No sense in censorship
The government is currently proposing an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which seeks to ban videos which present what is termed "an inappropriate model for children". This follows allegations that the behaviour patterns of children are being adversely affected by violent video films which are sometimes "cut" for TV or are shown at times that children aren't supposed to be watching.
The Liberal intelligentsia, ever-watchful of further moves towards censorship, is already on the attack, as well it might be. The idea that "video nasties" are a prime mover in causing psychological disturbance is being seriously questioned, particularly — as today seems to be the case — if it is being put forward as virtually the sole explanation of rising violent crime today, by the government. One letter-writer to the Guardian (7 April) repudiated the government’s analysis well enough:
"I eagerly await the archaeological and historical evidence that Caligula and Nero were regulars at the local XXX-rated "adults-only" cinema, that Torquemada was a closet Texas Chainsaw Massacre fan, that Genghis Khan's bloody rampage across Asia and Europe was a search for more horror movies, that the Waffen SS ’s idea of a good night in was a few cans and some video nasties, and the discovery of the VCR from Mr and Mrs Stalin '.v living room on which young Josef watched pirated copies of I Spit On Your Grave. How else can we explain the atrocities committed throughout the history of the human race?"
Clearly, violent and other anti-social behaviour did not begin with the advent of such external factors as television and video. But this still leaves another question unanswered — do TV and video on occasion exacerbate tendencies that are already extant in society? They may not be the cause of psychological disturbance and violent behaviour, but this doesn’t mean they play no part at all.
The warp factor
If videos and TV have little influence over children — and adults for that matter — why do the bosses spend billions every year in advertising? Their research shows that TV and video footage can have a major influence on the way people think and act. Other research backs this up. The British Medical Journal in February this year reported the (separate) cases of two teenage boys who were diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after watching a spoof BBC1 horror documentary. Regular viewing of violent TV shows and so-called "video nasties" may, therefore, have more deleterious effects than some may wish to think.
This entire debate on the role of TV and video has been given another airing recently with the arrival of a new general of violent cartoon programmes from the United States. In the forefront of this new craze is a cartoon series about two delinquent American teenagers called Beavis and Butt-Head.
Like a dog that has returned to lick its own vomit, Channel 4 puts out Beavis and Butt-Head late on Friday nights as a replacement for The Word, presumably under the false impression that this will stop children watching it. For those of you who don’t already know', Beavis and Butt-Head are quite an anti-social pair. Their only apparent skill is for starting fires, and in one episode, censored for British TV, they blow up a cat by placing a firework up its backside. They are violent, sexist and only have respect for teenage gangsters older and more daring than themselves.
The supposed intention of this programme’s makers has been to satirize the low-culture world of modern American youth, and by and large, they succeed. But as with other forms of satire, there is a danger. Many viewers, enveloped in the same sort of dire culture as Beavis and Butt-Head, may simply see it as glorification of their lifestyle, just like the Tory racists who thought all along that Alf Garnett was a really good bloke.
Attempts were made to ban Beavis and Butt-Head in the UK for precisely this reason. But banning and censoring programmes doesn’t work. Time and again it has just driven them underground - if the market is there that is all that matters. In any case, censorship — no matter how repellent the programme under consideration — is the reactionary’s way out. Who has the right to do the banning and censoring of things other people might want to watch?
The real problem is not so much that violent, horrific and anti-social programmes and films get made but that capitalism provides such a ready market for them. A society based on cut-throat competition, where everything is to be bought and sold, including humans, degrades and brutalizes us all.
The "no future" nihilism of Beavis and Butt-Head is a particularly worrying manifestation of this and it has to be countered by socialists in open debate. One thing is for sure — capitalism will not be able to tame the horrors it has so far unleashed. Only a socialist society dedicated to peace and co-operation can do that.