Magazine article The Spectator

Assault on Young Minds

Magazine article The Spectator

Assault on Young Minds

Article excerpt

Setting aside the nail-biting outcome, this has been the dullest of US elections for those who enjoy the cut and thrust of ideas rather than the minutiae of Floridan psephology. The only issues that raised blood pressures before the frantic fingercounting of the past few days were, remarkably, the c-words - two terms that never get mentioned on British hustings. Culture and censorship invaded the US election by force and by stealth, like would-be gemthieves at the Millennium Dome.

It was the Democrat Al Gore who, in an unscripted moment, put the arts in play by attacking what he called `cultural pollution' - by which he meant the degradation of society by a torrent of near-porn movies and violence-glorifying pop songs. `You are now allowed to officially slap bitches,' chants the chart-topping rapper, Eminem. `You have the right to remain violent.' His brother-star, Dr Dre, sings of `Twelve-yearold children that kill ... usually drillin' the one that wasn't willin' to die'. Tipper Gore, the candidate's wife, expostulated her revulsion.

Gore's running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, gave edge to the issue by telling Congress that it might need to legislate against antisocial art. `If the entertainment industry... continues to market death and degradation to our children,' he had previously warned, `then the government will act.'

George W. Bush preferred to avoid direct intervention, but pledged that `as president I will urge entertainment leaders to limit sexual and violent images voluntarily'. His running mate's wife, Lynne Cheney, a former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, let fire for the conservative side with a blistering assault on pop and post-modern artists. `We need,' she declared, `to let those who are polluting the culture know that we are going to embarrass them and shame them until they stop - until they use their vast talents and resources to put us in touch with our best selves, instead of the worst parts of our nature.'

Stirring stuff, and not the sort of rhetoric that will fade without trace. Like it or not, censorship is back on the agenda - and it is crossing the Atlantic with hurricane speed. In London earlier this month Channel 4 and the Institute of Contemporary Arts called a symposium of media types, religious leaders, child-care authorities and civil liberties groups to engage in, as the invitation termed it, `Making Sense of Censorship'.

A public opinion survey conducted for the event demonstrated that the stop-meand-ask-one man in the street felt more threatened by Internet porn than by television and that 82 per cent believed it was up to individual heads of households to determine what their families watched. This verdict was hailed by Nick Jones, Channel 4's head of film programming, as an overwhelming rejection of censorship and, indeed, as the debunking of the existence of a `moral majority'. His conclusion is tenuous, dependent as it is on the way the question was phrased. In the thick of a FilmFour season of `Extreme Cinema' banned films - he would say that, wouldn't he?

In my own Radio Three/www listener poll on last week, 50 per cent of voters wanted explicit sex and violence to be removed from movies, TV and rock music. A further 34 per cent demanded the elimination of racist material and 16 per cent favoured censorship of drug-related matter.

The question remains whether, even on a subscription channel, unwary eyes should be exposed to the sight of a butcher who beats his pregnant wife to make her abort, in Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous; or the torture of animals in Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small. …

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