Sunday, April 30, 2006

Censorship, advertising and publicity

Authors walk on thin ice when it comes to writing Children’s literature, TV series and movies. A few years ago I was working on a script for a pilot of a Sci-Fi / Fantasy based TV series for kids. I met with an accomplished script writer for several series of the same genre and age group. One of his series was “Spellbinder”, an Australian series that was quite successful. I had much respect for the man who made time to meet me for lunch in Bondi. He gave me some fascinating insight into the world of children’s TV.

We discussed my pilot and as it turned out, it was far too violent for kids TV. Not that I wrote particularly graphic scenes of violence, but the fact that people died in a gripping opening scene immediately wrote my script off from any possibility of selling it to an audience of children.

What? Don’t people ever die in children’s TV, movies or books? A quick think revealed that in fact no, people don’t die in Never Never Land.

Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to protect children from violence in their media. Children’s imagination should be encouraged in the things they watch and read, so it stands to reasonable reason that their imaginations shouldn’t be filled with scenes of death. However, what else should be kept from their precious little impressionable minds.

When I was young I recall a book called “Forever” by Judy Blume being banned from school libraries due to a sexual reference or scene depicted within its sacrilegious pages. More recently, there has been a spate of attacks against J.K. Rowling’s books and countless other series featuring magic and other fantastic themes. The Sydney Morning Herald (April 30, 2006) had an article on just that, discussing the increasing amount of censorship in children’s literature.

It can be a real struggle for writers to get their books published in the first place, but if they do then finding a place for the book on the shelves of school libraries can be near impossible for some authors, such as J.K. Rowling who unexpectedly encountered such opposition from paranoid parents all over the world.

It sends me back to Judy Blume. Do you know what happened when her book was banned from school libraries across Australia? Parents horrified by the thought of censorship raced out to buy the book, encouraging their children to read it and discuss any issues that the book raised. It’s the same with Adult’s media. Controversy creates commercial possibility. A ban raises awareness and can be the kind of advertising that money just can’t buy.

How many people had heard of Salmon Rushdie before he wrote “The Satanic Verses” that resulted in a Fatwa being put on his head? In many ways it was the best thing he could have done, despite the stress to his life in having to leave his country and disappear in hiding. He was able to continue writing and he is one of the most respected writers living today.

A few years ago the French film “Baise Moi” caused a great deal of argument over its rating. While the Australian classifiers disagreed over a final rating, it showed in a few cinemas and with the amount of media attention given to the movie, it attracted more crowds than foreign films usually get. I saw it with friends just before it was rated X and banned from cinemas. It was very explicit and I agreed with the judgement, but regarding it being banned or not, I thought it should never have played in the first place because the movie really sucked.

All the same, media attention drew crowds, it’s an age-old adage. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” That saying has never rung truer than in this world that seems to get more insane about censorship every year.

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