Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Censorship" and Other Offensive Words

Censorship. Let's do it.

I'm a stand up comedian, or I work as one at (infrequent) times. Regardless, I have spent many nights performing stand up, driving to gigs, working with a variety of bookers, et al. I haven't seen everything, but I have seen my fair share. A small preface... I view stand up as a perfectly valid form of expression. It's an art. If you see the world a certain way and you share that perspective with others, that is artistic communication. So, the things I am going to say about stand up can be extended to any art form. Specifically, I'd like to talk about the idea of "working clean." This is a ubiquitous concept in the world and it is one with which I vehemently take issue.

To clarify, "working clean" is a form of censorship. The idea behind “working clean” is it is an effort to not offend the consumers (money spenders). It’s part of this politically correct mode of communication in which the communicator/artist (comedian) is limited in what he/she may express so as to not "offend" the listening public. The public, in their utmost role-acting, should they hear a curse word or an “offensive” idea, take it upon themselves to become offended. They are not actually offended, but they become so because either a) they are told that what they just heard is offensive or, b) the idea being expressed is so diametrically opposed to the listener's preconceived notion of reality that the two are completely and utterly irreconcilable; the resulting conflict in disparity thus causes the particular level of "offense." People are fools. They like to compartmentalize and categorize the world in "understandable" terms. People don't like not knowing, so they create a reality inside their minds which is tenable and satisfying to them. When that reality is challenged, and a valid hole is poked into that prism, the individual's insecurities come pouring out. They feel naked and they "take offense" at the one who poked said hole for exposing the tits of their prism to the world.*

When people become offended, they are often not likely to pay money... and this makes businesses angry. So, in an effort to mitigate such losses, bookers, business owners, TV execs, and other various suits have taken it upon themselves to censor the performer. "Work clean," they'll say. "No F-bombs, C-word, N-word, pussy jokes, shit jokes, race jokes, cancer jokes, abortion jokes, rape jokes, shit-rape jokes, abortion-shit rapes, joke shits, or live abortions." But therein lies an issue: when you eradicate all potentially “offensive” words, ideas, imagery, you water down the piece of expression to an absolutely, and abhorrently dishonest and unfree level. It is tainted, marred with capitalist interests and devoid of artistic merit and freedom. If you cut out ANY part of the idea, you make it something other than what it is meant to be. Draw one line, draw them all... a notion that can not be reconciled with artistic freedom! In the absence of freedom (and therefore the absence of honesty), the art is reduced to nothing more than the vacant flaunting of ability in craft. It is here where we reach censorship's counterintuitive truth: in an effort to create a piece of art that is devoid of offensive content, what emerges is in fact an incredibly dishonest and therefore truly OFFENSIVE product.

* An oversimplification: For example, if someone makes a Holocaust joke and it offends someone, what is really taking place is this: the person who got offended maintained the belief that the Holocaust CAN NOT be funny. However, the comedian believes and demonstrates that it can (or parts of it can from a certain perspective), thus poking a hole in the other's reality. The resulting dissipation of insecurity leads the audience member to feel offended.

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