‘Outdated cultural depictions’ – a discussion

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a number of films and TV shows have been removed from online streaming platforms due to what are sometimes termed ‘outdated cultural depictions’, meaning elements deemed to be racist, homophobic, transphobic or in other ways likely to cause offence.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 There seems to be an assumption that watching something which includes ‘culturally outdated depictions’ will encourage people to adopt offensive views.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.

27 thoughts on “‘Outdated cultural depictions’ – a discussion”

    1. Thanks! I don’t often have an opinion piece like this on my blog but I felt I had to say it.

  1. Well said. It’s censorship basically. And like you say we don’t need this, we’re quite capable of thinking for ourselves.

  2. I agree! It’s interesting that you brought up the point of these shows in essence being banned and how that makes them more desirable because that’s what I’ve been thinking. These shows will now garner publicity that they wouldn’t have otherwise meaning they will reach a wider audience. This of course could end up with the opposite effect to what those that wanted them banned aimed for in the first place. I find that confusing to say the least.

    1. Good point – and also people may be rewatching the shows just to find the offensive bits, some of which would not be a major element of the show.

  3. Brilliant post! And I fully agree! What are some of the programs banned in your area? Recently YouTube pulled out an important discussion abour racism midway saying its inappropriate with no further explanation! And it was such an important discussion especially now!

    1. Thanks! Oh that’s odd. Here it seems to be the comedy shows which are under fire such as Little Britain, Fawlty Towers, Mighty Boosh and League of Gentlemen. No one would deny there is some potentially offensive content but that is the nature of comedy. People should be able to watch them and decide for themselves.

  4. I completely agree. It’s like when a lot of feminazis wanted to ban the old James Bond films a couple of years ago. These type shows/books/whatever show is how far we have come as a society. If it makes us uncomfortable then good, it shows we’ve learnt something. If we hide it away or brush it under the carpet, it won’t be long before we forget. We are a fickle species after all.
    Great post!

    1. Yes, great point! Banning things is not the way forward, people need to be able to watch and make their own choices and have a debate.

  5. I totally agree. Don’t remove them, but maybe… add a disclaimer that any offensive content in these movies or TV shows do not reflect the views of this streaming service, and should not be seen as the service’s promotion or endorsement of such offensive content.

    1. That seems like a move that reflects a compromise. I have no problem with there being disclaimers etc, providing people can still access these programmes if they choose. Thanks for reading!

      1. Exactly. Just because I have Gone With the Wind on my shelf doesn’t mean that I’m in favor of slavery. (Confession: I’ve never read it.)

  6. It’s heartening to see so many in agreement with you here. As am I. I don’t understand how so many people who say that are for the freedom of speech can turn around and say, but not this kind of speech, or this kind of representation, or this kind of character or film. I would agree that it would seem books would be next to be censored. Thanks for your great thinker-post!

    1. Films and TV are more widely known than books (generally) so they would be the first to be censored. I think common sense is starting to prevail though. It’s a topic I just had to mention. Thanks for reading!

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