Sense or Censor-ability!
Anyone who has watched the excellent Thank You for Smoking may remember the end-credit sequence where William H. Macy's character, Senator Orton Finistirre, is spearheading a campaign to digitally remove all scenes of cigarette smoking from old films. According to the Senator he prefers not to think of it as changing history but as "improving" it. Oh, how we all chuckled at how ludicrous such an idea is...
Ludicrous? Stop chuckling and read this article - in a nutshell, some (although to be fair, not all) smoking scenes are to be edited out of Tom 'n' Jerry cartoons. Now, whilst I understand the sentiment and the fact that these cartoons are, naturally, aimed at a younger audience I have to ask - where will it stop? Will we end up with classic films butchered to appease our modern sensibilities? Will Sandie choke on a stick of gum in the pjama party scene of the "improved" version of Grease? Will Bogey puff away on one of those white plastic Nicorette things? And why stop at the smoking? Let's get rid of all scenes of gratuitous violence from the T 'n' J cartoons... oh, wait. That would only leave the scenes of the black maid standing on a chair afraid of the mouse, which would of course also need to be removed on the grounds of overt racism and sexism.
Television and film are the cave paintings, scrolls, works of art, first folios of the 20th Century. They depict who we were at a particular moment of time, in all our glory and in all our disgusting, violent, bigoted filth. If these cartoons are no longer suitable for kids then don't show them any more, create new works which better reflect our modern times, but have the decency to allow our history to stand. But having said all that how about we step back for a moment, stop viewing the situation through adult eyes, and give kids a little benefit of the doubt... do we really believe that a cartoon will make a 5 year old smoke? Kids may be (mostly) innocent but generally speaking they are not fucking stupid!
Now, I know an 8-year old nicotine addict who smoked since he was 5, but was it cartoons that got him started? Of course not! It was a combination of family situation, pressure from older kids he hung out with, and a variety of other social issues. To be honest even at 5 he would probably have described Tom 'n' Jerry as "wanky kids stuff", preferring to watch Schwarzenegger films and the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Parenting issues, yes. A cause for censoring - sorry, 'improving' - televisual history? I don't fucking think so!
This is not the first time retrospective censoring has been considered in the UK. A couple of years back the BBC were looking at editing classic sit-com Only Fools and Horses to remove a handful of references to "Paki's" or "Poof's". Yes, these terms are offensive. Yes, they grate with me when I hear them used in these programmes. But that's the point - let me be reminded of what life was like for the non-white and gay communities in the UK only 20 years ago, and let me see that despite my own personal attitudes differing there are still many who would happily still act in these ways. It's one of the ways in which we learn and move forward.
So listen up, Ofcom, and put your fucking scissors away. Let's be frank for a moment - if you follow through with this plan you are just one step away from Nineteen Eighty-Four's Ministry of Truth.