Friday, July 11, 2003

Self restraint vs. censorship

Meryl Yourish pointed us to an item from LT Smash, about how someone is tasked with blacking out a reference to pork on Heinz 57 Sauce bottles where he's stationed. Can't you just hear Satan gnashing his teeth?

Well, it's easy to be snarky about this. But I'm not from that culture - as far as I know this is offensive to the average member of their culture. So I see it as an interesting cultural observation, but nothing more.

Besides, our cultural preferences are already built into the products sold here. For instance, Crisco can be used for a number of things that don't appear on the label. Do you suppose the omission of these uses is an oversight by the manufacturer? Or do they perhaps choose not to be associated with certain activities?

In our own culture it can be difficult to gauge what the public will find acceptable, and sometimes distributors overdo it. The funny pages can give us some examples as mentioned here. Starting around the late 60's or so, Beetle Bailey had a regular character named Miss Buxley, a young very attractive secretary who managed to show up in bikinis regularly. Cartoonist Mort Walker would draw navels on Miss Buxley and his distributor scratched them out. He eventually rebelled by drawing a strip that showed a box of strategically oriented navel oranges. Shortly thereafter Miss Buxley got her navel.

Animated cartoons have had their moments too. My favorite was when 3 1/2 seconds were cut from a cartoon in which Mighty Mouse was accused of using cocaine.

The earlier link about the Miss Buxley thing mentioned a recurring character in Dilbert called Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. But in the beginning Phil was actually Satan, which turned out to be too much for the distributor.

Devil references even affect fishing lures. The inventor of the Dardevle wasn't willing to spell out "devil" when he named his most famous product, and so it has been named for the better part of a century.

You can attribute the above to superstition, cultural tone-deafness or whatever. But at least some people are still attempting to restrain their own speech. Perhaps they recognize that there always will be restraints on free speech, and we ward off censors only by showing that we don't need them.

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