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Padraig Reidy: Censors demand we take them seriously — here’s why we shouldn’t

Perhaps we can turn the tables on cries for censorship, smile politely and continue about our grown-up business

By Padraig Reidy / 28 August, 2014

(Image: Nemanja Cosovic/Shutterstock)

(Image: Nemanja Cosovic/Shutterstock)

I’m on holiday in Ireland, and taking a break from standing up for people’s rights to misattribute quotes to Voltaire and Orwell. This is what people who normally go on about civil liberties battles do on holiday; we revel in the dark side, and engage in orgies of frightful behaviour. For two weeks in August, defence lawyers who normally fight the good fight lock people in cupboards and throw away the keys; anti-surveillance campaigners retreat to their hides high above the city, and just…watch. Digital rights folks take down physical notes of all your Facebook statuses. I once spent a delightful summer phoning people at random and then telling them to shut up when they answered the phone.

It’s a wonderful release, but for understandable reasons, we don’t talk about it. It’s the prime directive of the League of Sanctimony: what happens in those two weeks in August must remain hidden from the world.

Until now, that is. Having grappled with the crippling irony of concealing the truth from Index on Censorship readers, I have decided that you have a right to know about everything I would have banned without a second thought, if only during the last bit of August. In no particular order, here we go:

Newspaper holiday reading lists. Dear writer/reporter/critic: you’re either lying about all those books you’re going to get through during your delightful few weeks in Tuscany/Cornwall/west Cork/Thorpe Park, or you’re telling the truth and making me feel inadequate.

Rainy holidays: Yes, I know I shouldn’t really complain about going to Ireland and experiencing heavy precipitation. I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway.

People who can’t write (of whom there are many).

People who can write better than I can (of whom there are many).

People who think pointing out split infinitives makes them look clever. It doesn’t. Split infinitives are perfectly fine. Just don’t ask me why.

People who are good at explaining grammar and syntax. See above.

People who are good at explaining grammar and syntax but then end up allowing anything, cheerily proclaiming “The thing is, language is evolving all the time.” For God’s sake, make a commitment, man.

Really terrible internet memes. David Icke, former Coventry City goalkeeper turned conspiracy theory bother no 1, is the master of these. Look at this, for example. It’s just a picture of a man with snarky words written over it. That’s not a meme.

Any article in print or online which sets out to prove that a current conflict proves that the writer was correct in his or her position on a previous conflict. Thanks. Helpful.

LinkedIn. I still don’t understand. Still.

The word “Listicle”. What’s wrong with “list”? Or “article”? I could even be happy with “list article.”

Lists. Hang on…

Defensive articles about why one form of entertainment is EVERY BIT AS VALID as other forms of entertainment. Video games are video games. Comics are comics. Neither are novels. Move on.

Those public service “poems” on the London Underground. They have been sent to torment all right-thinking people. Read this, and despair for all of us.

I could go on, possibly forever. But it wouldn’t matter a damn. No one in their right mind would take me seriously. It’s just the furious venting of a cranky old man, shaking his fists at the clouds. And yet, every day, censors, religious or moral or autocratic, demand to be taken seriously.

They contend that they are uniquely qualified to say what others can and cannot see or hear or read. Worse, they tell us they are censoring for our protection. They can read a blasphemous book, or watch a pornographic film, and decide soberly what effect it will have on society. Whereas if the likes of you and I went near these things, the entire world would be transformed into something resembling Ken Russell’s The Devils in about 15 minutes. They think we’re impressionable. They think we’re gullible. They think we’re children.

As the holidays come to a close and we reluctantly switch our brains back on to face the coming winter, let’s not block out the calls for censorship: that, of course, would be hypocritical. But perhaps we can turn the tables on the cries of the censors, smile politely and continue about our grown-up business.

This article was posted on August 28, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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About Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy Padraig Reidy is a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.

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