Newspaper Publisher Disturbed By His Own Reaction To Walking Dead; Thinks Censorship Might Be The Answer

from the censorship:-still-never-the-answer dept

It’s a very strange situation when a beneficiary of free speech call for limits on free speech, but that’s exactly what happened recently in an editorial written by the publisher of a San Francisco community newspaper.

Stephen J. Moss, publisher of The Potrero View, found himself enjoying The Walking Dead a little bit too much. And that scared him. (via Reason)

I got drawn into watching AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” a ghastly television program that revolves around a zombie apocalypse. The show is so full of stomach-twisting mutilations — bloody decapitations, disembowelments, and amputations — that while viewing it I had to set aside my usual habit of TV snacking. Once the season ended I ordered the compilation of comic books on which is was based — almost five inches of death pornography — and topped that off with a 330 page prequel-like novel. Over the course of a few weeks, I became a reading zombie, gorging on dark depictions of depravity, torture, and killings.

This doesn’t sound all that unusual. People become fans of various cultural offerings all the time, and often immerse themselves in everything they can find related to it. But Moss feels it effected him negatively, something he clearly wasn’t expecting.

I can’t easily explain why I was attracted to this gloomy entertainment. But I do know that the gory consumption binge impacted me emotionally. Like the fictional characters I was following on pages and screens, I became more fearful, distrustful, and morose.

Well, the simple explanation would be that the subject matter itself is gory, gloomy and morose. Like anything else, entertainment should probably be enjoyed in moderation. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself and you binge. And, like any other type of binging, it may be followed by regret. So far, still no problem… unless you’re Stephen J. Moss and you feel someone else may find themselves walking a mile in your fearful, distrustful and morose shoes.

Occasionally viewing or reading a brutal or sexual scene seems largely harmless, at least for grown-ups. But saturating ourselves with any set of images seems likely to mold our minds along particular channels.

This is undoubtedly true. What Moss experienced is hardly truly obsessive behavior. He went into a dive and pulled out. Others may not recognize the dive until it’s too late, or may be immersing themselves in brutality/sexuality for the dive itself. But this isn’t a problem inherent in the content consumed. It’s a problem with the person consuming, one that can be exacerbated by this imagery, but not one that can be created by this imagery. There’s a rational approach to this subject, but Moss goes in another direction, questioning whether (subjectively) disturbing artistic efforts should be allowed to roam free.

I’m recovering from all that now, but the episode got me wondering how what we watch or read impacts us. We’ve long attached warning labels to shows and movies that have violent or sexual scenes. We used to censor or ban provocative books. Recent attempts have been made to regulate rap music and video games, lest they incite youth to aggressive acts. Liberals, libertarians, and secular intellectuals have typically dismissed such efforts as liberty-stifling government over-reach. Up until now I’d have agreed with them. But my immersion into the zombie milieu has prompted me to reconsider.

Ah, yes. The “logical” solution would be censorship. If something affects Stephen J. Moss negatively, we should consider stifling, stunting or outright banning artistic efforts like these for the good of those less enlightened than Stephen J. Moss. If it’s possible for even one person to be turned into a bloodthirsty (but morose) zombie killer by binge viewing, than it’s high time we started blocking off anything someone might find disturbing, provocative or aggressive. Only once we’ve turned the nation’s creative output into a bland pastiche that allows us to emulate society’s teens and “experience neither highs nor lows,” will we truly be able to save the future of America. Or something.

There’s a lot of advice that counteracts this sort of thinking, most of it usually delivered to special interest groups with overactive imaginations. If you don’t like it, shut it off. If you think your kids might be negatively affected by it, don’t let them have access it. But don’t go off on tangents based on a personal experience and project your subjective feelings all over the rest of society.

Free speech doesn’t stop when you, as an individual (or even as an overly-concerned special interest group), feel your morality or sensibilities are being trampled on. Toughen up. Move on. Express your concern but realize that a call for censorship isn’t the answer. As Neil Gaiman stated, defending speech you don’t like is at least as important (if not more) as defending the stuff you do approve of.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

You’d think someone running a community paper might realize how problematic a call for censorship of unpleasant speech might be. Or at least see how calling for censorship of other media forms might make them look a tad hypocritical. But this sort of clear thinking is often pushed aside by disturbing personal experiences, resulting in regrettable calls for action. (See also: nearly every piece of legislation crafted in the wake of a tragedy.) Moss’ editorial isn’t the most dismaying call for censorship I’ve seen, but his position and where it appears makes it notable. He should know better.

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Comments on “Newspaper Publisher Disturbed By His Own Reaction To Walking Dead; Thinks Censorship Might Be The Answer”

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57 Comments
Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:

What an idiot...

“Yeah, I bought a knife and got really into them. I loved them so much that I had fifty thousand knives all around my house. I had so many, I had to stand them all on end with the blade up just to store them. Then one day I tripped and stabbed myself. This is why we need to outlaw knives. So I’ve moved on to juggling loaded shotguns…”

What a moron.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: What an idiot...

I agree ! Stephen J. Moss is a jerk who feels that we should Censor Entertainment he does not agree with.
Well, here is something I would be glad to pay for and would love to see it on Pay-Per-View.

Stephen J. Moss in an Arena having to face 50 Zombies with only a small Campfire Axe to Defend himself.

Now that would be an Awesome Sight !

Anonymous Coward says:

years ago, the UK’s Mary Whitehouse managed to get swearing and nudity stopped on UK TV. what it actually did was just delay the inevitable. it’s on everyday almost now but still has to be after 9pm. the answer obviously is, if you dont like something, stop doing it. just because you dont like or dont agree with it doesn’t mean that everyone else has to think the same. we are human. part of that means making our own individual choices. ramming a personal opinion down others throats is not always the best thing

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

She also managed to get a lot of movies banned or heavily cut. Which were routinely obtained and shared by young horror fans like myself (I was 9 when they were banned) purely because they were banned. Which are now largely available uncut on DVD in far better versions (and often far more explicit versions) than those Whitehouse helped to get banned to begin with.

Mass media censorship – not only the refuge of narcissistic idiots, but also highly ineffective.

Ninja (profile) says:

The fundamentalist intolerance is overflowing. I have another proposal: Moss should be banned from watching such content because he seems to have difficulty to separate fiction from reality. He and whoever is diagnosed with such mental disorders.

Makes much more sense than meddling with my rights and everybody else’s rights.

Also, he’s a moron =D
Hopefully he won’t sue me for expressing my opinion =D

Simple Mind (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not only that, but he has an overinflated view of himself. He assumes that because he cannot handle something no one else can either. He thinks he is at the top of the ladder when really he is at the bottom. Unable to look in the mirror and admit that he is broken and inferior he seeks to drag down the rest of us to his level.

This guy demonstrates the same faulty reasoning that has brought us the War on (some) Drugs and has made gambling illegal. Calling for laws to counter your own weaknesses only makes things worse for everyone.

Jay (profile) says:

” Liberals, libertarians, and secular intellectuals have typically dismissed such efforts as liberty-stifling government over-reach.”

Just my own little nitpick, but why is it that people can’t think about anything other than people on the same political ideological spectrum?

Would a Socialist actually enjoy a few discussions on how zombies are a part of society that describes our worst fears about our fellow man?

Would someone that is a Marxist actually talk a little more about communities if they were represented in the show?

How about anarchists?

Kind of one of those things where people who believe more in individual rights would actually supportmore conversation instead of preventing people from just talking about what to do during a zombie apocalypse.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

but why is it that people can’t think about anything other than people on the same political ideological spectrum?

Rose colored glasses?

However, I truly believe that censorship is an anathema to individual rights and freedom. Those who believe in personal freedom would view censorship as the ultimate evil (except, of course, when it is censoring themselves to avoid conflict with others.) The moment I take it upon myself to censor someone elses speech, I have discounted their individual rights in favor of my own, and there is only one word for that, tyranny. However, those with more statist opinions would view that as the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, which I have never subscribed to (except in life threatening circumstances, where the few volunteer to save the many.)

out_of_the_blue says:

But why are you kids ALWAYS pro-violence and gore?

Moss looks like a mature and thoughtful moderate who draws back from the brink of depravity and madness, while you kids just plunge right on in heedless of possible consequences. Then you wonder why society is collapsing around you. Believe it or not, you can get too much of even violence, kids.

I think it’s obvious you’ve no introspection at all — nor, as I’ve remarked several times, any notable self-awareness. You’re just plain nihilists. People who want to create and build don’t watch violence nor engage in violent video games. They’re too busy at MUCH more entertaining activities.

Even if you pooh-pooh — as you will — my “moral panic”, then you should at least follow the ancient Greek (I think) maxim: Moderation in all things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But why are you kids ALWAYS pro-violence and gore?

“Moss looks like a mature and thoughtful moderate who draws back from the brink of depravity and madness, while you kids just plunge right on in heedless of possible consequences.”

Just as Moss did.
So much for the “…mature and thoughtful moderate who draws back from the brink of depravity and madness…”
He’s a Puritan hypocrite who enjoyed it, then complains that he enjoyed it.
Just like you, boy.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: But why are you kids ALWAYS pro-violence and gore?

Moderation in all things, yes, but the government cannot and should not decide what’s moderate for you or me. How would they know what’s moderate for me? How do you? How do you know that I’m constantly playing violent video games and watching violent media? What if my moderation is one episode of The Walking Dead a week? Or is that too much for you? I can guarantee that it’s too much for somebody. An episode of My Little Pony is probably too much for somebody.

So where does it end?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: But why are you kids ALWAYS pro-violence and gore?

Which kids? The ancient Romans? Mayans? Greeks? Shakespeare? Violence is as inherent in classical mythology and literature as it is today – sometimes more so since they often did it for real rather than in harmless fiction.

Oh, right, it’s you – you can’t attack what’s actually being said so you have to attack a word or opinion not said in the article. Not typing a comment or even – god forbid – actually agreeing with an article wouldn’t satisfy your strange obsession.

“People who want to create and build don’t watch violence nor engage in violent video games”

What about the people who create violent videogames?

” the ancient Greek (I think) maxim”

The ancient Greeks who created myths about gods doomed to live for eternity having their liver eaten by crows every day or guarding the world of the dead? Or the Greeks who participated in Dionysian orgies?

out_of_the_blue says:

'The "logical" solution would be censorship.'

I went back and READ all of Moss’s piece. A call for censorship is entirely Tim Cushing’s LIE — to get you fanboys excited and start yapping your fool heads off. Moss just muses and states some vague history. He does not call for action.

LYING is rampant here at Techdirt. It’s you little weenies who go into a panic at ANY thoughtful analysis of the current moral climate. And you can’t stand opposition to your mindless hedonism and amorality. Above are at least two thinly veiled wishes for harm to Moss.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'The "logical" solution would be censorship.'

It finally happened. You lost all capacity for reading comprehension.

Sigh…Let me break it down for you:

“We used to censor or ban provocative books[…]Liberals, libertarians, and secular intellectuals have typically dismissed such efforts as liberty-stifling government over-reach. Up until now I’d have agreed with them. But my immersion into the zombie milieu has prompted me to reconsider.”

His words, not ours.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'The "logical" solution would be censorship.'

“It’s you little weenies who go into a panic at ANY thoughtful analysis of the current moral climate.”

Like the “thoughtful analysis” of Seduction of the Innocent’s Fredric Wertham who said comics caused juvenile delinquency, encouraged book bonfires, almost destroyed an entire arm of the entertainment industry, and has recently been revealed to have falsified his reseach to justify his hypothosis?
Good role model, boy!

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Can we just lower our pitchforks for a second...?

Is it just me that feels we’re sometimes losing perspective and nuance here at TechDirt?

Moss even comes to the right conclusion himself at the end of the blog post, which is kind of disingenuous leave out don’t you think?!

While we can?t always choose where we live, we can determine what we look at, and how we see it. Otherwise, we?re just walking around like zombies.

I don’t see a call to censor anything or ban TWD, the guy is just airing his thoughts about how an obsession has affected him (and I consider myself borderline obsessed with TWD) and how that has caused him to reconsider his views on an issue.

Guys, reconsidering your views is not a change in stance, or politics, or a signal to start a revolution – it’s merely a signal that you’re giving more thought to an issue and checking our own bias.

jacksphoenix (profile) says:

Let's censor calls for censorship!

“You’d think someone running a community paper might realize how problematic a call for censorship of unpleasant speech might be.”

EXACTLY. We should submit an op-ed to the paper that calls for censorship of his type of calls for censorship. Really drive the point home of how absurd the idea is, and do it in a way that couldn’t be too far over his head.

Unless this was an Onion article I just took seriously. Because, c’mon, is this really a thing that happens in America, or did I just fall for satire?

David Good (profile) says:

He paid for this...

I love how his tirade is over a show that is on cable tv – oh wait, he actually bought comic books, too. So he not only paid for his cable tv or netflix viewing, he actually spent money on the comics as well.

Walking Dead is on cable TV. It’s not easily consumed unless you’ve paid money for the right to see it on AMC. So I have difficulty with the idea that we should censor something that has a pay wall around it already.

John Doe says:

I had a similar experience to Stephen

I recently got into the Walking Dead and caught up on two and a half seasons in about 10 days. I watched three episodes a night to catch up. I did not read books or other stuff though, just watched the shows.

As a result, I went to the store and bought a machete and ball bat. I wanted an AR 15 but the gun control scare has prices so high I will have to wait on that.

Alas, I found no zombies to massacre and have returned to being a productive civilian. I can only imagine if the show had been about cats. I might now be in jail for going on a rampage against cats.

Anonymous Coward says:

The guy has been shocked by his own perception of right or wrong. He wants others to enforce said perception. The story is a classic in psychology and politics: Emotions writing the laws based on a percieved wrong-doing. It is like making all abortion from inception illegal under all circumstances, like making it illegal to watch porn, making it illegal to visit hookers or other non-sense laws:

Abortion is needed in some circumstances unless the politician want to be responsible for murdering women and defining the exceptions is virtually impossible without ending up with free abortion or some dead pregnant women.
What is porn? Illegalizing something without a surefire way of identifying it is 100% certain to curb legal speech.
Making it illegal to visit hookers is something Sweden have had some experience with. It hasn’t removed prostitution except for the “out of sight out of mind”. Since the laws are there to stop trafficing eastern europeans it is hard to say what the effect on that has been (dark numbers are dark), but it is 100% sure to have given worse working-conditions for the prostitutes. There are also several very problems with the definition. Also: “If you do that, I am willing to have sex with you” is now an encouragement to break the law…

Vic B (profile) says:

relax girls

The editor expressed an opinion leading to an ambiguous conclusion that Tim called him on in a well written article (thanks Tim!) Now why do we have to have so much angst and name calling in the comments? All you’re doing is showing your close mindedness!
As for the free speech bs, let’s agree to disagree. When fanatics call on fanatics to harm non fanatics then I have no moral dilemna shutting them off.

btrussell (profile) says:

“Occasionally viewing or reading a brutal or sexual scene seems largely harmless, at least for grown-ups. But saturating ourselves with any set of images seems likely to mold our minds along particular channels.”

This is why there are no full time jobs rating tv shows, games, books etc…Not one human being is capable of multiple exposure to the things we aren’t allowed to see, read etc…

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