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Monday, August 18, 2008

Banned by the Beeb

Wouldn't it be a kick to be a censor? You'd have to ban all the politically sensitive stuff according to the whims of your overlords, but other than that you could put the kibosh on anything you didn't care for. One of the best censors was Yossarian in Catch-22:

All the officer patients in the ward were forced to censor letters written by all the enlisted-men patients, who were kept in residence in wards of their own. It was a monotonous job, and Yossarian was disappointed to learn that the lives of enlisted men were only slightly more interesting than the lives of officers. After the first day he had no curiosity at all. To break the monotony he invented games. Death to all modifiers, he declared one day, and out of every letter that passed through his hands went every adverb and every adjective. The next day he made war on articles. He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. That erected more dynamic intralinear tensions, he felt, and in just about every case left a message far more universal. Soon he was proscribing parts of salutations and signatures and leaving the text untouched. One time he blacked out all but the salutation "Dear Mary" from a letter, and at the bottom he wrote, "I yearn for you tragically A. T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army." A. T. Tappman was the group chaplain's name.
See? Good fun. This article from The Times details all the songs banned by the BBC in the United Kingdom over the last 80 years or so. Usually bans were straightforward: "death, drugs, death, swearing." I would guess the all readers of this blog are 100% free speech, but some of the bans really seem appealing to me. Here's an internal BBC directive from World War II: "We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war.” They should have made that one permanent.

Sickly sentimentality aside, most of the bans, particularly in the post-1960 years, are asinine. Not so much for subject matter, although that's part of it, but for their arbitrariness. "Eight Miles High," by the Byrds, got squashed for its alleged drug references, despite being a literal description of a the band's plane ride on their UK tour. Maybe they banned it for being inaccurate--most commercial airliners fly at an altitude of six to seven miles up.

An aircraft at eight miles altitude? My good fellow, you must be using drugs.

Meanwhile, "Here Come the Nice," by the Small Faces somehow slipped by unnoticed (well, not unnoticed--it hit #12 on the UK charts in 1967). Here's a video clip of "Here Come the Nice"--you tell me what you think it's about:

Man, the Small Faces, what a great band...


Steve said...

Funny you should mention this today. I just finished reading a book yesterday where there's a brief aside about the fact that it took the BBC a while to figure out that Madness' "House of Fun" was about a teenager trying to buy condoms. Once they figured it out, they stopped playing it.

Jimbromski said...

you gotta watch these guys closely, they're always slipping things past us.

Black Swan Green was a good book, but I must admit I don't remember that part.

Cloud Atlas was awesome too, I really liked that one.

Steve said...

Yeah, I've been on a David Mitchell kick lately. I read Number 9 Dream, then Cloud Atlas, and now Black Swan Green. My lack of imagination probably means I'll be picking up Ghostwritten at the book store tomorrow.

BTW, the Madness bit comes at the Christmas dance that Jason goes to toward the end of the book.