I wrote about the morality of fiction earlier, a couple of things I’ve read recently brought me back to the question from the another side. In that post I was talking about morality of fiction in light of the inner processes of the author. But really, when most people talk about the morality of fiction, they seem to talk about morals enforced from outside, either by social pressure, or in extremis, the heavy hand of the state. (At the risk of Godwinizing this post, such talk has always made me think of Entartete Kunst.) Such impulses always seem to come from some misguided effort to “protect” society, or some subgroup, from “bad” ideas.
The perennial example that’s back in the news is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is being considered for removal by the Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia for “the books’ use of racial slurs.” It’s almost a cliche now to point out the deep irony of banning these books in the name of racial sensitivity. The battle here is so well-trod that I think even die-hard advocates of free speech sort of glaze over these stories, despite the implications of erasing uncomfortable parts of history.
Perhaps more alarming is when art is censored because it illustrates uncomfortable parts of our present. Not fiction here, but the implications are chilling:
Organisers of an art exhibition celebrating freedom of expression have found themselves removing one of the exhibits after police raised concerns it was “inflammatory” and warned it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the event.
The artwork in question was a series of tableaux entitled ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ that used children’s Sylvanian Families dolls to satirise the Isis terrorist group.
In the work Sylvanian Families dolls are seen enjoying a picnic or a day on the beach, while other black-clad dolls, some of them armed, one carrying a black flag, gather on the sidelines.
Consider the various elements here: A “freedom of expression” exhibit was told by police that an artwork satirizing a terrorist group was too “inflammatory.” Note that none of the typical complaints of xenophobia apply here. The work was not targeting Muslims as a group, or Islam as a religion, the scenes were all anthropomorphic animals, so no racial bigotry was on display. The only group critiqued here was, in fact, ISIS. One wonders who is being protected by hiding this work, and what are they being protected from?