Thursday, December 16, 2010

That's Obscene

You may not know this for sure, but I'm not a sex pervert. So imagine my shock when I got a letter advising me that my mail had been confiscated by Royal Mail for being obscene. This was more than ten years ago when I was living in England, but I can still remember the feeling of heat rising to my face as I stood at the door to my flat. I remember I looked around and down the street to see if the postman was still there and if he were looking at me, disapproving.

What had been confiscated by Royal Mail for, in their words, violating obscenity laws was an art book. Stands to reason as I was an art student. Did it contain erotic pictures? Damn skippy. But nothing that I would ever imagine could be construed as obscene. I was confused and weirdly, I felt ashamed, though I knew, intellectually, that I had nothing to be ashamed of. The notice said that my 'obscene' property was being held in a RM warehouse somewhere in the outskirts of London (Dagenham? Deptford? I can't remember) and that if I wanted to contest the claim and attempt to retrieve my property I had only to show up, prove that I was not a sex pervert and probably have a scarlet letter sewn on to my jumper.

Censorship is the devil. It's the Royal Mail sticking it's clammy fingers all over your stuff and saying 'For Shame'. It's someone who thinks they know more than you do about God, sex and right and wrong telling you that you are smutty - literally a particle of soot, too dirty to ever completely come clean. Censorship is for your own good and for your children's own good and for all the good of all the people who don't know enough to figure out when something is clearly unwholesome.

I don't believe in censorship for adults. I know saying this sometimes leads to a discussion that devolves into a version of 'Would You Rather?" where the person who believes in censorship posits that I'd probably think it would be okay to show Faces of Death* to a toddler. I do believe in self-censorship. I know there are things I don't want to read, I shouldn't watch and that would be harmful for me to listen to. I believe in censorship for children - society needs to help me keep inappropriate things from reaching my kids and I'm cool with there being a societal norm for what's appropriate for children. It's when we're talking about censoring what an adult can have access to that I get hinky. I can't imagine anyone else in the whole world knowing the answer to that better than me.

I never did go down to wherever the heck it was to pick up my smutty art book. The book was imported all the way from San Francisco, so I felt the bitter tears of being out ££. I just couldn't bring myself to do down there and, even after all these years, that's something I am a little ashamed of.

*Full Disclosure: I have never seen Faces of Death, and don't recommend it. It seems to me a prime example of how to desensitize yourself to other people's suffering, basically Sociopath 101. When I was in high school it was considered 'cool' to have watched it and I was invited to do so lots of times. I was also invited to sleep with many boys and girls, do drugs and steal things, but never thought it was right for me. See? The self-censorship thing can work.

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