Monday, July 13, 2009


Let's talk about the big bad C word.

If you complain that the vast majority of children's books reinforce traditional gender roles, default to a leading male character, and are endlessly heteronormative, it never fails that at least one commenter will reply with "whadya want, CENSORSHIP?!?"

If you note that mainstream hetero porn centers on male desire and depicts women as objects with no desires or interests of their own, other than moaning at the right time and posing in the right way to appeal to the male gaze, and that this gives hetero men a really skewed idea of what a "normal" sexual interaction is, it never fails that at least one commenter will reply with "whadya want, CENSORSHIP?!?"

If you point out the ridiculous fat-shaming, lookism, and total lack of gender reciprocality involved in most reality TV programming, it never fails that at least one commenter will reply with "whadya want, CENSORSHIP?!?"

So...let's talk about censorship. When you whip out the big bad C word, most people get a picture in their head of a tight-laced, humorless, puritanical old woman with a well-starched apron and a tightly-wound bun at the nape of her neck who mercilessly prevents all the fun and interesting books, TV shows, movies, video games, and songs from hitting the market. And that's an image that's easy to hate. But this, of course, is a silly little fiction that has nevertheless worked it's way into a central position in our cultural mythology.

Where does the real censorship occur on a daily basis? In the media, of course. Take, for example, media coverage of the research on calorie restrictive dieting and its impact on lifespan. Although the study "found no statistically significant difference in the number of deaths among the monkeys who’ve been eating a calorie-restrictive diet for more than 20 years compared to the monkeys who’ve been allowed to eat ad lib all day as much as 20% over their normal calories," all the news stories have trumpeted the "fact" that low-calorie diets have been "proven" to add years to your life. For a fabulous investigation into the reasons and forces behind this, read the full post on Junkfood Science.

And this is often the case with any research having to do with weight and obesity and dieting. You can tell by looking at the information that's selected to appear, and the way it's worded, and the important subtleties that are omitted, that the person who is choosing which stories to report on, and which info to include, and what wording to use, is in the grip of a picture. And that picture dictates what s/he sees and takes to be important and reports on. We currently have very strong anti-fat sentiments that permeate our culture, and this is reflected in the way important research results are reported. Of course, the financial interests that the researchers and sponsoring pharmacuetical companies have in reaching a given result is also a huge, huge factor.

Paul Krugman points out another great instance of censorship in the media. It seems that in the popular imagination, the debate on the economic stimulus package boiled down to a disagreement between Obama and his supporters versus those (mostly Republicans) who thought the stimulus package was too big. Lost in the shuffle were the (not that quiet) voices of those who thought the stimulus was too small. They were simply not included by the mainstream media. And that amounts to censorship.

So to all those who attempt to silence critics of any genre and shut down conversation by hysterically shouting about censorship ... I've got news for you. We've got all kinds of censorship, whether we want it or not. We're swimming in it. So knock it the fuck off already and learn how to engage in constructive dialogue.


  1. Have you read Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent? I have only read the first couple of chapters, but if you are interested in censorship and you have not given it a look it would be a good read.

    Overview of the meat of the book (or at least what is in the first couple of chapters) can be read at

  2. I read Manufacturing Consent a couple years ago, and it was great. I highly recommend it.

  3. Steven,

    I have read parts of Manufacturing Consent, now that you mention it, but it was several years ago. The part I remember the most clearly was the stats on who appears on news shows (mostly white males) as pundits and experts on various issues.

  4. ....

    I am not surprized that would be the part a feminist would remember, the race and gender aspect... especially when it is your j.o.b.

    But there is a lot of good stuff in there even if you don't consider the gender/race angle.