Leading Article: Censorship and sensibility

Share
Related Topics
If Mrs Virginia Bottomley were a Roman Catholic, the toughest penance she could be set would be to forswear soundbites. Yesterday she gave way to temptation again by jumping on the media and violence bandwagon given a hefty push at Cannes by Dustin Hoffman. The actor, who is also a would-be film producer, is perfectly entitled to his views - though it is not clear, if behaviour is directly influenced by the screen, why his celebrated seduction by Anne Bancroft in The Graduate did not inspire a global epidemic of stocking unrolling by attractive fortysomethings. The minister, however, has responsibility for public policies and her remark that the regulation of screen entertainment needs "improvement" must be subject to a tougher assessment.

Dustin Hoffman's proposition, scarcely original, is that film fiction has effects in people's behaviour. The film market is global thus, he said, what Hollywood produces can have effects in places as far from California as Dunblane and Tasmania. To be fair, Mr Hoffman put his argument inversely: are we saying that screen violence did not have anything to do with these massacres? But even in that form, the answer could plausibly be no, these crimes were not the work of people unhinged from watching too much Terminator. Put in the broadest terms, our values, our behaviour, our ways of thinking are influenced by the stock and flow of images and pictures, some of which we derive from film and television. One of the great puzzles of the 20th century is how, after all these decades of motion pictography, we lack for any single or consistent model of what the relationship is between our consumption of mass media (active and passive) and our individual and collective behaviour.

All Mr Hoffman may have been doing was making a more personal point, that he does not like much of the recent output of Hollywood. There are, though he did not make them, serious points about the effect on the content of film of the changing ratios of domestic (US) and foreign revenues in film production - reducing the scope for language and place-specific plotting in favour of action and universal story-lines.

As for the Heritage Secretary, she wants to condemn "unnecessary" violence while extolling the recent success of Sense and Sensibility, The Madness of King George and Co. What she is really saying is that public taste is hugely diversified and, thankfully, not as easy to predict as producers and film financiers might wish. That taste is shaped, in part, by the existence of an official scheme of classification for which, with occasional exceptions, there is a good deal of public support because, by and large, it conforms with public opinion on what constitutes material suitable for younger viewers. Her veiled threat that tightening (aka censorship) may be needed is gratuitous because it is unargued. Mrs Bottomley has every right to try to shape and lead public taste, though her influence would probably be larger if she were a better film critic. Similarly the actors and actresses who star in films. Mr Hoffman has an easy remedy, which is to make kinder, gentler films that people want to see. By his own admission at Cannes the finance and production markets are open enough. Let us see what he can do as the latest tycoon.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style