Wednesday 4 March 2015

Risky ideas

If you wouldn't take an unapproved drug, would you really risk hearing unapproved ideas?

Maybe it sounds nuts, but it's something New Zealand's Chief Censor worries about:
Chief censor Andrew Jack argues censorship has never been more important, precisely because entertainment now comes in so many forms via so many different devices.

And there's a growing recognition that, to some extent, you are what you watch.

"If I'm watching pornography that's R18, there's nothing wrong with that. Except that if I watch large quantities of it it may be influencing the way I interact with real-life women. I think people perhaps are beginning to become more aware that you are the totality of your experience."

Take the classification officers themselves. They're a resilient bunch who stick around for an average of 10 years but every now and then one sets out to change the world and gives up in disillusionment after six months of drowning in the depths of depravity.

"This kind of proves the point that what you watch does influence your world view, " Jack says.

Like the child abuse images, there is simply more of everything out there. And the more there is, the more important it becomes that people are given good information so they can make smart choices about what they watch, he says.

"If you access stuff that hasn't been classified in New Zealand you are taking a risk around you and your communities and your families. You ought to be just as careful about that as if someone came up to you at a party and said 'Here, take this pill'. You'd want to know what was in it. You are not just going to say 'Oh, great, well I'll take it'." [emphasis added]
The whole article is well worth reading: very meaty stuff for the Dom Post's entertainment section. The article notes that the Censor's office spends about 22% of its time on stuff like classifying images of child abuse sent them by the Police. The rest of the work really seems surplus to requirements.

Our kids' entertainment is almost exclusively stuff that has never passed by the New Zealand censor. We watch DVDs that we imported from America without his approval: the kids love Animaniacs, Freakazoid and Princess Bride. We watch movies and TV shows on Netflix like Adventure Time, PowerPuff Girls, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman. All this stuff has likely also been rated by the New Zealand Censor,* but we neither know nor care.

When new shows come up and we want to know whether or not they'd work for our kids, we don't go looking for a New Zealand Censor's rating. Instead we start with IMDB and other online recommendations. They'll tell us more, and more quickly, about what works for our family than the Censor ever could.

Example? Princess Bride, above. I hadn't checked the Censor's rating on it before. Checking it now took 5 clicks from the homepage, plus a search input, then an additional click to find that the Censor rated it PG in 1987 with no additional detail. If I wanted to email the details to my wife, I couldn't send her the link: their database back end puts up URLs that can't be shared. I'd have to cut and paste the page. The best URL I could share would be the one going to the search database, where you'd still need to input the text and hope that not too many titles come up.

Alternatively, I can just type IMDB Princess Bride into my browser's title bar, click the first link, then click the "Parents Guide" link on the IMDB page that comes up to find very detailed listings of anything any parent wanted to note about the film. And here's the link to it.

The Censor's rating programmes for distribution in New Zealand is entirely surplus to requirements for anybody with a web browser.

Right now, none of it really matters for us as it's pretty unlikely that we'd be picking stuff that the Censor might have deemed illegal to watch with someone who's under the age of 13. But we might start hitting that line when the kids are 11 or 12. When it does, we'll just keep doing what we do now: using our own discretion.

* The Censor's Office, in the past few years, stopped rating things that had already received a non-restricted rating in Oz, which would likely catch some of those. But other ones would have had to have had some NZ rating because they would have been released here prior to that law change.


  1. It seems to me that the current Chief Censor is actually a bit of a dick, compared to those in the recent past. Maybe he is worried that others will also realize that he is a bit surplus to requirements, since he seems to be going looking for work to do. What new age nonsense is "You are the totality of your experiences"??? And if he cannot see the difference between ingesting something and observing it, then he fails an elementary intelligence test, for starters.

  2. It's clear we need Censor ratings for blogs. Full of all sorts of ideas that might influence your worldview.