Playwright rules out censorship: Miller links screen and street violence

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ARTHUR MILLER yesterday became the biggest cultural figure yet to draw a link between violence on the screen and the increasing violence on the streets. But the American playwright, one of the great liberal thinkers of the post-war years, refused to advocate censorship.

Articulating a classic liberal dilemma which could almost have come from one of his plays, he said that if censorship of violence occurred it would spread to plays and films about other issues such as abortion.

Mr Miller was speaking at the Young Vic theatre in south London, where his latest play, The Last Yankee, is running before transferring to the West End.

Asked about recent violent events in Britain, including the killing of two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool, he responded: 'I come from a place where what you've just witnessed happens about 20 times a day. The single major cause of death in the US of black teenagers is gunshot. I think it is an unravelling of the social fabric, sure. You are probably in that respect at the beginning of it. We are in the middle of it.

'In America there are over 200 million guns - a gun and a half per person. The National Rifle Association is so powerful that apparently the legislators cannot prohibit this.

'We tend to look to ideal figures to tell us how to behave and those are very often in movies or TV; and the violence on American TV is unbelievable. Also the kind of violence is so awful, so automatic. I can't help believing that it's having an effect on the behaviour of people.

'When I was a child, if I was afraid of something, I would think of one of my cowboy heroes. I had a model. But now there's nothing but the cynically created figures in some studio made up by people who become millionaires doing it. But I can't advocate censoring it.'

When asked if he, in his position, should not be advocating exactly that, Mr Miller, 77, said: 'It may be that I should be arguing for censorship. But I will tell you why I don't. I haven't yet met anyone whose judgement on what to censor is perfect. The next thing they will be censoring is a show on abortion . . .'

He said there were still ways in which people could express their disapproval, such as writing to programme makers and sponsors to complain.