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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Column: -bleep-

I still haven’t seen all of Eddie Murphy Raw. Not because I couldn’t sit through it, but because I saw it on TV. Of course, they cut a good portion of it so it can fit within a time frame — but what I really missed out on is the adult language.

It was hardly “raw” anymore — censored, no doubt, for my benefit as an underage viewer. What is gained from censoring the TV audience from bad language? Besides solidifying TV’s role as a third parent and role model, censorship is not for our benefit.
So, what is the purpose of censorship?
Ideally, TV censorship would create a program that most people could watch, would want to watch and would feel comfortable watching. It would set the standard for the ideal TV-viewing experience in which the audience could feel safe from offense and parents could let their kids watch unsupervised, without fearing they would see something annoyingly imitable.

In practice, censorship misses the mark entirely.

Thirteen Ghosts was all over cable TV for a while a couple years after its release. I saw the censored version a number of times and the unedited movie at least once. This was one of the stand-out moments in which I saw a strange trend in TV censorship.

A minor character is sliced in half vertically by a falling sheet of glass, and we see the whole thing. We even watch as the half facing us slides down faster than the other side, giving us a short anatomy lesson.

In the same two and a half hours of viewing, we see the hilarious antics of Matthew Lillard, who can’t get out a sentence without a few words getting “bleeped” for the sake of not offending the audience with his dirty mouth.

My personal favorite is when they digitally alter one scene so that instead of showing us an extended middle finger, we see an angry fist that seems almost surreal in its innocence.

Censorship allows TV to play out a fantasy in which the audience can escape reality and not be subject to the harsh ends of an emotional outburst or an expression of colorful language. We are protected from offense by the helpful agents of some anti-cussing organization, in order for us to live in the fantasy that is ideal TV. And what a sick fantasy that is.

I can watch a dog sever another dog in half in a bloody car accident and trip out on drugs with a horrifying string of hallucinations — all at a time that underage viewers are likely to watch TV. I’m sure the writers of “Family Guy” are in a constant struggle with censorship, but for the battles they win that allow them to put some of the most disturbing images on TV, they constantly lose in the war on profanity.

So this fantasy world endures — angry outbursts are reduced to whimpers of childish insults, but the violent results are in plain sight.

Who does TV censorship protect, and from what? Children will hear dirty words outside of the television set — what they’re not likely to see on a regular basis is graphic violence and other elements of horror movies.

Is this choosy censorship a way of protecting the audience from the unpleasantries of reality, while at the same time introducing them to the horrors and tragedies prevalent, but not often witnessed, in the real world?

I don’t think television censorship is some big conspiracy to make people accept the world as a dangerous place, but rather to make them feel safe from the annoyance of bad words. I just think it’s broken, outdated and ineffective.

In the end, television is a source of news and a form of entertainment. It doesn’t attack its audience with foul language — it puts on a show for us to enjoy. The fun we can have laughing at the awful ways a program is censored is limited. The censorship is frankly made useless by its obviousness, its failure to recognize highly offensive images and our own creativity filling in the blanks.

So, to that audience member that we are afraid to offend — I think we’d all appreciate it if you grew up.

NICK FREDERICI can sometimes be offensive; cuss him out at nrfred@ucdavis.edu.

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