Greetings Pleasure Party!
So, I have this feeling that despite any innate aversions I may possess, my life and to-be-determined career will inevitably be censored in some (if not several) capacities. First of all, I’m a theatre major. What aspect of theatre am I focusing on, you might ask? That’s a good question, as I personally identify as many things and sometimes consider this to be problematic in and of itself. I identify as a performer (singer, actor, and everyday personality), as a director, and also as a writer. I’m actually minoring in Creative Writing, but am treating it as a second major of sorts as it is technically not offered as one here at Ohio State. However, no matter what medium I am working in at any given moment, as an artist in general, censorship’s a thing. It’s especially a thing for me because I just happen to like things that are kind of explicit, that are provocative and scandalous. In other words, I have an affinity for things that tend to be censored! This past autumn semester I took a stage directing class where we had to direct three different scenes; two in which we had to write ourselves, and one which was a preexisting text of our choosing. It was perhaps the most heavenly experience of my undergraduate career, having all that creative control, and I quickly became notorious amongst classmates for my risqué directorial debuts, both in a thematic and representational sense. I was okay with this accrued reputation, but I remember a conversation I had with a fellow student-director one day after class. We were rehashing the morning’s performances, and when we came to discussing my scene, she said, “Gosh, during that one part I just had to cover my eyes! It made me feel so uncomfortable to watch”. I wasn’t offended by her comment. After all, she wasn’t necessarily being critical, she was simply acknowledging the fact that we had different aesthetics, different tastes when it came to theatre. When her actors were shaking hands, mine were de-robing (you get the picture). What I gleaned from that exchange was that even on a small scale, in an intimate classroom setting, my work offended/made someone uncomfortable enough that she censored it by closing her eyes—and even if she was just one person, that one person could potentially represent dozens of individuals assuming my work were ever to be showcased somewhere with a larger audience.
Today, as we watched This Film Is Not Yet Rated, I felt very concerned about some things. Particularly, I was concerned with how the MPAA supposedly treated the independent film, Boys Don’t Cry, written and directed by Kimberly Peirce. The MPAA initially gave the film an NC-17 rating, not because of the violence, but because of a sex scene between the two main characters which was not only not a “straight” sex scene, but one where a female was experiencing great pleasure (and this bothers some people apparently). Kimberly Peirce expressed that, as an artist, she was very hurt and unhappy with the whole ordeal. Boys Don’t Cry is something she had put so much work and passion into, and while she didn’t want to cut anything out, she also wanted her film to be sufficiently marketed; she wanted the story to reach as many people as possible. I guess I never before realized what a difference it makes whether a film is rated R or NC-17. It seems unfair to me, but I can also see how it might relate to my future endeavors. I mentioned previously that I identify as a writer; in fact, I might consider it the single most important thing in my life. But I like to tell the truth, I really like to tell the truth. There’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell, that I’ve been putting together for the past seven or so years…but sometimes I wonder, especially in light of censorship in society, that if this story of mine was published or something of that nature (a lofty thought, I know), how would it be received? More specifically, would I be forced to “lose” integral parts of that story at the hands of censorship? How would I deal with that? I don’t know if I could deal with that. So anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that censorship is very relevant to both my passions and prospective career path, and it is something I do worry about from time to time, not going to lie.
As for the video clip I posted above:
This is a rather long segment from the 1967 film, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. You should definitely watch the whole thing if you have time, but please pay attention to the end starting at approximately 8:43. It is an awkward moment in which Anne Bancroft’s character (Mrs. Robinson) is propositioning Dustin Hoffman’s character (Benjamin Braddock) with a covert sexual affair (which he eventually goes along with). She stands in front of the bedroom door, nude, blocking his exit and matter-of-factly confessing her attraction for him. The camera, imitating Benjamin’s perspective, keeps sneaking these split-second flashes of Mrs. Robinson’s naked, tan-lined body. If you really think about it, you barely see anything at all. I wonder if this was an artistic choice, or if censorship laws had something to do with it? Or both? I remember the first time I watched this movie with my parents and my dad telling me that this scene was considered somewhat “scandalous” when it first came out. Interestingly enough, it has a PG rating.
What other examples of censorship can you think of in relation to writing and performing arts? How can we tell if a choice is solely artistic or influenced by censorship somehow? In your opinion, as an artist, would you rather self-censor yourself or have someone tell you later on down the road that something must be omitted?