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Drama Censorama, Blog post no.1

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.

Questions:

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?

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6 thoughts on “Drama Censorama, Blog post no.1

  1. Ok I am so sorry! I just saw where I was supposed to leave a comment so I am just copying it and re-posting it here!

    Dearest Rebekah,

    I am not one hundred percent sure this is where we are supposed to respond, but I didn’t see any other way to do it, so sorry if this is public and shouldn’t be! I wanted to respond to your last question in particular about whether artists should censor themselves versus having someone do it later on. After finishing up the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated, I became infuriated with the almost “social caste” like system set up in the movie business. For me personally, I would feel that it was not only my job but my right to express myself however I wanted as an artist. However, if it came down to me censoring my own work or having someone take that aspect away from me, I think I would want to do it myself. Something seems so defeating about someone telling you pieces of your work, reflections of you, are not quite going to cut it. Something that stood out to me from the film was one of the indy directors stating that in order to include some of (what he thought) as milder material they just added in absolutely ridiculous additions to they screen that they didn’t even want to have in the final cut; however he felt it was necessary to have extra profanity in order for the MPAA to feel as if they had cut him down a little by telling him some of his material was too offensive. All the while he was able to keep what he actually wanted. This whole ordeal of monopolies with these giant organizations trampling over indy and documentary films just isn’t right to me. I know that we have only gotten one perspective of this debate from an independent film maker but since people involved in the MPAA and appeals group don’t want to be known or give reasonable critiques as to what people could do in order to better ensure ratings that correlate with widespread public access, then I guess I will only have that one perspective to work with. Until then I will side with the fact that if someone has to censor my work, it should be me and based on my standards.

  2. HI!
    For the question about censorship in writing and performing arts, I remember being in my high school writing class and my teacher talking about a book she wanted us to read but the school denied her request due to the intense sex scene in the book. Another example of censorship I encountered was being very close to my high school theater teacher wanted to perform the musical Rent for the school. If you haven’t heard of the musical, it is very controversial talking about HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and poverty. Quickly, that idea was shot down by the school. I absolutely believe that these choices were solely censored because of the age group of the viewers. High schools have the hardest time I believe, knowing when to censor and not censor. Censorship in high school limits ones creative expression. Students need to learn when to take responsibility for their work, and not be limited to subjects that are usually not talked about and could be “offensive”. In my opinion, I would rather have someone tell me later on down the road that something must be omitted. I am not the person that would change something they believe in just to please someone else. As an example in the movie we watched in class This Film is Not Yet Rated, I remember a director adding extra scenes into a movie (even though he did not like them) just because he knew the MPAA needed something to cut in the movie. He mentioned that he added them so he could give them something to omit and it not take out from his original intentions. I did not realize how strict censorship really is in in the world.

    I also really enjoyed the video you posted, it is a great example of censoring that we do not really notice now-a-days. For that video to get a PG rating astonishes me after watching how “strict” the MPAA seems to be. Seems a little, as you said, “scandalous”.

  3. Self-censorship is another term for marketing. First and foremost, a performing artist has an obligation to an aesthetic truth. If the aesthetic truth the artist is after is controversial in nature, so be it. Aesthetic truth is far more important than ego, and performing artists who self-censor or make an appeal to the widest possible market exalt ego above aesthetic truth.

    The world is filled with artists who are so concerned with career and mass acceptance that they manicure themselves and their work until they are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

    For every person who “covers their eyes” there are ten people more who won’t. Art is a gateway for emotions, and to confine your work only to what is socially acceptable or familiar, is to deny yourself the possibility of a deep connection with your audience.

    A performance artist such as Marina Abramovic, whom I admire, would certainly not have risen to notoriety by concerning herself with “eye coverers”.

  4. I would definitely rather have to be censored later by someone else than censor my work while I was making it. Yes, it would be a bit of a slap in the face to have someone return your work and say you need to change it in order to be “accepted” by a mass audience. On the other hand though, you would at least have the satisfaction of being able to say that you made what you had set out to create. Yes, you might have to ultimately change your project in order to be accepted, but you’d also have a product that you could look at and say, “That was what I wanted to make and I made it”. I think you could still have a sense of personal pride about that, and possibly still be able to distribute that cut as an additional version that is “unrated” or “uncut”.
    However, I’m not entirely sure that you could definitively know whether or not a choice was made for artistic reasons or censorship reasons without going directly to the source and asking the director about the choice. I think if the outcome seems to not fit or even be contradictory to the overall message or theme of a work of art, then it might be safe to assume that it was for censorship reasons rather than an artistic choice.

  5. I personally would rather havesomeone tell me what to censor. I just feel like it’s easier to cover all my bases and make sure my work is “correct” when I have someone checking it for me.
    I know absolutely nothing about the arts here so I’m just going to say that most censorship comes from someone telling the artist how to censor. I’m basic that solely off the movie we watched in class though especially the women who directed “boys don’t cry”. The scenes she filmed were rough yet needed to be added in the movie to not only tell the story but to tell the story of millions of people in that same situation. Okay, maybe not quite millions but you know what I mean.
    Censorship will follow you everywhere in your career. I think you covered all the bases with your response.

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