The truth about censorship is that all it protects you from is reality.
But the reality of our current reality is that we’re surrounded by mobs of people super-sensitive to just about everything. Use a word someone has deemed “offensive” or “inappropriate” and you’re in line to be pilloried in the public square.
Tell a joke “too soon”, inadvertently use a “trigger word” or explore an issue that’s “sensitive” and your life can be made even worse –- all grave concerns for writers in particular.
As a result, you see more and more of us (especially in the television industry) practise self-censorship as we try to stay on the “right side of history” while said history is still figuring out which direction it’s going to go.
Each of us draws our own line in the sand. But how do we deal with a world that keeps drawing lines for us, both conflicting lines and ones that can spell career suicide if we cross them?
Last October, I got to attend Mark Leiren-Young's Southam lecture on “Comedy, Censorship & Sensitivity in the 21st Century” that dealt with all of these issues.
Despite his complete incompetence at predicting the outcome of hockey games, Mark is one of Canada’s funniest writers and winner of the 2009 Leacock medal for Humour. He’s also no stranger to having his work censored and attacked.
In 1991, CBC radio pulled a segment of his series “The Dim Sum Diaries” on the grounds that "it could be perceived to be racist."
Not “was” but “could be” and “perceived to be”. After being roundly condemned as “Canada’s National Censor” in editorials, the network relented and broadcast the episode (although not on the full network). Something it still hasn’t done.
But 25 years later, it appears the mothercorp might be starting to come around. Perhaps by realizing you can’t be both politically correct and relevant.
Tonight at 9:00 pm CBC Radio’s “Ideas” will broadcast Mark’s Southam lecture and an interview with the man himself.
From my perspective this is essential listening for anybody who wants to write. I can guarantee that the content will inform your writing in a timely and important way, while at the same time being repeatedly fall-down funny.
A writer who second guesses his creative instincts might still be a writer but he won’t be a good one. The good ones, like Mark Leiren-Young, combine talent with courage and ultimately speak a truth even the most shuttered mind can’t ignore.