Censorship in Writing: your thoughts?


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  1. #1
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Censorship in Writing: your thoughts?

    This thread is based on an article I published in my journal on Music Banter back in 2012. The concerns expressed here were genuine on my part, and can, I believe, form the basis for some hopefully enlightened discussion on the whole topic of censorship: how far is too far, who makes those decisions and why, and is free speech always a good thing if it leads to hatred or prejudices being even tacitly accepted?

    All opinions welcome. I'd really like to get some proper discussion going on this. Obviously, this is no longer necessarily about the artist referred to here, but more a wider issue addressing the problems of censorship, and the balance to be struck between free speech and giving oxygen to views that are opposite to yours, and may in fact be objectionable, even abhorrent to you.

    Here's the piece, written by me in 2012:

    "My Brain Hurts!"
    The often demented ramblings and musings of a music journal author



    Something has been troubling me since yesterday. I stumbled across an artiste whose name intrigued me (often the first impression one makes on me is to have an interesting name, either of the artiste or the album) and having trialed a few tracks found it not terrible. It was, I think I can only conclude, doom metal, but for what it was it was not too bad, and I haven't had that much experience with that sub-genre. So as I usually do, I went searching for more information on the artiste. Wiki had nothing, which is never a good start. My other main source --- for metal at any rate --- Encyclopaedia Metallum was more helpful, but still details were sketchy. So I decided to type in the artiste's name as a domain, and was gratified to see a website pop up.

    The artiste in question is known as Babylon Mystery Orchestra, and turns out, from what I can see, to be the solo efforts of one guy, who sings, plays all instruments, writes all lyrics and music and is so far unsigned, despite having six albums and being in existence since 2003. Is this a good thing? If he was that talented, surely he would have been signed by now? Perhaps. Not necessarily, I thought though. Some artistes either turn down the advances of a major label as they either don't want their music diluted, want to retain control of their music or simply don't trust them. From having read about BMO I think he falls into the final category.


    Now, the music is fine: nothing terribly special, but not unlistenable (at least, in the samples I heard) but I often look for more interesting than good albums to review. Wow, that sounds stupid doesn't it? That's not what I mean. What I mean is that I look for something interesting first, some hook on which to hang the review. Of course, if the music is terrible then it doesn't matter how different or thought-provoking the name is, I shy away from it. No point in sacrificing quality for novelty. I learned this lesson with Vincent Kuhner's album some time ago, buying it only for the extra-long title, and was very disappointed, if not totally confused by it. But if the music matches the interest factor, I can usually push “Purchase” and have a listen to the whole thing.


    Babylon Mystery Orchestra is the brainchild of one Sidney Allen Johnson, and on his website there is a lot of rhetoric about the things he doesn't like, and/or trust, and it seems, in fairness, to be pretty much everything. He has written, it would appear, albums that take apart religion, politics, America ... here, I'll let the guy tell you himself: ”From its inception Babylon Mystery Orchestra has defiantly presented its vision of the truth, the way a true artist should, without regard to the prevailing popular views of the time. The gothic hard rock/heavy metal artist thrives on challenging conventional thinking. Especially that of the rock music elites. No man-made institution is sacred to Babylon Mystery Orchestra! Not America, portrayed as the Biblically doomed "Mystery Babylon the Great" on the debut CD "Divine Right Of Kings." Not the Christian church, a man-made institution rightly questioned on the critically acclaimed work "The Great Apostasy: A Conspiracy of Satanic Christianity." The second CD, "On Earth As It Is In Heaven," even condemned rock music itself!”


    Okay, all fine and good. It's a thinly-disguised promotion for his previous works, certainly, but it manages to succesfully state his case. So I'm intrigued, and want to investigate more. I notice that on his site the guy seems to have links to essays --- essays? Yeah. So obviously he's reasonably intelligent and presumably articulate. A good way, I reason, to find out what he's all about is to read one or two. So I do. The one I choose seems to be a deconstruction of the theory of evolution. Now, to my mind, there is only one group that denies evolution as a solid theory, and that's creationists. So am I reading the rantings of a religious conservative? I read the article, which I have to say is both well-written and researched, and seems to reference some eminent scientists, who appear to agree that there may be flaws in Darwin's theory. I get a little unsettled by this, and await the revelation at the end that Johnson believes God created the world. If he says this, then I know (right or wrong) I'm dealing with a creationist, and my opinion may form on that basis.


    But to my surprise, he doesn't say anything, beyond mentioning The Great Flood and Noah, however the manner in which he refers to them leaves me no wiser as to whether he's advocating creationism or laughing at it equally. My curiousity unsatisfied, I turn to see if there's a similar essay “taking down God”, as it were, but my attention is drawn to one about homosexuals. In this article, I find Johnson perhaps revealing his true colours, as he seems to launch into an angry, hate-filled tirade about the passing of laws in certain states promoting and allowing same-sex marriage. It's clear he doesn't agree with this, it's clear he has a hatred of gays, and also of the president, as he constantly refers to laws passed by Obama, with a thin veneer of hatred over his writing which suggests he either hates Democrats, or blacks, or both.


    So, are we now looking at racism, gender-fuelled hatred and prejudice? It would, on the face of it, seem so. The fact that the symbol for BMO is a badly-disguised swastika does not help settle my nerves. I know it's the actual original ancient symbol that Hitler corrupted to make into the Nazi emblem, and which came to stand for repression, murder, totalitarianism and hatred, but in which context is it supposed to be understood when used as the logo for Babylon Mystery Orchestra? I don't see essays on jews, but I do see a lot of hatred directed at Islam. This is not good. Islam is a religion; it's Islamic terrorists or extremists that should draw the ire of all right-thinking people, not a whole community that is spread out over the globe.


    Titles run like: “There is no god but Allah: the truth about Islam part 2”, “The science of denying God”, “Heavy metal's golden goose ... COOKED! By the Ku Klux Klan” and “Homosexuals and Hugenots”, the latter of which was the one I read. This last one, at least, makes very uncomfortable reading, and I am left in something of a quandary (whoever owns it shouldn't have left the doors open, but there you are, I wandered in and now I'm stuck in it!): do I now judge this man's music --- the lyrics of which do seem to reflect his view on the world as transmitted through his somewhat hate-filled but well-written essays --- on the basis of what he writes? If I review it, can I divorce the music from the ideals, the man from the music, the album from the prejudice? And if I do review it, am I giving oxygen to a preacher of intolerance and hatred, becoming (however inadvertently or reluctantly) the mouthpiece for Sidney Allen Johnson, providing a platform from which he can spout his edicts and pronouncements? If people reading this enjoy the music, am I driving them into the arms of a fanatic?


    But if I choose not to publish, not to pursue this review, ignore the man and his music, am I pushing the problem to one side and refusing to face it? Am I pretending this sort of hatespeak through music does not exist, even though I know it does. Of course I know, but is this a case of NIMJ (Not In MY Journal)!? Am I ignoring the problem and hoping it'll fade away? Am I taking the easy way out instead of taking this challenge head-on and trying to deal with it? Should I even involve his politics, beliefs, prejudices, or just concentrate on the music? But when the music is so deeply rooted in that belief system, how can I have one without the other? They're each part of the whole, more than the sum of their parts, and one road leads inexorably to the other.


    Or do I misunderstand the man? His first essay, while coldly laughing at the idea of evolution and explaining WHY he does not believe in it --- or, indeed, global warming --- was quite a deep and enthralling read, and he can certainly string a word or two together, there's no doubting that. Is he a harmless conspiracy theorist, one of those people who blames the government on everything that happens, that think shadowy men sit around a dark table in a grey office somewhere and make decisions that affect the world, faceless, powerful men who are answerable to no ---- hey! Where are you taking me? What's the hood for? I demand to see the Irish ambassador!


    Seriously though, do I give his writings credit, should I decide to go ahead with the review, or ignore them? Do I give him more exposure, let him say what he wants, and let people make up their own minds about that, or do I essentially repress what I've read, practicing a form of censorship myelf which I have never fully agreed with? Will I be unwittingly doing the work of the “shadowy men” by denying Johnson and the Babylon Mystery Orchestra a chance to state their case? Will I be making myself a tool of the “Illuminati” or PNAC, or whoever he blames for all the ills and wars and diseases and economic meltdowns in the world?


    It's not even that I'm that blown away by his music: I mean, it's okay, but I could just as easily review something else, forget about him and move on. But then again, could I forget him? If his words --- be they misguided, plain wrong, or in fact the unvarnished, undisguised truth --- have affected me so deeply that I felt I had to write this to try to sort out my reaction to BMO, do I not owe it to myself, and my readers, to explore further and see what's to be found? I only run a tiny music journal, in the final analysis, not a conspiracy centre or a television studio, but what I put in it is up to me, and I like to think that my choices are based both on personal experiences and first impressions as well as gut feelings.


    What does my gut tell me about this? I'm still trying to work that out.


    If anyone knows of Johnson, or Babylon Mystery Orchestra, and has any advice, I'd be really grateful to hear from you. Anyone else who would like to weigh in, on either side, your input would be welcome too.
    Last edited by velo; September 24th, 2019 at 09:37 PM.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  2. #2
    Wɾ°ʇ°∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
    how far is too far, who makes those decisions and why, and is free speech always a good thing if it leads to hatred or prejudices being even tacitly accepted?

    ...

    a wider issue addressing the problems of censorship, and the balance to be struck between free speech and giving oxygen to views that are opposite to yours, and may in fact be objectionable, even abhorrent to you.
    Well, first there is free speech and free speech. There's the free speech that permits you to critique your government without fear of reprisal. Then you have Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which permits anyone the right to hold and express any opinion. The latter comes with several amendments, mostly to counter this sort of thing. In the UK there are several hate speech laws that do a similar function, not that that stops people citing "free speech" as a get-out for being a c**t. My understanding is that there are fewer such laws in the US.

    Then there's the scope of a piece of censorship. If someone comes into my house and starts, I dunno, talking smack about the Irish or what-have-you, I'll probably ask them to leave. Am I censoring them? No, because they are (somewhat) free to spout their views on the internet or out in the rain for all I care. I just don't want it in my house, on my blog, or anywhere on my patch. I am under no obligation to grant them any publicity oxygen. It's quite a common defence of such behaviour to cry censorship when in fact no such thing is happening. So - I make that decision for my stuff and I stand by it and now the world knows why

    Do I support laws that censor such a hardline opinion? There's part of me that does. I just ... don't think sufficient numbers of people are well-enough equipped to handle such outre opinions. I mentioned here the other day that the only place in the UK that still teaches rhetoric is Eton. That's not a good situation to be in because it leaves huge tracts of the population so backfooted that they don't even know how backfooted they are. As I understand it rhetoric is still taught in US schools and it shows. People need to learn how to handle the sorts of arguments that are gaining way too much ground today otherwise we will be sunk, and until we do, I think we need the intervening hand of the law. Of course, whether the implementers of that law can be trusted to do it right is a whole other side-issue.

    As for your writeup, I think it's fair. It doesn't censor the guy but at the same time it is clear what he's about. Therefore readers can then be that bit more forewarned and forearmed.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


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    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
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    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
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  3. #3
    I'm against pretty much anything resembling censorship. You don't get a free-thinking society by stifling thought and expression.

    If someone's a raving asshole, I want them to air their opinions all the time at high volume, wear the t-shirts, gets the picket signs and everything. Helps me know who the assholes are.

    I find far more damage is done by people keeping bad things quiet than airing said problems out.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
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  4. #4

  5. #5
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies, especially bdcharles's very considered one, and sorry man, by the way, for sending you the PM. I just assumed you were a mod.

    My main worry was and is something that kind of surfaced a little on Music Banter, where one of the guys would rave about, literally, a Nazi punk band, and cheerfully quote the lyrics without any adverse comment or warning. To me, and I may be wrong here, that's tantamount to agreeing with/supporting the position of the writer. I mean, if some guy writes in his songs something derogatory about the Jews, I really don't want to be a conduit for funneling that to other people. But the problem, as I said, with BMO was that he was actively writing (and, as I mentioned, it has to be said, very articulately and on the face of it well-informed) about a lot of issues that would be considered hate speech, and I wasn't sure whether giving him that platform, however small, was a good idea. In the end, from what I can see, I just dropped the whole thing and moved on. Not, I think, a conscious or even brave or cowardly decision on my part: from what I recall, I just forgot about it as I got immersed in other stuff. And since only one person commented, and that directly after my post, there was nothing to remind me of it. So maybe it wasn't that big an issue, or I chose (consciously or not) not to make it one.

    I suppose in the end there's no real simple answer to this. I'd like to think though that if I wrote something like our friend writes above - in a purely fictional, character-driven way - that I'd be at pains to point out how wrong it/he/she was. Whether I would do that skillfully or not would be, I guess, a reflection on how good a writer I am, or not, as the case may be. But I would never want anyone thinking I supported or even conceded such notions.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #6
    Funny, music reviewer Anthony Fantano (aka theneedledrop) on the YouTubes recently removed a review of a French metal band Deathspell Omega. Seems sensible enough, and it's an action I also wouldn't exactly call censorship. See the quote at the end for his reasons.

    I think Anthony has a slightly different perspective on this though as someone whose videos are supporting him financially. As we know, the social media Borg can latch onto the slightest crumb of association and make people's lives very difficult. If Anthony were to be associated with the group, and thereby the alt-right, he could possibly face endless harassment that would affect his ability to pay the bills (i.e., social media stirring up people to go to his house; people contacting and harassing YT, advertisers, Patreon, etc.) I'm inclined to call this social censorship, since it is technically different to legal bans, such as with Tropic of Cancer, Mein Kampf or Huckleberry Finn.

    That said, it is still incredible powerful and frankly it is behaviour I believe to be inescapable. All cultures at all times have taboos and words/actions/beliefs that are beyond the pale. We are always orienting within a culture. Lenny Bruce was not afraid to flout the times, but he certainly paid a price. I think in Lenny's case we'd say we owe him a debt of gratitude. Going down for some wanna-be Nazi probably won't earn the same.

    So you have that to consider as part of your reputation. You also have to decide whether you, by your dissemination of your views on this, will be bringing this person greater audience. This again can have a big impact, especially with someone like Fantano who can literally break bands by reviewing them positively. As such, his reach has the potential to help this fellow whose views he objects to, and thus he wouldn't want to contribute.

    If I were in your shoes regarding this Johnson fellow, I'd probably still write about him as well. Especially since he's a small-time crackpot with ALL the taboo views of our day and age from what I can tell. Exposure would be unlikely to strengthen his influence since I have no audience to bestow/sic on him.

    Guess I haven't offered much for answer, but it was fun to think about.

    BTitG:
    Just thought Iíd jump on here and quickly explain the sudden disappearance of my DsO review:

    Given the bandís elusive nature and the lack of information on such things in mainstream sources, I was unaware of the deep ties band member Mikko Aspa has to the NSBM scene. And, yeah, thatís pretty concerning to me, warranting a removal of the reviewóeven if Aspa wasn't responsible for the lyrical content and my interpretation of the album's themes somehow wasn't off-base. Maybe things would be different if I knew about all of this beforehand and had an opportunity to expound upon it and voice concerns in the review, but I came into this info after the fact and I figure itís more sensible to move onto the dozens of other records pressing on me instead of trying to pull off a time-consuming redo.

    Ultimately, just because an album impressed me, it doesnít mean I have to waste my time rationalizing an artistís racist views or use my platform to promote the music of a fascist sympathizer. Thatís my choice and Iím making it. And for anyone whoíd want to create some sort of false equivalence here, yeah, Iíve reviewed Burzum, but expressed my concerns about the vague white pride themes in my Fallen review and got nothing but shit for it. Iíve also reviewed Peste Noire, but I complemented that video with a thinkpiece about messages in music and reviewing artists whose views you find disagreeable. And if you didnít notice, I skipped covering the new PN ďsplit,Ē and all you have to do is see the front coverís disgusting depiction of blackface to know why.

    Iíll leave it here for now, and will be doing my best to avoid endorsing the work of artists that push similarly racist ideologies from here onward. Thanks for reading.


  7. #7
    I was listening to British radio this morning for a bit of Brexit Schadenfreude and in a short segment they were discussing that Amazon (I think it was Amazon) is being pressured to withdraw an autobiography by Tommy Robinson, who I understand is generally considered a far-right/neo-nazi bastard of some pedigree (there's so many around I can't keep up). Anyway, the interviewer pointed out that Amazon sells Mein Kampft, Mao's Red Book, etc. Which does sort of undermine the argument somewhat.

    What actually interested me was there seemed to be a distinction drawn between books and more casual merchandise - t-shirts, etc. The interviewer suggested it might be appropriate to censor the latter but that the idea of banning books was unacceptable, that books have a special privilege because they are books. The person he was interviewing kept repeating the line about how the book triggers hate speech and that makes it unique.

    I don't know, I don't really have a full-formed view on it, but I thought it was interesting. I guess I tend toward thinking books (and other forms of art) do have a special allowance when it comes to that stuff. I mean, it occurred to me I have and probably would again read autobiographies of individuals I don't agree with. I used to like reading books about the KKK, because I found it interesting.

    So where would that censorship line even be drawn, right? On the other hand, wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on the front seems totally different. However, I don't know how that difference would necessarily be expressed. Would a poster advocating Nazism have that 'artistic allowance' or not? Is there a major difference between a poster and a coffee mug if they both espouse a similar statement? I used to collect posters of Soviet propaganda art because I enjoyed its aesthetic. I don't read Russian, so god even knew what half of them said, certainly I never gave it any thought, and I hate the idea that somebody might think I was supporting Stalin because of it.

    So, I think I generally tilt toward the notion of less regulation and censorship with this stuff, understanding that others are still entitled to oppose it and that if you try to walk into a restaurant wearing something objectionable they can tell you to fuck off.

  8. #8
    Member Rojack79's Avatar
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    For me i see books as an expression of the artist. If my book deal's with Nazi's, Racism, and other taboo subject's then guess what I want those details to be as close to real life as possible so I can educate people. Even if the book is completely fantasy I all still use the knowledge I have of the real world to make some truly vile and despicable characters. That means they're going to have to do some horrific things. So no I do not advocate for censorship in writing. It blunts the impact and dulls the action of the whole book and in the end just leaves a bad taste in ones mouth this condemning the book to become a glorified door stop, or paperweight. Whichever one you choose.
    This might not be my best work but that just means there's room to improve.

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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Rojack79 View Post
    For me i see books as an expression of the artist. If my book deal's with Nazi's, Racism, and other taboo subject's then guess what I want those details to be as close to real life as possible so I can educate people. Even if the book is completely fantasy I all still use the knowledge I have of the real world to make some truly vile and despicable characters. That means they're going to have to do some horrific things. So no I do not advocate for censorship in writing. It blunts the impact and dulls the action of the whole book and in the end just leaves a bad taste in ones mouth this condemning the book to become a glorified door stop, or paperweight. Whichever one you choose.
    So here's a hypothetical for you, Rojack. Imagine a book came out that explicitly called for the murder of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (it doesn't have to be her, use who you like) as part of an argument that she is an existential threat to America. Imagine that suddenly Looney Tunes all over were threatening her, and eventually one of them managed to kill her. Imagine that a copy of that book, well-thumbed, showed up in the assassin's apartment and that numerous social media posts had quoted it, essentially credited it with being the motive.

    Would that be grounds to ban the book? Before it is dismissed as a hypothetical consider just how many books over the years have wielded life-changing influence over their readers - religious texts most notably. However in order to ban a book there would need to be a legal case, and probably a SCOTUS decision as it flies in the face of the First Amendment. In America, there's no such thing as 'hate speech' in terms of books.

    So, now you have a problem: You ban the book, you now have a problem of suddenly books being considered accessories to crimes. That's fine, but that means next time there's a Jihadist terrorist attack you're going to be expected to ban the Qu'ran under those same terms, which does have several passages that directly or indirectly call for the murder of non-Muslims (e.g. “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout") and in order to avoid applying the same rules, you're going to have to figure out how to make that case without sounding like you are making an editorial decision based on your own biases. You dont ban books, you're going to have a problem of a book existing out there, accessible to anybody, that is inciting violence. You ban certain books but not others, for whatever reason, suddenly you're making editorial decisions for the rest of us. Google has this problem all the time with its search results.

    I don't have an answer to this, by the way, but it's the basic problem with censorship.

  10. #10
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    I think possibly the problem comes up if you don't make it clear through your writing that you, as the writer (and therefore you assume the reader also) does not condone the behaviour or share the beliefs of your character(s) if they do something or advocate something that is basically reprehensible. When I wrote Behind the Mask, it features Goebbels, but I made it very clear that I considered him to be what history has painted him as, and what he was: a bigoted, evil, anti-semetic manipulator of the truth and of people. That's only a short story, but I would always go to the best lengths I could to distance myself from such beliefs, even in fiction.

    However, the OP was and is not really about fiction, but asks the question: if you're writing about someone, a real someone, who is alive right now, on a blog or whatever, as I was, and you realise their views are basically hatespeech, do you censor yourself and not publish or do you take the risk of tacitly allying yourself to them by allowing yourself to write about them? Like Lucky said, it's not really a question that has any answer, nor do I expect one. I just wanted to see where people stood on the issue.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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