Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It's Not Fair and It's Really Not PG

It was easy in the old days (by which I mean before 1982). For films, you had your certificate U for the whole family, your certificate AA for over 14s (or 12 year olds who felt lucky)and your certificate X for over 18s (or two vertically mounted twelve year olds sharing one man's overcoat, trilby and burnt cork around the face). For everything else, it was safely assumed that anyone likely to take offence - children, the elderly, Lord Hailsham - would be safely in bed by nine. Simple.

Then things started to get mussy. Films certificates changed into new ones which were supposed to be easier to make out but weren't, then kept being added to every couple of years. The 9PM curfew became increasingly meaningless in the face of black and white portable tellies in bedrooms, and then the advance of VCRs, Sky Plussing contraptions and, finally, the Internet. Sending junior to bed the moment Old Man Steptoe unleashed his first 'Cobblers!' of the night was no longer an option - they could be watching Derek Jarman up there, and without that all-important 'parental guidance'. ('Look Billy, those two Roman soldiers are very good friends, aren't they? You know your Uncle Alan...')

So we got a stream of hastily cobbled together own brand censorship regimes, from the phoney (Red Triangle Films) to the earnest but ridiculous (those strange boxes on the backs of DVDs, with their invocations of 'scenes of mild peril' and other abstract concepts straight from the terrified mind of Norris Cole). Worst of all is the music-related stuff, which has gone far beyond those daft 'Parental Guidance' stickers that cluttered album sleeves in the '90s.

Try listening, for instance, to Lily Allen's new single 'Ed From the Chemical Brothers Shags Like an Invalid Penguin' on a selection of radio stations. The 'difficult' content is treated in various ways. Some just censor the word 'head', which became rude in about 1991, around the time the previously untouched 'Walk on the Wild Side' started suffering a similar fate. Some censor the word 'giving' as well, probably because cutting the word 'head' on its own might sound a bit like like having your decency cake and eating it. ('Giving what, eh, lads? Not blood, I bet! Woooorgh!') Some get rid of the whole offending line. Some, even, let their faders eat into the previous line, removing 'wet patch', a totally innocuous phrase to anyone who doesn't already know what might be the cause of said spillage. There are probably versions out there which cut even more in an attempt to take the world back to a pre-Are You Being Served? state of Edenic innocence.

Meanwhile, poor old Lily's song disappears bit by saucy bit, like a sexually explicit version of 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes'. It's all very subtle and barely raises an eyebrow these days. Back when music censorship was full of uniformed coppers raiding branches of Our Price and Mike Read going apoplectic over some 'raunchy Scouse combo' who had probably never even heard of John Betjeman, at least we knew where we stood. Now not only do we not know, it seems the people devising these things haven't got a clue either. God knows what they'd have made of Danny La Rue.


Matthew Rudd said...

I agree with you in principle, but Lily Allen's song is so appalling I'd quite happily censor the whole three and a half minutes of it.

Phil Norman said...

I don't mind it - it's so ubiquitous I hardly even notice it anymore when it comes on. My current annoyance is the new Sophie Ellis-Bextor-Howard effort. It's just an excuse for her to roll out her posh vowels again. 'Dahncer, ahnswer, fahster...'