Guest post: The overwhelming reaction to the ban

Originally a comment by Rob on Currently being pulled from libraries, schools and bookshops.

Part of the problem here is that giving a book designed to be read by teens an R18 classification is a de facto ban. Having spent far too much time on the comments section of one of our main newspaper publishers yesterday I can conform that the overwhelming reaction to the ban has been that it is a bad thing, driven by conservative Christians out of step with modern NZ society. The commonality from the few commentators supporting the ban seemed to be “think of the 10 year olds” and “the author is old, writing about teen sex and therefore a pervert” and “these comments all confirm Christians are persecuted”.

Frankly I was shocked when I saw the headline yesterday. I couldn’t have told you when the last time a book was banned in NZ was. The last time I remember any significant debate about it I was in my teens, which makes it well over 30 mumble years. The last time I remember any real debate about the purpose of even having censors in this day and age there was actually quite a good bit of journalism where they interviewed the then chief censor. He explained how the work was carried out, the standards of assessment and how the censors work. They also showed a brief clip from a hard core porno while the censor explained the rationale for banning the dvd. In that case there was no overarching narrative, no examination of motives or consequences, absolutely nothing that might be regarded as art or social commentary. It was a fuck movie in which a girl of indeterminate age (but almost certainly too young) was coerced into doing something she did not want to do. The atmosphere was threatening, unsafe and the girl was either the best actress I have ever seen or she was clearly scared out of her wits. In short it was abusive and degrading. Quite different from the run of the mill ‘reluctance’ of much commercial porn. To the NZ censors sexual violence in the absence of some kind of meaningful social commentary or narrative that justifies its use is a no no.

In the author’s words, the book is really about bullying. The sex and drugs is simply window dressing to try and get the teen (boy) audience to read the book to expose them to the bigger message. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on how well integrated the theme is, but given that it has won a reasonable award it is probably fairly well done.

My real problem in all this is the role of the classification board. These people are not professionals like the censors. they are private citizens. Some are nominated by interest groups. Some nominate themselves. They are appointed by a Government Minister. In this case the professional censor(s) and the lay board are clearly at odds and the head of the board has used his power to enact the temporary ban. In my view it is an abuse of power, but one that was always likely given the structure of the system. This is certainly a view shared by others, see more here. Don Mathieson QC is apparently known to have conservative social values.

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