[artinfo] Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression

Robert Atkins robertatkins at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 16 21:43:59 CEST 2006


In private, museum people have told me that self-censorship is indeed 
the order of the day.  But it is quite rare for an official to speak 
about it in public.  Self-censorship occurs behind closed doors. 
There are practically no whistle-blowers.
Hans Haacke

We have as a nation, become our own thought police; but instead of 
calling the process by which we limit our expression of dissent and 
wonder 'censorship,' we call it 'concern for commercial viability.'
David Mamet

What are the limits of freedom of the press? The desirability of self 
censorship? The need for cultural sensitivity? Twelve caricatures of 
the Prophet Muhammad recently published in the Danish newspaper 
Jyllands-Posten not only sparked violent protests across the globe, 
but raised these complex issues, as well.

Closer to home, The New York Theater Workshop recently cancelled its 
production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, because it anticipated 
protests from subscribers despite the play's uneventful London run. 
Its action raises, yet again, questions similar to those raised by 
the Jyllands-Posten incident and reveals the unfortunate tendency to 
foreclose what was previously legitimate debate. It is time to ask 
more probing questions: Just what is censorship today? 
Self-censorship? How do they operate? And who is a censor?

New Press; April 10, 2006; $19.95 PB), co-editors Robert Atkins and 
Svetlana Mintcheva tackle these critical issues by bringing together 
the latest thinking of art historians, cultural theorists, legal 
scholars, and psychoanalysts, as well as first-person accounts by 
artists and advocates, to provide an expanded understanding of 
21st-century-style censorship. Today, they assert, the culture 
war-style scandal or spectacle fueled by politicians and the media 
simply diverts attention from the real causes of censorship and the 
modus-operandi of censors.

Contemporary censorship is at least as likely to be the result of the 
expansion of copyright ownership or the contradictory laws regulating 
Internet content around the world as a line edit or the removal of a 
nude from an exhibition. Against this backdrop of neo-liberal 
economic arrangements and the increasingly stringent policing of new 
technologies/media such as the Internet, the authors locate the 
censor hiding behind disingenuous claims of protecting children or 
exhibiting sensitivity toward racial, religious, or sexual 
minorities. To these rationales for, or mechanisms of censorship, the 
authors point out a third mechanism by which censorship 
operates--self-censorship. Widespread and little understood, 
self-censorship is the point at which the public and private, the 
political and psychological converge. In the former Soviet bloc, the 
buttoned lip became a way of life, reminding us that when citizens 
censor themselves, the censor, who is conventionally understood as an 
anonymous government bureaucrat exercising prudish control over 
supposedly offensive art and speech, can relinquish his red pen. Or 
even retire. Is something similar happening here?

Cutting across disciplinary boundaries and even formats, CENSORING 
CULTURE is intended to help enlarge the public debate about free 
expression, Through its varied essays, interviews and memoirs, this 
important anthology offers a comprehensive and nuanced approach to 
understanding the new systems of censorship now in place and already 
affecting every American. It includes a conversation with Hans Haacke 
on the marriage of art and money; J.M. Coetzee, Judy Blume and others 
on self-censorship; Lawrence Lessing on creativity and copyright in 
the electronic age; DeeDee Halleck on the military-media-industrial 
complex; Judith Levine on shielding children from sex; Douglas Thomas 
on hackers; Randall Kennedy on the risks of regulating hate speech; 
Diane Ravitch on standardized testing and political correctness; 
Marjorie Heins on violence and children; and many others.

About the editors:

Robert Atkins www.robertatkins.net is an award-winning art historian, 
and the bestselling author of ArtSpeak: A Guide to Contemporary 
Ideas, Movements and Buzzwords and its companion volume, ArtSpoke. A 
former columnist for The Village Voice, in 1989, he co-founded, 
Visual Aids. He lives in San Francisco and Palm Springs.  Svetlana 
Mintcheva is the director of the Arts program of the National 
Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of fifty nonprofit 
organizations devoted to freedom of expression in the arts.  She 
lives in New York City.

Edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva
Published in conjunction with the National Coalition Against Censorship
The New Press / April 10, 2006
Paperback / $19.95 / 384 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59558-050-4

Contact: Natanya Mitchell   Voice: (212) 629-4636   Email: 
nmitchell at thenewpress.com

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