Banned books, music and movies – where are they now?

It was November 1960 that an English court returned an acquittal in the obscenity trial which led to the lifting of the ban on DH Lawrence’s novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ – a landmark case in Great Britain. Britain (and indeed, the world of English reading). ) literary and social history.

The verdict itself was an important victory for freedom of expression and saw publishing in Britain become considerably more liberal, even though across the Channel Europeans, particularly the French, had already the book in circulation since its first publication in 1928.

Cover of the paperback edition of DH Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.

It wasn’t until 1963, at the age of 13, when I was in Class 1 at St Thomas Secondary School, that I managed to get my hands on the previously banned Penguin paperback. (as shown in the photo here) and read it cover to cover, burning midnight oil!

The huge shift in teenage reading habits had changed virtually overnight; such a spark is best summed up in this verse from Philip Larkin’s poem “Annus Mirabilis”, which says:

“The sexual intercourse started in 1963 (which was rather late for me).

“Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the first Beatles album.”

Between 1960 and today, everywhere in the world, books and publications of all kinds, dealing with various subjects, themes and inclinations, have not ceased to be banned, proscribed and condemned. These were mostly due to their theme, topic, and topic – political, religious, racial, sexual, and deviant – but a few, which didn’t fit into any of these categories, also saw their airplay curtailed. This surprisingly included a few children’s books as well as non-fiction biographies and historical writings.

In Malaysia, government authorities periodically announced long lists of banned writings, music and films – with no reason attached to such a ban, except to say in general that they were “harmful to society and would disturb the harmony racial or religious”.

The majority of these works were either religious writings or sexual adventures. You’d be surprised if some of the famous books and movies are banned simply because of their political inclination, overt sexuality or foul language – the latter being too many to censor and making it difficult for an audience to follow their storylines.

In the world of pop music, in 1956, while performing his last hit “Hound Dog”, Elvis Presley was banned from dancing on stage by the Los Angeles Deputy Chief of Police, and was warned that he had to stop his “sexy connotation” in future performances. there, or face an obscenity charge!

Elvis’ early music was very African American, from the many gospel meetings, rhythm and blues and soul music performances he had witnessed and been a part of as a teenager in Memphis, Tennessee – chants gospel in churches where all the singers had switched to music.

Indeed, in all his years of recording over 700 songs on dozens of albums, his only three Grammy Awards came later in his career solely for his gospel songs!

“Elvis the Pelvis” shaking those “forbidden hips” on stage in 1955.

Today, with the advent of hip-hop, rap, punk, new age, metal, new wave, EDM and the like, it is virtually impossible to ban or censor or even to try to condemn all forms of music.

In the 1950s and 1960s through the 1990s, when radio, FM, and pirate stations ruled the airwaves, it was easy to ban or simply stop a record or album from airplaying and, in turn, its sales would suffer. .

Today, the harder you try to ban a piece of music, a song or even a trend, the more followers it would garner – it seems anything that pisses the establishment off is the way to go!

I had the biggest laugh when it was deemed newsworthy to report that in order to keep some vagrants and young vagrants away from certain street corners in a city, local authorities had decided to install loudspeakers and had then played the Barry Manilow songs – they had worked as an incredibly effective deterrent and certainly kept these youngsters away, trying to escape the sweet strains of ‘Mandy’ and ‘I Write the Songs’!

A few years ago, the British newspaper The Guardian published a list of the “20 Greatest Banned Songs of All Time” – you’d be pretty shocked to know who they included: Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”; Lady Gaga’s “Judas”; The Beatles’ “Happiness is A Warm Gun”; Abba’s “Waterloo”; Queen’s “I Want to Break Free”; “Justify My Love” by Madonna; “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael; and “Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer.

But the two most famous banned songs of all time have to be the mother of all – Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, recorded in 1939; Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun called it “the start of the civil rights movement”. It was a song about the lynching of African Americans in the United States and was considered so powerful that some American cities banned it, fearing it would cause civil discord.

Then there’s the ultimate sex epic, the Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin classic “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” (I love you… Me neither) released in 1969; those scandalous and sexy French erotic moans had shocked everyone, including the Pope! It was originally written for Brigitte Bardot. Many years later it was used to advertise anything from M&S smoked salmon to toilet paper! Still sexy?

Movies – be it Hollywood blockbusters, Hong Kong/PRC/Taiwan feature films or Bollywood films are often the target of the scissors of censorship. Many documentaries also meet the same fate for religious, sexual, racial and political reasons.

In 1972, the film “Straw Dogs” directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George was banned; it was not lifted until 30 years later, in 2002, with the release of the video in Britain. His ban was based on it being “one of the strongest statements about violence ever to appear on screen.”

Peckinpah, famous for the violence and bloodshed in Westerns, was known for portraying women in his films – one reviewer once said: “In fact, every woman in Straw Dogs is shown exclusively to stimulate lust. sexual: she is all legs, nipples out, with a shy smile and a beckoning finger. She is temptress, seducer and child at the same time.

No wonder they banned it!

Dustin Hoffman in Peckinpah’s 1972 film Straw Dogs.

To satisfy your curiosity, the film’s title derives from a discussion in the Tao Te Ching that compares people to the ancient Chinese ceremonial “straw dog”: being of ceremonial value, but then discarded with indifference after fulfilling his goal.

At the same time the ban was lifted, four other notorious films were also ‘released’ for UK distribution – ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Driller Killer’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange”.

I would like to point out here that over the past few years, a number of films directed by Kuching-born Tsai Ming-Liang, who achieved international fame and received awards and accolades mainly in Europe and North Asia, were officially banned in Malaysia for depicting so-called themes of “kink and homosexuality”.

IMDB (the “industry bible” – Internet Movie Data Base listed Tsai as having directed 42 films, written for 28, produced nine and starred in two himself.

In conclusion, I have this observation – in today’s meta world where everything is linked and online and interconnected with everything else, it’s almost impossible to think about doing what we’ve grown accustomed to in the past. The past can no longer set precedents for us to follow – except the written laws of the land, the rules and regulations of man and God and the Holy Books; it is no longer up to the weaknesses and whims of mere mortals like us to decide and dictate to others what they can read, watch and listen to.

Agency has always existed – now it is free and liberated to the extent that we are able to decide for ourselves, with self-discipline and full responsibility over what we want to do with our lives and the choices we make and we’ll do. do in the future.

I can safely say that all forms and manners of censorship were dead a few years ago when the Internet came into being; now with the interconnected world and the many ways we all have to stream, download, watch, listen and read within our own limits of humanity, decency and self-respect!
Long live freedom !


Colin L. Johnson