Friday, January 29, 2016

The Ridiculousness of Censorship

As someone who is fascinated by language and communication, I've never been a huge fan of censorship. There are many reasons that people oppose or support censorship, depending on the situation, but my main problem with it is that it can cause communication to be less effective.

In this post, I'm not referring to the censorship of official documents for security reasons, or the censorship of journalistic pieces in order to protect the identities of sources. Instead, I'm focusing on the censorship of media like television, film, and music.

For example, why is it necessary to censor "swear words" on U.S. television? The most common explanation is that it's done to "protect the ears of innocent children" who may be watching. The thing is, we're not trying to eradicate these supposedly sinister words from the English language, so kids just end up learning them elsewhere.

The most ridiculous example of censorship I've seen in recent weeks was this clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a late-night talk show. (You can stop watching at :45 if you're only interested in the censorship-related aspects of the clip, though I recommend watching the entire clip to learn some silly phrases in French too.)


I would love to know the reasoning behind the censorship of this clip. There are just so many levels of ridiculousness to it! First of all, the conversation is about language, specifically how the idiom "break a leg", which is used to wish a performer good luck in English, is expressed in French. By bleeping French actress Marion Cotillard when she uses the French word merde and its English counterpart, shit, the censors have rendered the entire conversation unintelligible. I can only imagine that The Late Show's editors chose to include the clip in order to demonstrate the ridiculousness of television censorship. Otherwise, how do you explain this exchange?

Colbert: "In French, you say, instead of break a leg, you say..."
Cotillard: "We say *****, which means ****."

This also raises tons of other questions. Why are French words being censored? For that matter, why is shit being censored, given the fact that the show is on late at night when the young children who we're supposedly trying to protect from swear words should already be asleep?

In addition, the censors clearly didn't consider the context of the situation, since Marion Cotillard was not using shit as an obscenity - she was using it to make a linguistic explanation. As they continue talking, she explains that the use of merde dates back to times when having a lot of horse shit in front of your theater meant that your show was popular, yet the word shit is once again bleeped, despite being used to refer to excrement from a horse.

Does it drive you crazy when you watch television or listen to music and suddenly have no idea what's going on because of censorship, or do you think it's good that things are censored? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.