Whenever I picture a censor at work – limp haired, top lip wet from its busy, darting tongue, old-man eyebrows and old-man clothes, slight scent of urine about their person – I see John Winston Howard.
It’s just the kind of thing he gets off on, saying “no” to things (a Republic of Australia, a certain apology, etc.) or decreeing them illegal (gay marriage). You can just see his wee, beady little eyes staring at a spittle-flecked screen and shouting “NO! Not on my watch!” at a slightly racy episode of The Flintstones or Dr Who.
Being a censor, or just censorious, is a job for old people; for those who hate the young for all the sex and fun they’re having, for the filth they’re watching, and for making them feel broken and past it.
Can you imagine putting a millennial in charge of a censorship body? He’d just sit there and shrug at everything and say: “What’s the point? It’s all on the internet, isn’t it?”
And lo, verily, it is. Our governments, perhaps best personified by the word “NO” in human form: Tony Abbott, may still seek to restrict our access to a lot of things that are now simply accepted elsewhere in the world – cannabis, medicinal and otherwise, full-strength alcohol at sporting events, the ability to marry whoever you want, buying a drink after dinner time (“Why aren’t they in BED?” you can hear Howard shrieking) – but in terms of censoring what we watch or read, they’re a busted flush.
It’s hard for many of us to remember what the world was like before the time-wasting super highway forged its way into our lounge rooms, and then our pockets – but it was far, far easier then to restrict public access to things.
Not many decades ago, you couldn’t, officially, buy an X-rated video outside of the ACT and NT. Today you have something in excess of a billion of them at your fidgeting fingertips.
A FEW YEARS AGO ZOO WEEKLY WAS BERATED OUT OF BUSINESS BY "SHOUTY KILLJOYS", AS ITS FINAL EDITOR CALLED THEM.
If our government in the last century wanted to ban a book, back before there was Amazon, they could pretty effectively do so. And, to be fair, banning such boring bilge-fests as Catcher in the Rye and Naked Lunch (which they did) might not have been a bad idea.
Today, though, if the top Australian wowsers wanted to stop us seeing a particular movie, to protect our morals, they could issue a decree shutting all movie theatres – and it wouldn’t make any difference.
The internet, much like Donald Trump, does not care about the differences between countries. It simply dominates our lives and rules our resting hours the way that television used to.
Incredibly this doesn’t stop the Angry Old White Men from trying. Only a few years ago Zoo Weekly was berated out of business by “shouty killjoys”, as its final editor called them – and as a magazine it was about as hard-core as When Harry Met Sally. OK, maybe Baywatch.
More recently Abbott and his angry chide squad tried to stop Macklemore singing a song at the NRL Grand Final, essentially because it might make people think.
In the words of David Foster Wallace: “Censorship always serves the status quo.” And we find ourselves in a world where fear rules (as long as it’s not fear of climate change; that’s nothing to worry about, apparently) and our leaders want us kept pliant and in the dark.
If that sounds a bit Orwellian, think about how Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton decided they could fix the problem of refugee-boat arrivals: by not telling us about them anymore. Pure Nineteen Eighty-Four-style press-conference hilarity.
Over the water, Sean Spicer and those who’ve followed him have taken a similar tack.
Even the Trumpian idea of “fake news” is a clumsy form of post censorship: don’t read that, or watch CNN, because it’s not true. And people listen.
But only the stupid and the mentally torpid, fortunately.
Over the centuries the masses have pushed back against various forms of censorship, and while the fight for control of what we read, hear and think ebbs and flows, we’ve certainly got a more free press now than the South African public did, back when newspapers were printed with huge black boxes across them, blocking anything the government censors decided you shouldn’t read.
That such a process could not work now just shows that the internet is, among other things, a giant “fuck you” to those who would censor our freedom of expression.
Thank God for the nerds, I say.