We are quite far from defending the thesis of the benefits or harms of censorship. It would be an oversimplification to blame or praise it today. The idea of ethical and legal (political) censorship is the first thing people usually think of. Our task is to classify censorship according to its obviousness to the subject, agent, or consumer. Our thesis is that the focus should be on hidden forms of censorship that are not recognized by the public consciousness as censorship. At best, they are referred to as self-censorship, and filters, at worst as contemporary, box office, art, aesthetic, etc. In the latter case, we are dealing with manipulation and a threat to artistic freedom, often in the name of artistic freedom. Whole institutions and armies of curators, managers, producers, reviewers, distributors, and film critics work on the regulation of creativity. Of course, this is evidence of active processes in cinema. But these active processes are reminiscent of the decomposition of the whale’s body, which makes it inflate more and more like a derivative financial bubble. Thus we see a dangerous symptom in the sphere of cinema.
“Eternal Spring” (2022) by Jason Loftus.
In March 2002, a state TV signal in China gets hacked by members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. Their goal is to counter the government narrative about their practice…
Political, ethical-legal censorship
So the political or moral-legal prohibition is comparatively the most innocuous type of censorship. As a rule, it exists in the form of a political-legal norm. The state and institutions manifest, declare, and propagandize this norm by all available means. This puts the artist in an artistic statement before the choice of getting around the ban, putting it beyond the brackets, or taking the risk of breaking it. The established limitations and pressure can become a creative stimulus, a remedy for artistic erectile dysfunction.
Ethical-legal censorship projects self-censorship’s shadow. Self-restriction predetermines the authorized choice of themes and artistic techniques, or permissible questions. Those who willingly or unwillingly find themselves in the shadow of censorship become its invisible agent.
How the censors watched 10 hours of dried paint
Performance # 1
In 2016, Charlie Lyne raised £6,000 via crowdfunding to pay for the classification of his film by the British Board of Film Classification. The cost per minute of censorship was £9.5. Charlie’s performance was to make a multi-hour film about how gray paint dries on a brick wall. The money raised was enough for 10 hours of video, which the censors watched in good faith.
At first glance, commercial censorship is less traumatic, but more dangerous due to the system of economic and production relations. In today’s world of global financial capital (including film investment), commercial censorship is a limiting factor. Assessing the commercial potential of a film as a likely object of investment is not about censorship. We are not only talking about the financing of films or their distribution. Most of the problem lies in the appropriation by the distribution system (we are also talking about streaming platforms) of the sacred-symbolic function of elevating the film into the spheres of big cinema or the being of film as art. In the sense that what does not make it to contemporary art exhibitions is supposedly not art.
Cinemas depend on the distribution system through screen time rental contracts. This is true of the top film festivals. They are part of the film distribution system and the film industry. The meaning for participants comes from the potential for distribution and recognition of their film as part of great cinema and art.
Like ethical and legal censorship, commercial censorship also casts a shadow of self-censorship. Commercial self-censorship can take the form of opportunistic filters related to financing, even at the initial conception of a film. The main protagonist of modern mass cinema is money. Money is something that fascinates audiences no less than a montage of attractions. The plot is ultimately tied to money, what was the budget of the film and what was the box office, the swanky award ceremonies, and the lavish ostentatious life of the popular celebrities.
The cultural, socio-political, and economic environment can set the aesthetic vector or determine the reproduction of the contemporary in art. The author and the artist, adapting to this environment, become conductors or agents of censorship themselves.
Performance # 2
In 2016, three filmmakers from Minsk bet over whose film would get the highest category of the Ministry of Culture’s censorship body. For this purpose, each of them shot a short film in which, according to the conditions, there had to be no violence, porn or erotic scenes, or foul language. The controversy was won by Alexander Martynyuk’s film “Censor” of the same name, receiving the age category of 18+.
What to do?
We should not forget that we are dealing only with the symptoms, not the cause of the problem.
It is necessary to recognize the manipulation that aims to exploit the freedom of creativity, to create the illusion of subjectivity. Manipulation manifests itself in the fact that actual censorship is veiled in the name of the aesthetic, the contemporary, the popular, the profitable, etc.
One cannot ignore the many millions of agents of shadow censorship who willfully or unwillingly delegate the blame for what is happening to the real subjects (power, money, elites, etc.). This happens both in the case of compliance and violation of censorship norms.
The way out is seen in awareness and exposure of the shadow side, eliminating the causes of the symptoms.
The theme of censorship in cinema is reflected in movies. The British horror film Censor 2021 (directed by Prano Bailey-Bond) deals with the connection between screen and real violence. An official censors a violent movie and then goes mad.