What is good censorship?

What constitutes good censorship?
In psychoanalysis, the term “censor”
denotes a mental power that represses elements
of the subconscious from entering the
conscious mind. It’s what failed for Don
Imus last week and it’s what rappers like
Ludacris have traditionally transgressed.

More colloquially, though, the term has a
twofold connotation: that of protection and
of restriction. It’s a question that remains
central at St. John’s, as University administrators
have seemed completely tone deaf
when it comes to what should and should not
be censored.

But what exactly is the advantage of censorship?

In the case of Imus, censorship might
have protected the feelings of a lot of very
offended people. It might have protected a
few children from hearing another “ho” comment.

It might have saved Imus his job.
Regardless, censorship seems to be a kind of
concealing of something with the potential to
be actualized. It seems intrinsically repressive.

What I find even more reprehensible
than Imus’ comments or Ludacris’ lyrics is
the insistence that their voices be silenced for
the sake of not offending anyone. If we are
going to advocate free speech, it must be
done at every turn, with every seemingly
ignorant or racist comment.

Let Imus use the phrase “nappy headed
ho’s.” Let Michael Richards use the “N”
word repeatedly and aggressively. Let
Ludacris degrade women by calling them
“bitches” and “ho’s.” They have a right to say
what they will, and so do you.
There’s a too-oft quoted remark from
Voltaire that reads, “I disagree with what you
have to say but will fight to the death to protect
your right to say it.” What Voltaire said
in the eighteenth century reverberates now,
both within this very University and nationally.

What censorship leaves the censored
with is an absence, a kind of ignorance that
we have too often assumed is healthy and
beneficially protective. But that very protection
is a kind of concealment that denies a
growth, a chance at enlightenment for the
sake of safety from the unknown.

The firing of Don Imus is just another
case of an emerging hypocrisy of censorship.
Issues concerning race and gender are rooted
in the same kind of repression that calls for
Imus’ head or for Ludacris’ lyrics to be modified
at a St. John’s concert. So when talking
heads expect censorship to avoid divisive,
offensive issues, they are simultaneously perpetuating
an environment that has produced
cultures of ignorance, bigotry, and hate. No
one is really better off if Imus or Ludacris or
Michael Richards or Mel Gibson or Tim
Hardaway censors their subconscious for the
sake of being politically correct. Sure, their
careers might be better off with that very
repression, but they and everyone else will
continually remain in the dark about the
issues they raise if they’re continually prohibited
from raising them.

One of the more gratifying and frustrating
parts of my job as a columnist is the feedback
I receive every week. No matter what
the response, my readers always get the last
word, whether it is in the form of a personal
comment or a letter to the editor. In that
sense, my column has the potential to spark a
very explicit reaction and a more implicit
conversation, one which usually ends badly
for me.

One of the more intelligible segments of
a comment I received recently read “If you
can’t understand the very nature of hip hop
then you not need to be in college.”
While I find this response to be off-topic
and rooted in a serious misreading of my
remarks concerning Ludacris, “The Vagina
Monologues,” and the hypocrisy demonstrated
by this University’s administration, I
would enjoy the opportunity to learn of what
I don’t understand. I would like to be told
why I’m wrong and what problems exist in a
critique of the language of hip-hop.
If we’re going to at least pretend to promote
discussion at St. John’s and throughout
this nation of free speech, we’re going to
have to let the crazies and the abrasives talk.

We’re going to have to listen to Ludacris,
watch “The Vagina Monologues,” and rent
“Borat” on DVD. They are the necessary
component in a dialectic squelched by the
PC police.

What constitutes good censorship? The
kind that tells you not to tell fart jokes at a
formal dinner. Besides that, the best censorship
is no censorship.