Robert Atkins

How do we define--or even recognize--censorship? When a painting is bounced from a juried exhibition because viewers complain that it depicts a nude, it's obvious that the artist has been censored. (What the artist can do about it is another matter.) But it's not usually so clear. What if the jurors made sure the canvas never got into the show because of its nudity, even though the exhibition guidelines established no such criteria for exclusion? What about the suppression of artistic expression through the fear of violence, as in the case of Salman Rushdie, whose "Satanic Verses" has gone untranslated into some languages because of terrorist threats? What about stories critical of Hollywood that a newspaper won't publish for fear of losing movie advertising? Or the sort of internalized repression that leads to self-censorship, as in the first example below? What follows are a number of recent incidents and situations that suggest that censorship is a far more complex phenomenon than we might initially imagine.

 New York artist: "I'm not going to apply for that National Endowment for the Arts grant--they don't fund angry, feminist work."

Offended by the existence of homosexuals in the County Arts Commission--funded production of the award-winning play, "Lips Together, Teeth Apart"--and wary of potential First Amendment violations in banning funding for artworks that mention homosexuality--Cobb County (GA) supervisors eliminate all county arts support.

The 1992 congressional re authorization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), mandated that town meetings be held to gauge public opinion about conservative Senators' claims that Public Broadcasting Service and national Public Radio were "liberally biased." The so-called town meetings were instead open by invitation only. At a town meeting held in Seattle in November, 1993, the majority of those invited were public broadcasting employees. Only one hour was made available for discussion, during which only 11 groups or individuals were able to comment for just 3 minutes each. Citing unsubstantiated threats to national security, the Pentagon forced journalists covering the invasions of Granada, Panama, and Iraq to work in "pools." Unable to pursue normal, investigative reporting methods, journalists were given access to American officials only at Pentagon-orchestrated press briefings.

Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death--and a million dollar price put on his head--by Ayatollah Khomeini in February, 1989--for alleged blasphemy in Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses."

 During the early nineties, many of the few remaining independent book publishers were acquired by giant communications/entertainment conglomerates. Several biographies critical of Hollywood moguls were suddenly dropped from future publishing lists.

Congress currently ponders several bills authorizing the virtual blanket regulation of depictions of violence on television. Yet even some of the bills' sponsors agree that the networks treat violence in a variety of ways--some responsible, some irresponsible.

 Minnesota librarian: "I generally avoid the purchase of materials with nudity, witches, or the occult because of previous problems with such items."

 A short story by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker was pulled from a statewide English test in California after the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian group, complained it was "anti-religious." "We don't see this as censorship," TVC's spokeswoman said, noting that the story was not banned from the classroom.

Following intense lobbying from right-wing groups, the Alabama Board of Education in 1993 banned counseling and teaching techniques involving "guided imagery," "hypnosis," "meditation," or "yoga."

 A cable service in Colorado is forced to run gay shows on its public access channel, but then refuses to list them in its guide.

 ABC initially refuses to broadcast a "Roseanne" episode in which the actress is kissed by Mariel Hemingway's lesbian character.

The New York Transit Authority seeks to improve the image of the New York subways by refusing to allow producers to film scenes there that they think are too violent.

 The New York Times published a rapturous review of performance artist Holly Hughes's piece "Clit Notes," but refuses to publish the work's name.

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