Sunday, March 21, 2010
The Blind Censor
The chief film censor in Iran, up until 1994, was blind. Well, nearly blind. Before that, he was the censor for theater. One of my playwright friends once described how he would sit in the theater wearing thick glasses that seemed to hide more than they revealed. An assistant who sat by him would explain the action onstage, and he would dictate the parts that needed to be cut.
After 1994, this censor became the head of the new television channel. There, he perfected his methods and demanded that the scriptwriters give him their scripts on audiotape; they were forbidden to make them attractive or dramatize them in any way. He then made his judgments about the scripts based on the tapes. More interesting, however, is the fact that his successor, who was not blind – not physically, that is – nonetheless followed the same system.
A few years ago some members of the Iranian Parliament set up an investigative committee to examine the content of national television. The committee issued a lengthy report in which it condemned the showing of Billy Budd, because, it claimed, the story promoted homosexuality. Ironically, the Iranian television programmers had mainly chosen that film because of its lack of female characters. The cartoon version of Around the World in Eighty Days was also castigated, because the main character – a lion – was British and the film ended in that bastion of imperialism, London. (Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books pg. 24-25.)
Who in the Christian or Jewish world would be a good stand in for the blind censor or the Iranian MP? What immediately comes to my mind are the Haredi rabbis who could not read English, but still managed to issue a ban against Rabbi Slifkin.