Recently a number of films and TV shows have been removed from online streaming platforms due to what are sometimes termed ‘outdated cultural depictions’, meaning elements deemed to be racist, homophobic, transphobic or in other ways likely to cause offence. Here are my thoughts on this controversial topic.
- Social attitudes have changed in a relatively short period of time. Things which seemed acceptable in particular shows when they were first aired are now evidence that a change has taken place. These shows are ‘products of their time’. Viewers can still watch and appreciate them while being aware of the social context and political climate in which they were created.
- Denying viewers access to these shows is effectively banning them. Telling people what they can and can’t watch is patronising and only serves to make them angry and frustrated. The bosses of the streaming platforms and TV channels (and ultimately the complainants who are demanding the removal of the shows) are not crediting the general public with the intelligence to make their own choices and to think for themselves. Perhaps the consequence will be that these ‘banned’ shows become more desirable just because they are what we ‘shouldn’t’ be watching.
- Almost every film and TV show from the past is sure to contain elements which by today’s enlightened standards would be considered offensive in some respect. Taken to its logical conclusion, all cinematic and television history will be consigned to the bin. Why not stop there? Add books to the pile and set it alight. It doesn’t seem to matter what the author was trying to say, or whether the attitudes were a criticism or satire of offensive comedy in itself. A horrifyingly broad-brush approach.
- If anyone thinks that removing well-known films and TV shows is going to combat racism, they must be very naive. We could remove everything vaguely old from the streaming platforms and there would still be racism. There seems to be an assumption that watching something which includes ‘culturally outdated depictions’ will encourage people to adopt offensive views. Again, this is patronising and suggests that viewers are too stupid to make their own decisions. Having a debate around these depictions is a good idea and for younger viewers it would be useful to have some context which discusses the social attitudes which are increasingly further from those they have grown up with. Denying access is not the way forward.