If you have thought much about censorship, as I have been doing lately, you might have wondered what the highest court of the land, our esteemed Supreme Court of India, has said about the matter. If you haven't, feel free to do so at this time. Then calmly read the following passage, because this is what they have said: 'Film censorship becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi-darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instil or cultivate violent or bad behaviour. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary'.
Any statement the SC makes is important on its own, but it becomes even more relevant when the said passage is being displayed proudly by the CBFC on its website. In other words, the CBFC, and I assume many other people (why else hasn't it been called out yet?), find this a very persuasive argument for censorship. It's not.
First there is the absurd dependance on the atmosphere of a theatre, as-if because of the 'semi-darkness' people just sit there with tongues hanging out and absorb material helplessly, and then helplessly exit the theatre and helplessly murder or rape - all because of the 'semi-darkness'. Then there's the absurdly obvious 'can affect emotions' mentioned as though it is an undesirable effect of films, and this too is attributed to the 'semi-darkness' and 'elimination of all distracting ideas'. Who does the Supreme Court think we are? A bunch of zombie idiots who go from theatre to theatre getting brainwashed by all that we see, helplessly vulnerable to every twist and turn of plot and emotion, so much so, that once the movie is over we go and do bad things? This is such an infantile and condescending view that the people who made it should have been immediately taken to a theatre and introduced to real movie-goers, and not their idea of movie-goers, on which they've based this entire theory.
We can distill the passage to this basic claim: that because of the atmosphere of a movie theatre, people will be easily influenced by a film and could do bad things. Think about this for a second: if this claim is true, all one has to do is change the atmosphere of a theatre (like switch on a light) and nobody will do anything bad. But wait a minute and forget about atmosphere - there is a claim much more fundamental and much more wrong than this one. Is there any evidence at all, from anywhere in the world that the content of films has an impact on behaviour of audiences to the extent that they are driven to violence?
It seems there is quite an easy way to see if this claim is true. Take films from different regions of the world and see if there is any relationship between their content and violence. More specifically, does the violence and sexual depictions in films in a certain region mean that that region has more violence and sexual offenders? If you don't know the answer to this question you need to ask yourself what you're doing with your life. In fact it's probably the other way round. And if the effect is not big enough to affect whole populations, then we must ask, are we being fed censored movies on the off chance that sometime somewhere someone might watch a movie and go and kill someone after?
Something else: Have you ever watched a movie and felt such an uncontrollable urge to do something influenced directly by the movie you watched? Do you know anyone who has? Drinking White Russians after watching The Big Lebowski doesn't count. I'm talking about some real shit like going and hitting somebody who looks like Emperor Palpatine after watching Star Wars because you're convinced they're the bad guy in a position of power on the good side. If you do know someone like that, you probably already know that this has much more to do with mental illness than the 'semi-darkness' of a movie theatre or the fact that films can't be equated with other forms of communication because there are no distractions. Do you realise now what an absurd claim this is?
The logic that a film can actually influence people directly to commit acts of violence is so infantile that a nursery school would laugh at it. Even children don't behave like what they see. The mechanisms for distinguishing between reality and fantasy is a very important and consequently very well developed faculty. And there is an entire range of influence that outside stimulus can make on the human mind. If you try destroying ISIS with a tube light after watching The Force Awakens there's something wrong with you, dude. Don't blame it on Imax. (Which is also something interesting to think about: Are audiences who watch a film in an Imax theatre more likely to commit acts of violence after the movie, because Imax theatres undoubtedly have a more absorbing atmosphere.)
To quote Adam Gopnik, "The view that humans are passive receptacles of stereotypes, words and images is condescending to ordinary people..."* And here we have Steven Pinker, "The view that visual cliches shape beliefs is both too pessimistic, in that it supposes that people are helplessly imprisoned by received stereotypes, and too optimistic, in that it supposes that if you could change the images you could change the beliefs."**
We may also add, that if people are helplessly affected by the movies they watch, why then aren't the censors the most affected? Either it's not true or the censors are 'stronger' people than we are and are not affected by the stuff they watch in the same way that the poor ordinary man is (unless of course, they are being constantly distracted while watching the movie). So we must ask the CBFC directly: Do you think you're better than us, or, is the entire point of your job based on false and simplistic notions of human nature? Either way, it leaves no wiggle room for the existence of such a regressive and dangerous organisation.
* The Blank Slate, page 217, Steven Pinker, Penguin Books
** The Blank Slate, page 217, Steven Pinker, Penguin Books