A few days ago, after Tom Egeland, writer for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, posted to Facebook the iconic Vietnam War photo of a young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack, Facebook removed the post and suspended Egeland for questioning their decision.
Much has been written about Facebook’s decision (which they later reversed due to the bad publicity), but the outcry and condemnation missed a vital point. Critics rightly argued that the nudity in the photo is not pornographic in any sense of the word, but is rather an important and powerful statement in respect to our shared history.
What’s missing in the criticism however is the idea that we can avoid the truth by covering it up with a little fig leaf of falseness. Take Facebook’s notice to the poster:
We place limitations on the display of nudity to limit the exposure of different people using our platform to sensitive content… Therefore I ask you to either remove or pixelize this picture.
This is a perfect example of the other idiotic nature of censorship. Not the primary part where certain things are considered offensive in the first place, but the secondary aspect in which we think a small substitution will change the perception or the result.
Absurd. Pixelated genitalia are still genitalia. Blurring the image in this respect does nothing; the viewer knows what’s behind the pixilation and fills in the gaps. This pretense may satisfy a sort of puritan proof, a proof that the censor did indeed exert due diligence and control, but it changes nothing for the viewer.
This same do-something-that-accomplishes-nothing approach drives a television network to bleep certain words, even at times going to the nonsensical extent to blur the speaker’s mouth movements. This same impulse causes otherwise reasonable people to write site algorithms that change “asshole” to “a**hole”, or to say that fricking clown instead of that fucking clown.
Why bother? The speaker or writer is still communicating exactly what they wanted to in the first place. The reader or the viewer is not deceived. The only thing that happens when this type of idiotic censorship is deployed is that we give the vulgarity (or the nudity), a slap-dash coat of cheap transparent paint.
It’s residual Victorianism that serves no useful purpose, an emperor without clothes. It only makes the company or person that employs these tactics look like dunces who don’t understand how people perceive and think.