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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