|06-18-2007, 02:52 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Censorship's New Ally: The Digital Razor
Censorship's New Ally: The Digital Razor
...An entire generation grows up knowing only what a click of the mouse tells them, unaware that the slice of the Digital Razor to accommodate someone's politics has emptied out real history into a hidden wastebasket. Tapeworm programs, which can hunt down and locate specific phrases, can go about their censoring with automation. While we sleep...
A couple weeks ago, I rented Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter, the very first film based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. It had been a favorite film of my teenage years; my own copy was a grainy VHS tape which, like the modern equivalent of stone tablets on which scribes would commit information, has become embarrassingly passť.
Towards the very end of the movie, I jumped up. A scene I remember quite well from Manhunter - where William Peterson's character goes to visit the family he's been trying so hard to protect - was gone! In its place, two people overlook a beach. The original scene, the real scene, was ignobly snipped out of existence. And I can't find it anywhere. I've bought, and returned, two editions of the film because this final scene was scrubbed without a hush of protest.
It isn't the first time this has happened, though other instances were rightly accompanied by furor and public attention. As every fanboy knows, the original Star Wars film had Han Solo shooting Greedo's green grimace first in the Cantina. George Lucas apparently felt it was immoral to shoot a man who's threatening you with death, so he changed it to where Greedo shoots first, then Solo returns fire. Ah! Now it's justified, right? Lucas has also stated he's displeased with a sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy shoots a swordsman. you know the scene. The morality argument again. (Hey George. touch that scene and you forfeit your ...)
Mind you, we can easily dismiss this as a quirk of the movie industry. And we'd be wrong to do so. There's a great moment in Thank you For Your Smoking, in which William H. Macy's overzealous anti-tobacco crusader wants to comb through old films where Hollywood stars like Bette Davis smoked, and digitally remove their cigarettes. When asked if this was rewriting history, Macy's character vigorously says, "No, no! We're improving history!" Messing with historical records isn't to be taken lightly. Today's politics and religion, the catchphrases of news channel gasbags and the zeitgeist on tomorrow's menu, have no business in altering pieces of the past.
Think otherwise? Consider the Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Mohommed Omar, who before 9-11 started dynamiting ancient Buddhist statues which had stood in his country for some 800 years. These were priceless treasures to the world. Why did he reduce them to rubble? "I don't care about anything but Islam," he said.
Ah. So if a radical government took charge in Egypt, should they remove the "heathen" pyramids?
Censorship has long been a crippling pox against freedom and free expression, but today's Digital Era makes it noiseless, secret, insidious. Like the painted commandments in George Orwell's Animal Farm growing shorter and shorter. redone at night when the animals were sleeping.
The benefit of the Information Age is that we can access limitless vistas of data at the speed of light. The negative consequence is obvious. When you change something digitally, there is no default backup of the way it was. An entire generation grows up knowing only what a click of the mouse tells them, unaware that the slice of the Digital Razor to accommodate someone's politics has emptied out real history into a hidden wastebasket. Tapeworm programs, which can hunt down and locate specific phrases, can go about their censoring with automation. While we sleep.
Sure, many people were annoyed when Steven Spielberg replaced cop guns with walkie-talkies in E.T. Again, today's politics intruding in yesterday's records. It might be a movie. but it really is a record. Imagine the Digital Razor taken against literature, slicing "offensive" words from Huckleberry Finn, or talking animals from Charlotte's Web, or sexual speculations from The Diary of Anne Frank and The Catcher in the Rye. It isn't absurd, because these very books have been criticized for the very listed reasons. The Digital Razor can surreptitiously change the speeches of Thomas Paine into endorsements for communism, or make the once-already-transformed Pledge of Allegiance say "Under Jesus." Or "Under Allah."
Before history is erased, we can reflect on the burning of the Great Library by fundamentalists, the destruction of political tomes in ancient China, the book burnings in Berlin under Hitler.
The problem we face is far worse. Yesterday's burnings required at least 451 degrees. Tomorrow's censorship will be done not with torches, but with a search-and-replace command.
by Brian Trent [click here for more articles], who is a professional essayist, screenwriter, and novelist; he is the author of "Remembering Hypatia" and the forthcoming "Never Grow Old: the Novel of Gilgamesh." Brian is a contributor to the Populist Party, American Chronicle and The Humanist Magazine. Visit his website at www.rememberinghypatia.com.