Monday, March 07, 2005

X-Rated: How liberal are we today?

Last night Channel 4 showed X-Rated: The TV They Tried to Ban, a survey of controversial programmes, to launch its Banned season. Though it seemed to believe that history began with the Sex Pistols and Paul Ross made an appearance, it was instructive and frequently hilarious.

One consistent theme was the stupidity of the protestors. They did not see the brilliance of Chris Morris's series Brass Eye. They did not see that Derren Brown was demonstrating that spiritualism was fraud. Most importantly, they could not that Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective was the strongest imaginable statement of the view that casual adultery can destroy people.

Yet there was something lazy about the programme. Watching it, you would believe that the only people who ever complain about television are lower middle class racists who don't get any sex. While this flattered its audience, it is an inadequate account of what has been going on in recent years.

We were told, for instance, that modern sensitivities about race mean that dross like Mind Your Language or The Black and White Minstrel Show would never be shown today. That is true, but it is equally possible that the early episodes of Till Death Us Do Part could not be shown either. Is that so admirable?

The truth may be less that we are all far too sophisticated these days to want censorship, and more that we have merely found a new set of words and images to be outraged by. This is a thesis that the makers of X-Rated had no intention of exploring.

The other point that has to be made is simply that most of the programmes which shocked viewers in their day were not very good. I oppose censorship because it may prevent great art being produced or important truths being expressed, but their was precious little sign of them here.

No Liberal will entertain the counter argument that censorship can act as a stimulus, forcing artists to find ingenious ways of getting their meaning across, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be something in it.

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