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Censorship has generally been of interest to social theorists when considered as a matter of state control over ”free speech” and/or mass-mediated content. This governmental censorship has tended to focus on notions of protecting ”vulnerable” (young/lower-class/female) audiences from representations of sex, violence, and criminality which, it is assumed, may deprave, corrupt, or desensitize them.
Media-sociological work on censorship argues that it has worked to support the ideological power of hegemonic blocs, tending to repress expression which does not fall into normative cultural categories, as well as especially restricting popular rather than ”literary” culture. ”Educated,” middle-class audiences for elite culture are not as likely to be represented as ”vulnerable” as audiences for popular film and television. In the USA, the cinema Production Code of 1930 infamously detailed exactly what could not be shown in classical Hollywood films: sexual relations between heterosexual characters were elided; morally bad characters were depicted as never triumphing thanks to their crimes; and homosexual relationships could not be shown nor even strongly implied.
As well as restricting popular culture through codes of conduct for producers or industry self-regulation, censorship can also be said to act productively. Though it has historically produced gaps and absences in pop culture, it has also shaped texts and genres, especially by favoring moral messages such as ”crime will be punished.”
Censorship debates have been recurrently linked to moral panics surrounding new media technologies. One of these was the UK’s ”video nasties” panic in the 1980s (Critcher 2003), when the new media technology of video recording was felt to have undermined media regulation by making ”adult” horror texts depicting violence and gore available to ”children.” More recently, the Internet has occasioned similar outcries, with the availability of online pornography supposedly threatening state and industry regulation of such imagery.
- Critcher, C. (2003) Moral Panics and the Media. Open University Press, Buckingham.