Really, it’s no secret at all that in Hollywood, profits will trump ethics almost every single time. So, when a scandal occurs involving one celebrity or another, you can assume that how a studio responds to that scandal will be more dependent upon how much capital that celebrity generates than upon some moral decision, which is problematic for a number of reasons. There are writers, directors, producers, and actors who are thriving in Tinseltown despite being involved in some very shady goings-on. Others find their careers ended due to mere associations and rumours. Then there are those who are cut off from the entertainment community with good reason. Just this week Allison Mack, a leading actor from the hit WB/CW series Smallville, confessed to being involved with a sex cult/human trafficking group. This comes after the recent sex scandals surrounding Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein. (Hollywood clearly has a real problem with sexual exploitation and abuse that needs to be addressed.) In almost all of these cases, the exception being Jackson, the people caught up in these scandals have had their careers virtually wiped out by their misdeeds. And rightfully so. But in all of these instances, the people involved had multiple accusations of actual abuse made against them, and that is simply not always the case. So, what is the right course of discipline for people who may have overstepped the boundaries of propriety, of what is currently socially acceptable, but have not outright harmed anyone beyond the initial controversy of their words and actions? These are important questions in an ongoing discussion about freedom of speech and accountability in the free market world of American entertainment.
Enter Walt Disney Pictures… and Marvel Studios. When Disney bought Marvel back in 2009, around a year after the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it was supposed early on that the family-friendly corporation might hold the reins to the comic book company a little too tightly. There were fears that they might even censor the more adult content of earlier comics and comic book-inspired films. So far, that has not been the case, and it’s largely been a pleasant surprise for fans. The MCU films have been a huge success. By “a huge success”, I mean a titanic, phenomenal, cosmic success. Since 2008, the MCU raked in a massive total of $19 billion, which is astonishing by any metric. No film franchise has come close to this level of financial success within a ten year period. It’s unprecedented. The films are making so much money that it puts Disney in an interesting and somewhat dualistic position. On the one hand, that level of success means that these films are highly visible, that there’s a built-in audience, and that they will pull a massive profit no matter what, and so there’s a certain freedom there to take risks and hire filmmakers to helm franchises that may not be immediately obvious. Or even safe choices. On the other hand, it also means that they may be overprotective of their investments, of what projects go forward, and how to ensure that those projects match up with the lucrative business of their previous films, which means that studio interference and control could be a potential problem. Either way it’s a lot of pressure for a studio president or executive to deal with.
So, what happens when a filmmaker, or even an actor, does something that doesn’t line up with the almighty studio’s plan, either in their personal life or in the process of making a film for Marvel? Well, the MCU‘s success might be unprecedented, but shakeups behind the scenes are not, and this is evident in who has been let go in those ten years. One might forget that both Disney and Marvel have a history of severing ties with talent when they feel that the studios’ overall vision doesn’t line up with the individual’s. Iron Man star Terence Howard‘s character James Rhodes/War Machine was recast with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2. The original director of Ant-Man, Edgar Wright, was let go and replaced by Peyton Reed, who wound up directing both that film and its sequel. In the former situation, the actor was reportedly difficult to work with and made too many demands, and in the latter situation, the director’s creative vision didn’t align with that of the studio, so they were let go. But then there’s James Gunn. Gunn was apparently a charm to work with and he has been highly regarded by his cast and crew. Gunn’s vision for the Guardians of the Galaxy not only aligned with the studio’s vision, it surpassed it and enhanced it, and creatively he was responsible for two of Marvel‘s biggest hits. Marvel Studios‘ president Kevin Feige made it no secret that Gunn would be heavily involved with the future of the MCU, helping to spearhead it’s forward momentum and trajectory, much in the same way that Joss Whedon and brothers, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have. When Gunn was fired last Summer for some highly inappropriate tweets from almost a decade ago, it sent shock waves through the industry, not least of all because professionally he had done nothing wrong.
James Gunn brought so much to the tone, aesthetics, and scope of that first Guardians of the Galaxy film. It would be hard to imagine anyone else stepping into that corner of the sandbox and creating anything comparable with what are essentially his toys. After his firing, the principal cast sent an open letter to the studio, respectfully asking that the studio let Gunn return as director. Tens of thousands of fans signed petitions. However, it looked unlikely that the director would be returning for the third (and final?) installment in the GotG trilogy. The one bright light in this whole dark drama was that Gunn’s recently completed screenplay for the film would still be used. For a while rumours circulated online of possible replacement directors who could step in to replace Gunn. At the top of the list were Nicole Pearlman and Taika Waititi. Nicole Pearlman was the original writer on the first Guardians of the Galaxy film before it was rewritten by James Gunn. The other choice, and the one that most fans seemed to flock to, was Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi. In response to these rumours, Waititi made a statement, saying, “For me, those are James’ films. Going into something like that with his stamp all over his films, would be like going into someone’s house and saying ‘Hey, I’m your new dad, and this is how we make peanut butter sandwiches now. It feels kind of awkward. However, I’m still hanging out with those guys [at Marvel] and talking about new stuff. I want to do another movie with them.” Apparently Disney and Marvel ultimately agreed, because now Gunn has been reinstated as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but what does that say about the ethics of the companies?
That question isn’t easy to answer. If I had to sum it up, I would say that the bottom line is profit, and perhaps if there were two bottom lines, just above that would be prestige. Almost all decisions in Hollywood are determined by how much of a profit you can pull in and how much prestige your work can acquire in terms of critical appraisal and awards. Because of that, studios and the talents hired by them are often placed above certain moral expectations, and this is why Hollywood is often criticized for its lack of morality. The problem is that generalization really only applies to a select few people who have been highly visible due to the scandals that they’ve been involved. Hollywood scandals aren’t always, or even often, based upon a genuine interest in ethics. Many times scandals are concocted in order to bring down talented people. The motivations vary and range from professional jealousy to sexism and racism, from resentment over contracts to creative disputes, from personal grudges to political retaliation. And these Hollywood scandals are in no way new. They are just more widespread and quickly disseminated in the digital age.
When the silent film era was at its strongest in the late 1910s and into the early 1920s, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was falsely accused of raping Virginia Rappe. One of Rappe’s friends spread rumours about him raping her with an icicle and that her death was the result of Arbuckle’s weight on top of her. The doctor performing the autopsy denied there being any truth to these claims. Numerous witnesses countered the claims with their version of events where Arbuckle applied ice to her stomach while she was in pain. We know now that Rappe was suffering from medical complications arising from her alcohol consumption and peritonitis and that Arbuckle was trying to help her. The blatant lies that Rappe told were planned in an attempt extort money from Arbuckle. It ruined his career. Clara Bow also suffered similar treatment by the press. They were all fabricated for the sake of ruining her career. Some things don’t change.
Disney and Marvel came under a lot of fire when they severed ties with Gunn. This was because they knew about Gunn’s controversial tweets before they hired and then only fired him after they became well-known. That did nothing to give them any claims of taking the moral higher ground. Now they are receiving criticism from some people, most notable among them conservative actor James Woods, for having hired Gunn back. In my last write-up on this issue, I pointed out that Gunn probably should never have been hired based on his earlier social media presence and Disney‘s self-proclaimed values system, but given that the studios knew about his past and what he had said, firing him after the fact to save face was just hypocritical and facile. Now it appears all the more so since they have hired him back after Gunn’s six-month absence on social media. Interestingly, it’s been suggested by a number of sources that Marvel never really considered any other directors to replace Gunn, which may indicate that his firing to begin with was just a PR move. Whether it was always intended that he direct the film, even in the face of the backlash, it’s hard to say because the decision process has not been very transparent. What we do know is that James Gunn virtually disappeared from social media, ceasing to post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, until March 15, 2019. Then on that day, he posted a statement, one which sent fans into a frenzy, announcing that the decision had been reversed and that he would indeed be returning to direct the third GotG film.
The invention of the photograph was so much more than a mere technological innovation. It enabled the human species to graphically document their own existence while simultaneously allowing photographers the unique ability to express themselves in a manner that forced the viewer to experience their perspective. This kind of multi-faceted engagement with the viewer created a level of intellectual stimulation, and often provocation, as well as emotional stimulation, and sometimes manipulation, that carried with it the power to shape our perception of individuals and events. Lives were forever captured on film and preserved. Occurrences were frozen in time for all the world to see and to study. And ideas were proliferated through print.
Indeed, it’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe even more depending on the picture, but more importantly, what words and how they are expressed is ultimately what determines their effect on us. Whether a photo accurately reflects its subject matter is largely dependent on the context in which we see it and how the image is in turn stored in our memories. Equally important is the intent of its author, the photographer, and how the photo is treated after its taken, whether its colours are heightened or muted, or whether the image had been cropped. Each alteration to the image can reveal so much about both the photographer’s own mindset and what they want viewers to see.
Collected here are some of the most iconic and socially significant photographs of the 20th Century and the stories behind them. While I am sharing these primarily with the intention of education, some of these images are graphic and may be considered disturbing, so view them at your own discretion.
If we do not have freedom to speak to one another and to listen to one another, then we do not have the freedom to learn, and if we are prohibited from expressing the very thoughts we think or the emotions we feel, then our very minds are being prohibited. The dangers of censorship are very simple: it is a violation of our freedoms to simply acknowledge our existence. Censorship is the first step leading down into the prison cell of oppression and tyranny. It is for this reason that I have gathered the following quotes on censorship, oppression, and the importance of free speech, taken from many different great minds from many different eras.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (translation: Who will guard the guardsmen?, alternate translation: Who will watch the watchmen?)”
“If all printers were determined not to print anything ’til they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
– Benjamin Franklin
“To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves: such a prohibition ought to fill them with disdain.”
– Claude Adrien Helvétius
“Men are not admitted into Heaven because they have curbed or governed their passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings. The treasures of Heaven are not negations of passion, but realities of intellect, from which all the passions emanate un-curbed in their eternal glory. The fool shall not enter into Heaven let him be ever so holy.”
– William Blake
“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”
– Mark Twain
“I maintain my right to die as I have lived – a free woman, not cowed into silence by any other human being.”
– Ida Craddock
“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
– George Bernard Shaw
“I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Evelyn Beatrice Hall
“All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.”
– George Orwell
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
– Harry S. Truman
“Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book…”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
– Ray Bradbury
“If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all — except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.”
– John F. Kennedy
“If you can’t say ‘fuck’, then you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’”
– Lenny Bruce
“All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States – and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!”
– Kurt Vonnegut
“The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.”
– Tommy Smothers
“In this age of censorship, I mourn the loss of books that will never be written, I mourn the voices that will be silenced-writers’ voices, teachers’ voices, students’ voices – and all because of fear.”
– Judy Blume
“All of us can think of a book… that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf – that work I abhor – then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us.”
– Katherine Paterson
“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
– Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“Why did they devise censorship? To show a world which doesn’t exist, an ideal world, or what they envisaged as the ideal world. And we wanted to depict the world as it was.”
– Krzysztof Kieślowski
“There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it’s going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.”
– Frank Zappa
Controversial Masterpieces: Censorship Of Classical Art From The Renaissance Through The 19th Century
Whether the church’s chiseling the genitalia off of ancient statues or painting over blasphemous elements in a mural, art has been a contested territory, and there has been a long history of suppressing art that challenged the social mores of its day or expressed ideas deemed as obscene or heretical. Perhaps because art existed before the written word, before most other physical mediums of expression, it could be argued that art was the first form of communication outside of verbal speech to be censored. In the world of art, censorship often takes on three forms, either a work of art is expurgated (altered to exclude content that may offend), removed from public view, or destroyed altogether. The latter is rare since most cultures around the world hold art in high esteem and don’t wish to see its destruction regardless of its perceived objectionable qualities. Expurgation or obscurement has been more common.
Even in its most benign form, the practice of censorship is an undeniable violation of a human being’s inherent right to express his or herself, and any policy which allows for censorship is detrimental to the foundation of a progressive society. Generally, censorship has been utilized by organizations (be they political, religious, commercial, or social in origin) as a way to suppress unpopular ideas, opinions, or viewpoints, particularly if they suggest a dissenting perspective. While many people may associate censorship with foreign dictatorships or the corporate media, the issue is far more expansive and pervasive. Indeed, censorship has prevented the exchange of information for many, many centuries and its history is arguably as old as our own.
At its core, censorship is a way to restrict people from self-expression and limit their exposure to ideas. By controlling the public’s awareness of and access to certain information outlets that may be deemed controversial or subversive, authoritarian powers are able to place a stranglehold on the collective perception of a community. Often the application of censorship is accompanied by the use of propaganda, disinformation, or materials with which opinions can be swayed in favor of one party or against another. While these techniques are nothing new, the methods of enforcing them have greatly evolved over the centuries as technological advancement has occurred.
In today’s world, censorship is so common (as is the use of propaganda and disinformation) that the average citizen of most highly populated countries is likely to be affected by it in some manner on an almost daily basis. As such, paranoia regarding the media has also become common. While questioning the validity and integrity of information and its source is necessary in the world’s modern sociopolitical arena, mistaking editorialization with censorship has become an increasingly frequent problem that tends to exacerbate hostilities between people of opposing viewpoints. To prevent unnecessary debate and conflict, it is then necessary to create crystalline definitions that lay down the extent to which free speech can be limited, altered, or discouraged altogether. Below are definitions of censorship, editorialization, propaganda, and disinformation taken from the dictionary.
cen•sor•ship (sen´sər ship) n.
1. the act of censoring
2. the work of or position of a censor
3. the examination and prohibition of materials deemed to be objectionable
ed•i•to•ri•al•ize (ed´ə tô ré əl ĭzā´shən) n.
1. to express editorial opinions on a given topic
2. to place editorial information into a written article
3. to present what is considered by an editor to be relevant content while omitting any content considered irrelevant or inappropriate
prop•a•gan•da (präp é gan´da) n.
1. any system of which is used to promote or disseminate certain ideas, doctrines, practices, or people
2. any material used for the sole purpose of proselytizing an individual and/or group of individuals in a concerted effort of converting them to a specific viewpoint or to adopt a particular set of beliefs
dis•in•for•ma•tion (dis in´fər mā´shən) n.
erroneous or inaccurate information intentionally and often covertly spread in an attempt to divert or distract people from the truth
What’s interesting about these definitions is how purposefully vague they are. It’s clear that on a person-to-person basis, the way that censorship, editorialization, propaganda, and disinformation are perceived will vary from one person to the next, thus causing these words to be defined as much by our own perspectives as by their very nature. Failing to establish a definitive, universal set of guidelines as to what constitutes these acts may at first appear unhelpful, but in their subtle ambiguity we can also find the very freedom that these acts negate. To truly understand these concepts, one must look not to their definitions (as these metamorphose and evolve over time), but rather seek out their meanings through the history of their existence. In the following essay, I shall attempt to illuminate said history and provide readers with the information needed to form their own philosophical stance on the matter.
– John Adams
– Ambrose Bierce
– William Blake
– John Brown
– Ida Craddock
“Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”
– Charles Darwin
– Bob Dylan
– Sigmund Freud
– Mohandas Gandhi
– Marcus Garvey
– Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
– Abbie Hoffman
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
– Alfred Kinsey
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
– John Lennon
– Nelson Mandela
– Bob Marley
– Karl Marx
– Harvey Milk
– George Orwell
– Thomas Paine
“Against the State, against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.”
– Margaret Sanger
– Albert Schweitzer
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
– Haile Selassie I
– Gloria Steinem
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
– Malcolm X
“It is better to die on your feet, than live on your knees.”
– Emiliano Zapata