Retrospective censorship of our films and television shows: why it’s dumb

The Black Lives Matter movement has fuelled aspects of healthy change in our society; however, does it warrant the panicked erasing of some of our favourite movies and shows? (Image Source: Unsplash)

By Nahum Gale | @NahumGale

It all started one day when I went to watch ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’, my favourite episode of the sitcom, Community, only to find said episode to be wiped from Netflix.

The episode contained a sequence where a character performed blackface for what could only be described as a satirical gag.

I proceeded to look further into this obscure eradication of satirical racism in sitcoms only to find, as I assumed, removed episodes of other shows on Netflix and other streaming services.

One of these shows happened to be the long-running American satire, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a series known for its overly ironic and sarcastic humour.

The episode removed in question was ‘Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth’, another sitcom skit to feature, you guessed it, blackface.

Now, if you have ever seen It’s Always Sunny, you would understand why the removal of an episode like this is… well… kind of silly.

The show prides itself on taking the mickey out racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic – just straight up horrible people – with episodes like ‘The Gang Goes Jihab’ even taking jabs at ignorant Western cultures and their dismissal of Middle Eastern politics.

The show is, without a doubt, a joke within itself.

You don’t laugh at shows like It’s Always Sunny; you laugh with them.

That is why the panicked censorship of our past media outputs is kind of unnecessary. The censorship is not proving a point by removing this content, but rather missing the point.

It is shows like Community and It’s Always Sunny that are made to bravely poke fun at the society we live in; they showcase the worst people in our communities with their pants down.

It is these kinds of sitcoms and shows that remind us how far we have come as people to the point that when we make jokes of this calibre, we are not doing it out of ignorance or malice but out of retrospection.

Retrospection, in art, is not going back and deleting things that may “strike a nerve”, but rather creating new material that addresses past wrongs through retrospective means.

In many ways, shows like Community and It’s Always Sunny are more refined and genuinely better practices of retrospection from true artists and comics rather than the try hard attempts of businesses wanting to please the masses.

True, the censorships seemingly come from good intent, but it is in this censorship that the message of a movement like Black Lives Matter is lost.

For a long time at school I didn’t like history classes; in fact, I didn’t even understand why I had to take such a boring subject on stuff that I didn’t think was relevant to me…

However, when I got older, I became clear to me.

We learn history to understand how not to repeat it.

We expose ourselves to the ways of old to comprehend how the human race has grown and evolved and has an overwhelming ability to better ourselves from learning about our pasts.

For decades, Hank Azaria, a Caucasian man, voiced the Indian character Apu in The Simpsons.

When society realised how politically incorrect this casting was, the character was removed from the show; the creators and producers did not go back on countless seasons of the show to remove the character.

Why not? Because that would just be silly.

You would be deleting classic episodes of one of the greatest shows of all-time (a genuine cultural phenomenon) to please a small group of people in a very small point in time.

In this instance, human beings learnt from past mistakes and improved on them for future.

We do not need to erase the past in order to move forwards; we need the past in order to understand how to move forwards.

The films and television we consume today are mirrors of our modern livelihoods.

At this point, they are basically historical artefacts. Removing all traces of them will deprive future generations from learning how we existed, suffered and went on to develop.

 So… is there a solution?

Well, on the streaming service, Disney+, I think I found the answer.

Many of the outdated Disney classics like Dumbo and Peter Pan are given a title card before being screened on the service stating the films contain “outdated cultural depictions”.

It is the self-aware actions of a studio like this that I feel others should follow in suit with.

Sure, we can watch and be entertained by the stuff we want to watch and be entertained by, but it is just a matter of understanding and accepting how times change and thought patterns evolve.

They may be controversial, but I still love Dumbo and Peter Pan; I cannot ignore the magic I feel when watching those artistic endeavours.

And the same goes with Community, It’s Always Sunny and The Simpsons.

Times change and we need to be conscious of the paths we take.

History is there to feel uncomfortable about and to cringe over, because when we feel uncomfortable, we will try are hardest not to repeat the actions that got us to cringe in the first place.

And the funny thing is, sometimes, when we learn how horrible and silly and cringey are history really is… all we can really do is laugh at it.

Enter the next satirical sitcom to help us do just that.

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