Robert Atkins on Thu, 8 Jun 2006 17:24:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime-ann> Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression

Publication Date: April 10, 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?

In CENSORING CULTURE: CONTEMPORARY THREATS TO FREE EXPRESSION (The 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 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:


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