While it may seem at times that this blog is against art in some ways, the reality is that I am against the wild use of the term. Not everything needs or deserves to be art to be a highly valued cultural commodity. This blog largely defends the rights of creative industries and their aims to create works. However, I also come from the consumer perspective, where the creator often needs to take into account the market’s wants and needs in order to succeed. Needless to say, this entry is going to differ from the usual writer’s persona a bit.
Censorship is not that.
If an author intends his work to be in a certain way and releases said piece in its intended state, it is not the job of others to come and change that product to fit themselves afterwards. If we are to determine art as a way to express oneself, no one else should have a word how or what the creator wishes to express. Censoring or changing one’s work, but not transforming it, is essentially infringing a core element of art itself.
A product is transformative when an original piece is taken and given a new form. For example, Youtube is filled with videos that fall under transformative label, as they take existing videos and sounds, creating something new based on them. MADs fall under this same category. They do not infringe on the original author’s intent since the original is still there, unaltered. Hollywood seems to have hard time grasping this thing.
To argue that censorship would be transformative is nothing short of incorrect, as it is intentional suppression of any element of a work as seen by any faction or person for whatever reason, be it political or due to supposedly objectionable content. Censorship does not transform elements of a work into a new one, it simply removes pieces it doesn’t like. It doesn’t transform the work; it doesn’t derive anything new from a work.
While human history is short in the cosmic scale, we’ve still had numerous works that are significant to our world and cultural heritage. Many of these are under the gun of censorship, especially nowadays when bikini clad women in games are seen as worst sort of offending material there is. Some even argue that Shakespeare should be censored to be more timely. What a terrible waste that would be. Even when we would remove the Immortal Bard from the equation, the fact is that his works are significant both culturally and historically. Understanding them is to understand the time they came from as well as modern English as a language.
Censoring the likes of Shakespeare for whatever reasons, or Mark Twain for the matter, is showing every sense of lack of belief and confidence in the people. Essentially, removing nigger from Twain’s books shows that the factions doing the censorship has no faith in the people to make the distinction between the era when the book was written in and now, or that the term is used in form that offers no offence. It is unfunny irony that Huckleberry Finn would see censorship in this way. Often the intent of censorship in cases like this is for a more positive and “fitting” release of the work for a given era, but as it always is, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
If one were to argue that Shakespeare’s King Lear is a copy of the legend of Leir of Britain with elements from the Holinshed’s Chronicles, I would argue back that it is not. To use something like Star Wars as an example, using existing works as a template to create your own work is not plagiarism, or in Star Wars‘ case, even transformative. The fact that George Lucas used classical literature, especially the concept of hero’s journey combined with elements inspired by Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, to create something that was essentially new and needed in the later 1970’s speaks volumes on itself. Creativity feeds back on itself, just like any field feeds back to itself. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that all creative fields derive from each other and from themselves, but that doesn’t keep anyone from to taking elements, rearrange them and give them new approaches to create something original. Sure, some resort to blatant ripping off, but that’s another issue.
Of course, it is well known that Shakespeare’s works are inspired by existing tales, but we don’t exactly celebrate the plots of his works. They are celebrated because Shakespeare’s works broke down existing boundaries both socially and in language. Hamlet‘s plot is not why it’s so highly regarded, but because Hamlet himself is so well written as a character and how Shakespeare conveys his growth and anguish through and through. Act III, Scene I of Hamlet is not great because To be or not to be has become recognized as almost universal anguish, but how the whole line bears Hamlet to the audience. There is no actor who would not want to tackle this famous line and breathe his own life into it.
We do not have reverence for Shakespeare’s works because of him; it’s the opposite.
The question whether or not we should separate the creator from his work is something we all should consider. I would argue that as often as possible we need to separate the work from its author simply because our view on the piece would be coloured and become biased if we have strong opinions on the creator. It is very easy to veer into identity politics if we have something against a creator, as it is the case with Dana Schutz’s Open Casket. The case shows how anyone can interpret a painting how they see fit and disregard the author’s intent. While we can debate which one is more important, we should always remind ourselves that freedom of expression is a supposed tent pole with art, and as such should be respected over personal views. Calling for her painting to be burned is very reminiscent of book burnings from various eras, e.g. German Nazi party’s book burnings. While we can argue obout the painting itself, no subject should be banned from anyone within the proper limits of law.
If we were to ban certain people from subjects to create works based on, the opposite should the true as well. Otherwise we’d be discriminating a group and favouring another. However, such limitation would kill the change of thoughts and ideas as well as the discussion between and in these groups. Creativity would stifle to a standstill when nobody is allowed to wonder outside their own region, creating a sort of echo chamber. No outside aspects would be brought in to give new and fresh ideas. Some would certainly welcome this sort of approach, as long as it would be aligned with their own views.
The world already has a history with this sort of approach, at least a one sided example. The Socialist Realism was practices in the nations of Soviet Union, which essentially prescribed a canon in art and other creative fields. While creative fields are not political by their core nature, politics can be applied to them. Socialist Realism was nothing short of political propaganda and its core intent can’t be separated from politics, but we can sideline it. However, not before it fell from favour around the 1960’s, no other idea or thought was allowed; it governed the creators.
The Chinese communist party did even worse by almost erasing their old culture and destroyed much of the Chinese heritage. Jump here to read a bit more on that. It’s interesting to notice both of these are communist and marxist examples.
In order for discussion and exchange of ideas to move forwards, we need to allow the creation of things we may object and view them outside our own selves. Nothing good comes from silencing the one we disagree and push him underground, when we can lift him up to the stage of ideas and allow all to see and wage these ideas ourselves.
The will and skill to express oneself has been around longer than the written word. If we’re to value art as we like to see it, it’d be great of we could stop fucking around with it and let people show their stuff. If one is ready to censor or ban someone’s freedom of expression, he’d better be ready to face censorship himself.