With the release of the remake of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, it’s worth reflecting on the reaction to the original in 1983 and its relevance today. The original Evil Dead was made as gruesome as possible without any fear or forethought of censorship. The censors, wielding the draconian 1984 Video Recordings Act, banned the film as one of its ‘video nasties’. The result was the Streisand effect of its day: as soon as the outright ban was lifted after Sam Raimi contested it in court, the cut version of the film became the biggest selling VHS of the year, fueled by its reputation as being tainted with obscenity.
The witch-hunt by the tabloids and the resultant banning of hundreds of films happened during a time of panic (also fuelled by the tabloids.) Copycat theories blamed horror films for an increasingly documented violent society – and when there’s an aura of panic people do foolish things. Freud’s The Future of an Illusion quite convincingly expounds why we are willing to give up liberty for safety when we’re afraid, but actually accomplish neither. The Video Recordings Act is far from being irrelevant today. It was re-architected in 2010 to get around technicalities of European law, and the BBFC still regularly take a razor blade to the films that pass their doors; The Human Centipede 2 was banned in 2011.
The most germane point from libertarians like Thomas Paine and John Stewart Mill is that freedom of speech is as much the right of an audience to listen as it is right of someone to be allowed to speak. If we allow the law of the land to decide what adults can and cannot choose for themselves to see and hear, we deny them a basic liberty. For me, this brings to mind a scene from A Man for All Seasons:
Sir Thomas More: What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?
Just bear in mind that whenever a law is passed that makes an exception to freedom of speech, you are making a rod for your own back.
The assumption propping up censorship is that you are stupid, simple and don’t know what’s good for you. Let’s imagine that we accept this abhorrent premise as gospel. Who are you willing to award the job of censor? Who do you think knows what’s fit for you to read or watch better than you do?
If the answer is no one them I’m sorry to break it to you that British law says that such a person must exist. The BBFC’s defense is that the most extreme violence in film needs shielding from the innocent eyes of children. This is much like arguing that all the alcohol in supermarkets should be watered down in case the little darlings get into your liquor cabinet while you’re not looking. As it is for alcohol, the law should be concerned with restricting the sale of films by age-appropriation and allowing parental responsibility to prevail in the home.
The BBFC’s role should be restricted to classification and, the job that it actually does very well, calling attention to illegality in the production of films such as cruelty to animals and children (and adults for that matter.)
I don’t want to watch The Human Centipede 2 but if an adult in this country would like to see it in its uncut form, they should be facilitated in doing so legally.