Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape

What Jesse said:

Another cool documentary for you. This time it’s about how in the early 80’s the powers-that-be in the UK thought that a list of about 80 mostly crappy movies referred to as The Video Nasties, was going to corrupt an entire generation of British kids. Complete with hilarious stories of UK Parliamentarians sitting around one day to watch these low-budget horror movies (some became physically ill and most couldn’t take more than a few minutes…), or how because of the confusion of not knowing which exact movies were on “the list” police officers were confiscating titles such as Apocalypse Now or other definitely non-nasty or even critically acclaimed films from the shelves of corner store video shops in England. There were video “burnings”, and some shop owners even did jail time for stocking some of these titles! Nothing like a good moral panic to get the old juices flowing…Crazy doc. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front – I am totally, utterly and completely against censorship. I don’t believe that the state should attempt to block the expression of ideas whether they are in print, video, audio, stone tablet or the voice of the crazy guy yelling on the corner. Governments should be free to pay experts to publish information, but they should not block non-experts from publishing as well. That’s not to say that I think most people have valid opinions. They don’t. And I certainly don’t care to actually listen to most people’s opinions. I’m also not under the delusion that everyone has some inherent ‘right’ to be heard, and I don’t think that spilling blue paint on a sidewalk constitutes ‘art’.  What I do believe is that everyone has a responsibility to ignore the opinions they find disagreeable. Don’t like that TV show? – change the channel. Don’t like what’s on the radio? – learn to play the guitar. Don’t want to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t rent the video. Don’t want your children to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t let them rent the video either. I’d like to live in a world where people think of their interactions with others as governed by personal responsibility – not personal rights.  What’s that? You think you have a right to be heard? Great. The best part of my worldview is that I don’t need to argue with you. You can stand on your soapbox all day – I’m going to get a sandwich.

That being said, I thought this movie was mostly a waste of time. It’s terrible that a group of almost-parliamentarians were allowed to create a panic that allowed corrupt police to put video store owners in jail. Seriously, that is terrible. But I didn’t need to watch endless interviews cut with unpleasant video clips to reach that conclusion. Granted, before watching the documentary I had no idea that this particular moral panic had occurred. But there’s really no difference between this panic and any other that has led to censorship. The film-makers here could have made a 60 second public service announcement and got most of their point across.  This is particularly true now that we have the internet to show us all the unpleasant video we can stand, and nobody able to censor it.

Two and a half decades ago, someone should have stepped in to stop what was obviously unfair treatment of video store owners. And this should definitely go into the history books as one more example (in an extremely long list) of why state censorship is a terrible idea. But there was no need for this lesson in 2010 – nobody was then or is now in any danger of having their ‘right to watch gross movies’ taken away.

I’m pretty sure the film-makers just wanted an excuse to watch all the movies their parents warned them about.

3/10 – But only because I learned a bit of history.

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