative to the point where kissing is frowned upon in movies, sex consists of the two people smiling each other and waving their hands around but touching as little as possible. And this movie has, I kid you not, actual tongue. Not to mention the least thinly veiled innuendos ever. In the US it’d be like a PG-13 rating. (Fun fact, my fifteen-year-old sister isn’t allowed to watch this. Welcome to my Indian mother from a small village and a conservative family.)

Now, the thing I wanted to bring about the movie is that the topic itself discusses a real phenomenon in Indian cinema (as Wikipedia says, it’s kind of biographical). But here’s the thing, if the producers had stuck by the more conventional standards—which are themselves questioned in this movie (there’s an amazing bit where she points out that they all call her dirty and are ashamed of her, but they keep shelling out the money to watch her when no one’s looking, so who is really the low-class one)—then the movie itself would be impossible to produce.

In the context of writing, there’s this Internet phenomenon called a “social justice warrior” that is just, basically, the most censory thing ever. I’m not convinced a good chunk of them aren’t trolls, but you get stuff like not using any term to distinguish race, religion, or even sex. Don’t ask about racial slurs.

But here’s the question, how do you talk about something when you’re not allowed to use the very terms you need to describe it? We can’t just sweep racial slurs under the rug like they never happened and pretend it’s all okay. We need to be able to, in the right contexts, say that so-and-so were once referred to as *rude term here* because that’s history. It really happened, and the only way to have a dialogue about it is to have the language to describe it.

Of course, the irony of this is that I’m self-censoring this blog for the sake of professionalism. If there were an appropriate context to use any kind of slur, though, you can bet I would. Because isn’t that one of the best uses of fiction there is? Making people think about issues and then offer them a safe context for discussion?

I’ve found I infinitely prefer people who use offensive terms on purpose to those who would censor them indiscriminately.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from Bollywood: why censorship is bad

  1. Self-censorship should be the only censorship. Even then, it’s contextual.

    I doubt any good has ever been achieved with bureaucratic censorship, after all, isn’t that why free speech exists in the First Amendment?

    • I would think so! Also I believe a big component of that at the time was the ability to protest through media and peaceful assembly.

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