Communications and Cultural Analysis: A Religious View

By Michael Warren | Go to book overview
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Often in these pages I recommend the centrality of judgment in cultural agency. Judgment evaluates quality or its lack, humanizing vision or its lack. Some will ask if I am advocating censorship, which obstructs cultural production deemed dangerous or unhealthy. My basic answer is No. Nowhere here do I advocate censorship. Everywhere I advocate judgment and action based on judgment. I encourage groups of any size to lay out their evaluation of signification, either positive or negative, and to make it public. The process can help sharpen judgment. If their judgment is negative, they can encourage or even organize protest or boycott. This is judgment in action, not censorship.

However, I must admit that daily I see examples of signification-- songs, advertisements, TV and filmed material--that the world might, in my view, be better off without. I might even be tempted to think I would censor this or that particular item if I could. But when I consider the various groups eager to censor and some of the works of art they would have censored had they been able to, I keep coming back to the importance of protecting freedom of expression. I have made up my mind, but not in a definitive way.

Feminists with impeccable credentials on civil liberties keep alive for me the question of what should be allowable in society. Is there a point, for instance, at which depictions of the brutalization of women endanger all women? If so, should these depictions be tolerated? Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, to mention two, have brought this question to the fore. In the course of this book I ask whether we might extend to advertisements aimed at children--or to other kinds of cultural products--consumer-protection rules that now apply to manufactured products such as children's toys. And so I say No to censorship while continuing to reflect on this important issue from various angles. 1

If the censorship issue is raised in the minds of readers, they will also find a host of other matters raised--again, without offering definitive solutions. This is as it should be. This book is a beginning, meant to spark thinking, not to close it off.

A perceptive but concise treatment of underlying issues is Ronald Dworkin , "Liberty and Pornography," New York Review of Books 38, no. 14 ( 15 August 1991): 12-15.


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