Why Do We Censor Words, But Not Brutality?

by Alice Jones Webb
Originally Published: 
impact tv censorship kids violence
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This past Saturday, I got a real treat: an hour of unexpected free time and control of the TV remote. This is the kind of opportunity I rarely get to experience. Possession of the remote is golden in this house. The race to acquire it is like the battle at the cornucopia in The Hunger Games. The strongest and bravest usually gains possession. It’s never me, because to be perfectly honest, my kids frighten me.

It was just sitting there all alone and unguarded on the arm of the couch with not a child in sight, so I risked it. I slipped off my shoes, propped up me feet, and started surfing channels like a pro. (This didn’t actually happen. I’m rather unversed in the technical workings of the remote due to my infrequent possession of the sacred object. There are too many confusing buttons for me to use it with any confidence, authority or professionalism. I do at least know how to use the basics without tech support from the children.)

I settled on the UFC 188 prelims. Don’t judge me. It was 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon. The choices were MMA and some landscaping show on the Home & Garden channel. Watching men pummel each other in the face is way more entertaining than watching men plant begonias. Just sayin’. (UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship for those of you who prefer gardening.)

As I was sitting there stretched out on my couch, snacking on junk food, and watching blood splatter across the screen as one guy repeatedly hammer-fisted this other guy in the ear, I realized something odd. It didn’t seem particularly odd that I, a middle-aged, minivan-driving, suburban mother of four, was spending her free Saturday afternoon thoroughly engrossed in mixed martial arts (in spite of this episode’s disappointing lack of Ronda Rousey). No, that something odd was the bleeping of television censorship. It was censorship bleeping to cover offensive language. You know, psychologically scarring words like “shit” and “damn” and horrific F-bombs and who knows what else because I couldn’t hear it over that irritating bleeping noise.

I realize that it was 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I realize that impressionable young children are awake and aware and quite possibly watching television at that hour of the day. I realize that many parents don’t want the purity of their children’s ears tainted with profane language. Some adults consider profanity to be the gateway to all sorts of delinquent behavior.

But let me paint you a clearer picture: Two half-naked guys in a cage are beating each other. There is blood everywhere, streaming down one guy’s face, covering the other’s hands, splattering across the floor with each successive punch. One guy gets slammed to the ground and held there while he is repeatedly elbowed across his already broken and bloody nose. I’ve seen less blood in an episode of The Walking Dead.

Meanwhile, all of the curse words are painstakingly covered with bleeps, because impressionable children and other people with delicate constitutions might be tuning in.

But this is the UFC, not The Walking Dead. This isn’t fantasy violence cooked up in some Hollywood studio. There is no CGI and that’s not corn syrup tinted with food coloring pooling around that guy’s ear. Those aren’t actors wincing in pain. They are very real people covered in each other’s blood and actually beating the shit out of each other—only I can’t say “shit” because it might mentally scar someone.

This is a joke, right?

Are there people out there who are more disturbed by certain four-letter words than by actual human blood spray? I’m not sure I want to meet those people.

I’m not insinuating that UFC or other televised mixed martial arts should be censored. I’m not even insinuating that they are generally disturbing. I did sit and watch it with genuine enthusiasm while binging on junk food. And while there were more than a few moments that made me cringe in empathy, I was still able to appreciate the skill and athleticism that such intense competition demands. I am confused, however, that broadcasters and viewers don’t bat an eyelash at the twisted logic of censoring language over violence, because there’s no getting around the fact that mixed martial arts is violent. It might be somewhat controlled violence, but it’s still violence.

If we are censoring out of concern that children could emulate the behaviors they see on television, we might need to reconsider our censorship priorities. If Little Johnny, repeats one of those nasty words, if he drops an F-bomb at Sunday dinner, the only casualty would be Grandma’s involuntary gasp that causes her to choke on the mashed potatoes (and maybe Little Johnny’s bottom, but that depends on his family’s parenting style). However, if Little Johnny attempts the flying armbar he witnessed during a UFC bout on his buddies, there’s liable to be a trip to the emergency room. And let’s just pray he doesn’t try out a sleeper choke on his sister.

So it seems like blurring out the blood and the blows should take precedence when considering the impact TV has on children and adults alike. Words are just words. They aren’t dangerous or damaging in and of themselves. Shouting “fuck!” at the top of your lungs isn’t going to hurt anyone, unless they actually trip over their own shock and disgust. The intention behind words is what makes them hurtful and damaging, not the words themselves.

One would think that a world that is regularly exposed to the horrors of mass shootings and increasing violent crimes might be more concerned with children viewing public, blood-soaked brawls—especially those packaged as entertainment—than with their tender ears hearing an arbitrary list of words that some television officials have deemed inappropriate.

Or maybe I’m crazy. My children have been know to occasionally have potty mouths.

It’s a messed up world, and I don’t know the answer. Maybe sign Little Johnny up for karate or jiu-jitsu lessons. Let him learn the discipline, respect and self-control, not to mention proper application of technique, that serious study in martial arts helps foster. In the long run, it might help temper a violent world.

And while you’re at it, sign his sister up too. She might need to learn the counter move to that sleeper choke.

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