Censorship and the arts

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by David R Munson, May 14, 2004.

  1. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    This forum has been quiet for a few days now at least. Seems we need something new to chew on. And so, with that in mind...

    To what degree, if at all, should the federal government and other authority be allowed to censor and limit artistic expression? If no, what's your reasoning? If yes, where do you draw the line.

    To me, two things immediately come to mind when I think of this that complicate the issue quite a bit. First, it's the question of whether the NEA and other public agencies should be giving funding to art (I use the term loosely) that some find to be patently offensive. Some people stand firm on the ground that no, absolutely not, no way in hell should some things get public money. Others take the stance that by saying certain things can't get funding because they're controversial is to censor through the forcing of particular morals on the general public regardless of what the general pulic has to say.

    The other thing that comes to mind is simply the matter of where to draw the line in terms of what is considered truly offensive and what is simply controversial. Some moralistic zealouts would attack all but the most conservative artwork. On the other extreme are people who would allow essentially everthing to the point where even I (one of the biggest liberals you're likely to meet) would object.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I will remember this the next time a child is used for pornography.
     
  3. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Instead of looking at the content of an image as a basis for censorship, why not pursue how it was created. A Jock Sturgis photo taken in a nudist camp is far different than a coerced pornographic image. The latter can be handled thru criminal proceedings rather than thru some form of community censorship.
     
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Another vote against censorship here. I do not believe it is possible to reach a consensus about what is offensive and what is not. So any censorship would be based on the "morals" of some group or other, which can not represent some kind of universal standard. This leads in one extreme to the "Farenheit 451" situation, where all books are banned because anything will be offensive to somebody somewhere.

    Depictions of criminal acts are totally irrelevant, as the circumstances around the making of the picture will be subject to criminal investigation.

    [editted fur speling]
     
  5. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Got to go with JDEF and Ole on this one. This was a BIG issue seems like with the NEA a few years back..my opinion is the public will tell us. The government does not need to tell me what is right or wrong - what I should look at or not.

    Ole is dead on when he states the "morals" of some group is the basis for censorship..there are some groups that would find the following objectionable...
    1. overweight people (yeah I'm one of those)
    2. thin people
    3. people that drink alcohol
    4. people that watch sporting events
    5. people that DO NOT watch sporting events.

    You get the picture, we tend to associate with people that think like we do, there are already enough laws on the books to protect children from the creeps that are out there.

    No offense Aggie, but many people would find some of the family snapshots and studio work of children nude (these are the shots we use when they grow up to embarrass them) very pornographic.

    Just my opinion, yours will vary.
     
  6. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I'm with jdef.

    Aggie, A reasonable person would view child pornography as a crime not a right of self expression.

    I am no lawyer but...
    I am of the mind that your personal freedoms end when your fist meets my face. Being insulted, made uncomfortable or having some personal disagreement is insufficient cause to prohibit artistic expression. The first test should be material harm and that should require heavy qualification. Free speech is just to dingdang important.
     
  7. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I am opposed to censoship in the arts. Let the marketplace and time decide if a work is of any lasting value.

    However, I am not supportive of my tax dollars being used to fund art. Not becuase I might find some of the work objectionable, but becuase I do not think it is the governement's job to decide what art is or isn't worthy of financial support. Art that is funded through tax dollars also seems to somehow be "approved" by the government or the current administration. I think that is wrong.
     
  8. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    I'm for no censorship and if the work on display offends then those offended can close the door as they leave, they have that choice.
    I understand Aggie's concern but we are talking of a fine line and personal judgement when we get into the pornography issue.

    I know a photographer from Edinburgh who made his name and living making extremely beautiful and sensitive photographs of children, sometimes partially nude sometimes not and at the parents request and in their presence. Some busybody saw some of his work and reported it to the police who sized his negatives and held them for several years before dropping all allegations. It ruined his business and just about ruined his life.
     
  9. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I oppose censorship, but I also oppose the idea of the NEA - at least insofar as it getting tax money. I don't think the government should steal money from people in in the form of taxation and give it to any artist for any project. Let the artist be paid through voluntary exchange.
    juan
     
  10. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I to would like to see tax dollars out of the arts, but there is a quid pro quo that needs to be recognized. That is that our government gives exclusive and very lucrative rights to the private sector for communication venues that are owned by us the tax payers. This amounts to charity and is for all practical purposes needed. The public sector does not have the means and in many instances the qualifications to compete, and without 'public assistance' would go unheard.

    Art is not a commodity that can live on the open market, but there is a very compelling reason for it to live heartily.
    In a perfect world we all would make art a necessity and buy it like we do our groceries. To single the arts out for disenfranchisement over a long, long list of other governmental charities is not right. Or at least I would be polite and say to the broadcast industries and the Cotton industries and the other government subsidized businesses "After you."

    As it is a less perfect world might find some middle ground and require networks to pay PBS's bills(and others like it); the same would occur for radio stations and NPR; and we might also look at other industries that benefit from the public's generosity to support the arts as a whole.
     
  11. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    This promises to be a lively discussion - and *my* PC is down - in a repair facility for a new cooling fan. Amazing how thermal overload and shutdown can be so easily mistaken for some sort of weird virus.

    I'm not really concerned with "pornography" in the ART community. The gallery operators are, generally, far TOO sensitive anyway... and the artists are too close to their work to deny authorship or responsiblity. In fact ... the "press" devoted to "outrageous" / and or "offensive" work seems to be a shortcut to recognition and fame - see Mappelthorpe ad the "Brooklyn Museum" elephant dung exhibitions.

    We start on a terribly slippery slope when we try to eliminate "pornography" -- we cannot even define what "pornography" IS. There is the case of a Processing Lab in Cambridge, Mass., who turned in a woman for photographing her five-year old son in the nude. after a *whole lot* of legal misery, the Attorney General of Suffolk County refused to prosecute - declaring the work was *NOT* pornographic. The Lab was contacted, and asked about their policies ... "Would they report a photograph of a naked six-month old child in the tub, or on a bearskin rug?" Their reply? "Absolutely." In their opinion, ALL nudity, or "semi-nudity" (what the &^$# is THAT?) of anyone of ANY age is "pornography".

    I can think of another controversial example: Grohe - the German Plumbing Fixture manufacturing company, once distributed a brochure with a photograph of a young girl, (8 - 10?? years old?) fully, frontally, naked on the cover - in running shower with water supplied through Grohe fixtures. Naturally - who would take a shower with their clothes ON? - at least in this day and age?

    It may be of help to consider "cause and effect" ... it is possible to compare those countries and societies with "strict" anti-pornography laws and those with very few laws and permissive attitudes. Do I have to spell out which have the lowest incidences of Sexual - and probably related - violent - crimes?

    "Child" pornography is, to me and probably most others, terrible - but it is really the same as a photograph of blood on the sidewalk ... The real focus should be directed at the crime itself ... prevention and bringing those who commit the original crime to justice to prevent further occurences. I have seen photographs of exceedingly gory crime scenes - far beyond "offensive". I do NOT choose to look at them ... although I am sure there are others that would get some sort of twisted "entertainment" from them... yet, as sick as they are - they are legal.

    Come to think of it - there is a video entitled "The 40 Faces of Death" - a compilation of scenes showing actual. accidental - and otherwise - deaths. This tape is not "behind the swinging doors" of the Adult Section - It is out here for any adolescent to rent - and view.
     
  12. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Civilized and affluent countries support the arts. The U.S. is an affluent country and it should also be a civilized one, so I support the NEA. I support the NEA even to support art that offends me, because I want to live in a society where people are willing to confront challenging ideas.
     
  13. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Up until recent years (and usually including recent years), government arts funding has been directed at art that glorifies and aggrandizes that government. War memorials, the Statue of Liberty, pyramids, WPA murals, etc. Government has shared this role with the Church for a long time. Today corporate advertising follows the same pattern -- fund arts whose purpose is to praise the funder.

    In an ideal society where everyone participates freely, arts subsidization would provide art that enobles all. Yep, and eveyone will be happy and loving too.

    --

    Censorship is a dangerous course. The test for a functioning democracy should be: "in what way does a censorship actually serve the public?" and such a debate needs to be public and waged publicly in the courts and media. This seizure in Edinburg (eerily similar to the FBI's harrassment of Jock Sturges here in SF) sounds like a fine case of how NOT to manage such issues -- secrecy, denial of process, etc. Public discourse on issues so important that we should ever consider suppressing individual liberties (including artistic ones) must be open to all. OPEN. This is messy and inefficient and exactly what the founders of the US had in mind. This is true for any restriction of liberties which a government might impose for any reason -- to protect us or itself from "enemies foreign & domestic," to protect the innocence of the young or the ignorance of the narrow, or just to generate momentarily-popular votes in some individual politician's district. The bureaucracy of a functioning multipartate government is designed as a check to ambitious power over the people, and is deliberately inefficient because it allows multiple opinions.

    --

    The US is currently reviewing a federal law that would make it a crime photograph people "in a situation in which a reasonable person would be justified in that expectation [that the 'improper' image would not be made]." There is a year prison term involved. Amazingly, this law has been working its way up the chain quite silently.

    http://www.theorator.com/bills108/hr2405.html

    Maybe they will extend its scope to cover photography of foreign detainees.
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I agree with most everyone on the censorship issue. However the fact of tax dollars supporting the arts is a bit dicey.

    Are not symphonies and local theater supported by the NEA and other organizations. I think as a civilized society we should have an allotment of government money going to various art programs and programs to get children interested in the various forms of artistic expression. We see countless programs on television about people who have gone into ghettos and turned kids lives around by sponsoring their artistic expression. It should be expected, in a so called advanced society, to have the arts as a mainstay of our lives.

    Billions of dollars of government money goes to all sorts of powerful lobby groups for their grand schemes, and I think the arts should have a small piece of the pie. Perpetuating artistic expression in any culture is a win-win situation even when we occasionally disagree on what the money is being spent on.



    Michael McBlane
     
  16. mvjim

    mvjim Member

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    I might be wrong here but there seems to be a slight misunderstanding of how the NEA operates. The "Government" does not choose the individuals or groups that receive this money. It is a group of peers within the various art fields that select the grantees. Yes there are the usual political, inner circle art, etc. problems with the process. I know that most of us are concerned with the visual arts when discussing this issue but the largest sums of government dollars goes to the performing arts (dance, theater) and education programs that bring these arts to communities that could not afford to do it on their own. Creating a larger audience for the arts in the process.
    Cutting and slicing government funding to the arts (as has been the case in recent years) only serves to dumbs down our society to its understanding of the value of the arts in everyday life and eventually creates an elitist and smaller audience.
    I canget my dander up when discussing Arts Funding. Its another area of our society that has been stolen by certain politicians through misinformation and fear. Pointing to the worst mistakes this inperfect process creates rather than to its incredible successes. I was director of an arts school a while back and spent a great deal of time at the state capitol lobbying for more money for our and others orginizations. The one factor that most politicos had a hard time grasping was how much return they were receiving on their invested dollars in the arts. Most just saw this as giving money away or at best throwing good money after bad. But the facts and figures show that for each dollar granted to the arts by the state, the community would realize, on average, four in return. Bottom line is that funding for the arts is good business.
     
  17. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've seen similar studies.
     
  18. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Cutting off Governmental funding for the arts is a form of censorship. Artists would have to rely more heavily on corporate sponsors who are all too willing to use their funds to ensure their point of view is received by the public, ie Disney unwillingness to show Michael Moore's latest film.

    The highpoint of gov't funding was during the 30's when many now well-known photographers, writers, etc. received valuable support. And the community as a whole is so much richer for that minimal investment.

    On the downside, can you imagine if George W. appointed a Secretary of Culture - Charlton Heston & NRA would have heroic murals of their armed militia groups on every public building in America.
     
  19. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Back on the topic of censorship, I fully expected to not be agreed with. That is why i said what I said. When it comes to censorship we by our own tastes censor what we want to see or be subjected too. I am not talking a we as in a group but as an individual. As for group censorship it becomes the result of more a politics/religion/morales/peer pressure/etc of that group. As for governments it becomes what the controlling group thinks the public should see. Each stage can be lessor or greater than the next.

    Art in itself is censorship. It is what you decide to put into or leave out of a performance/image (picture for Sean)/sculpture that makes it what it is. What was left out, could be more provacative than what is put in. It just depends on what is produced. Does the government have to censor it? it again depends on variables of what that government wants. Is it going to be censored by some group (Hayes commission comes to mind) again it depends on what that group deems censorable. Do you censor it? It again depends on what you want to view. Ed you choose not to look at violent material. that is personal censorship. The Hayes commission censored what we could see via movies. that was group censorship. As for Government We seem to be well versed as to what they will censor.

    My comment about child pornography is just that. I think that is wrong and yes I would report it to the authorities if i came across it. I am not one to think a snapshot of a mother with her child nude is offensive. I do not consider naked children photographed as wrong. i am against the blatant sexual crimes committed on children and then photographed for perverse pleasure. I should not have to clarify that further. Wasn't it last year that a couple in Texas had their children taken away because of a photo of the mother breast feeding? I do not consider that vulgar. Notice also I did not get into pornography across the board. I was only concerned with children. what an adult does is their own business. I can choose to self censor that.

    Then this brings up the matter of the recent pictures taken in Iraq. Should they have been censored? Where they any different from what we say should not be censored? Yet that brought up a firestorm of what should not be allowed. Which one is right?
     
  20. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    doughawh said:

    What do we think of the Catholic Church being such a large sponsor of artists a few hundred years ago to spread their dogma.

    Saddam Hussein employing all of Iraqs artists to make images of himself to display all over the country.

    Is this a form of censorship or a form of benevolent employment of artists.

    Is this good, bad or indifferent.


    The problem with Aggies child pornography example, as I have stated before is that Jock Sturges and Sally Mann photographs are I'm sure in the hands of pedophiles. Just as the Sears catalog lingerie section and National Geographic African editions were in the hands of adolescent boys 50 years ago. There are probably members of the Taliban masturbating over pictures of a womans calf or knee.

    One cannot control or censor material just because some people use it as pornography. Obviously if the children are photographed for that purpose and exploited in that way then that is a different story.

    However the fact remains that Sally Manns children had no control over their images that are throughout the world. They received no compensation, and had no say in their usage. The case could be made that since they no longer look like that ( grown up) then they are not really victimized. It's a tough question.


    Michael McBlane
     
  21. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Aggie,
    I don't think anyone disagrees that child pornography is bad or thinks it should be legal. Nor, would I imagine, that anyone would think it is art or an expression of free speech.

    What constitutes pornography might be a little more problematic.

    I do think that the images from Iraq need to be displayed. An interesting aspect of the images is that the US networks edited the genitalia and the BBC left the genitals alone and edited the faces of the prisoners.

    I don't know what the rest think but I call it propaganda, and it can be art. It doesn't make it right or justify the means. I have a fabulous book on textiles and dry goods (patterns printed on bolts of cloth, china silverware etc..) of revolution era USSR. Complete propaganda and beautiful stuff.

    I don't think that the NEA falls into that description. The artists are not ordered to produce for the government and the government is only indirectly involved in who is picked.
    Excellent point. I guess, as the parent decided for the children the children don't have a say.
     
  22. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    I don't see any purpose in showing more photos from Iraq in respect to the prison issue. The whole world is aware of the kind of abuse going on by now. Besides, if it was you being humiliated in those images, would you want to have it shown on every network over and over? These people have been humiliated enough, let them have some peace. In regards to their censorship, they never should have been shown in the first place in accord with the Geneva Convention. I find it appalling that liberals like to cry out that the people in custody are not being treated according to the Geneva Convention, but when something like this happens, they are perfectly willing to throw the Convention out and show the photos in order to embarass the Bush administration. I guess the Geneva Convention is only applied when it's convenient.

    As for censorship as a whole, for those who feel there should be none at all, would you feel the same if "Hustler" could show it's programming on network television during Saturday morning cartoons? Don't think they wouldn't do it if they could. The bottom line is money, and if they would rake it in using that time slot on those networks, they would do it in a heartbeat.
     
  23. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I failed to mention the excellent work of Leni Reifenstahl who glorified a regime who would later be vilified and obviously rightly so.

    However if a person grew up in a depressed country and a new and supposedly charismatic leader set a new course and brought the country out of its doldrums into a sort of Sparta, (remember her work was relatively early on in the regime), should she be blamed for their misdeeds.

    I'm sure she wasn't cooerced into doing her work.It was an exciting opportunity, and she excelled.

    Comments.


    Michael
     
  24. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    Your right, Michael. She shouldn't be blamed for the atrocities personally. But we as people do get caught up in things early that can end up very bad. We need to exercise judgement, but often we fail. These new things are exciting and we are proud to be included early. We are willing to blind ourselves to the growing evil because we would have to face the fact that what we are involved in is wrong. It's a common theme in movies. A good kid makes friends with a trouble maker and ends up doing something very wrong. It does happen. What bothers me the most is when the world tells us to tolerate it, because it might end up for the better. Case in point, when Hitler took Austria and then Czechoslovakia the world didn't do anything because they hoped he would be satisfied. They even called Winston Churchill a "war-mongerer" for wanting to do something about it. But when the Nazis invaded Poland and France, they realized what a monster they had allowed Hitler to become. I know most people here are against the war in Iraq, but Hussein tried invading Iran and Kuwait. How long did we really have to wait to do something? Did we need an attack on Israel? Europe? WMD notwithstanding, in the end the world is better off.

    PS, Humpty Dumpty wasn't pushed, he was deceived into believing someone would catch him.
     
  25. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    But was it peer pressure that pushed Humpty Dumpty?
     
  26. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Ridiculous. They do it in order to sell newspapers.