18.5.06

Codes of behaviour

The question I've encountered most commonly lately is, "Are you going to see The Da Vinci Code?" To which my typical response is to roll my eyes.

No, I haven't read the book either. Yeah, I'm a literary snob --- though an erratic one, which means I'll admit to enjoying the first Bridget Jones's Diary but there's something about the whole book-reading market's love affair with Dan Brown that makes me not want to touch it with a twenty-foot pole.

But I didn't quite expect it to come down to this:
The censorship board [of Singapore] gave the movie an NC16 rating, barring viewers under 16, arguing that "only a mature audience will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction."
So the censorship board of our world-class, first world country, is on record as opining that one who reaches the magical age of 16 then magically matures, mastering overnight the very difficult task of differentiating between fact and fiction --- which makes me wonder what the censorship board thinks our children and teenagers are doing everyday when they watch The O.C. or whatever popular Nickelodeon cartoon is on. Or, for that matter, when they watch or read the local news.

Which makes me wonder if the censorship board thinks that Singapore cinema audiences, brought up on a steady diet of overwhelmingly melodramatic Hollywood and Hong Kong films (and, increasingly, Korean ones), have trouble recognising that they're mostly watching fiction and not fact, and need to be safely guided to see what's what.

Which makes me wonder, if they think we're that stupid, why don't they simply have a ticker-tape running below the Chinese subtitles of any film, reminding viewers that, "The story you are watching is fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N. It is not real. People don't live like this in the real world."

If I were under the age of 16, I'd be insulted. For that matter, I'm insulted on their behalf.

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28 Comments:

At 5/18/2006 9:48 pm , Blogger dio said...

Official statement aside, I have a feeling the censors are doing it more as a political move.

As the article stated, the National Council of Churches petitioned MICA to ban the movie, and apparently some churches have been holding anti-Code talks for months. Religious harmony being the issue that it is... yeah it's just a movie, but the gahmen has always been one for playing it safe.

The NC16 rating can appease the NCC somewhat without depriving the majority of S'poreans of the movie (which I've heard, entertainment-wise, is pretty blah anyway) =)

 
At 5/18/2006 11:18 pm , Blogger strangemessages said...

Hear hear.

I can use a rifle, withstand a steady stream of homophobic comments...but cannot watch Brokeback Mountain.

same old, same old.

 
At 5/19/2006 1:16 am , Blogger cour marly said...

Well looky here - I have a first class ticket on the literary snob train too!

Everytime someone asks me excitedly if I've read the book, I have to erm and ah and mutter something about not having time to read. Bleh.

 
At 5/19/2006 3:27 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

Well, guess I'm out of the club because I read the bugger one stale night in summer. It was a quick read, an insulting read, quite laughable at parts. Whatever.

I'm sure someone I know will download the film and we'll watch it in a moment of sin.

 
At 5/19/2006 7:44 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you make a ridiculous argument. as it is, all age limits are somewhat arbitrary, and if your argument were valid, then it could be applied to the drinking, driving, and voting age. in fact, are you saying that people under 21 are incapable of choosing the right leaders for their country? wow, i'm insulted on their behalf.

 
At 5/19/2006 9:04 am , Blogger Tym said...

dio > Just because a movie is a bad movie doesn't mean it ought to be censored or banned. Bad movies deserve their day in the sun just like everyone else --- just that we hope few enough people watch them so that Hollywood realises it should stop making those bad movies ;)

strangemessages > Indeed.

Anonymous > I think you missed the point of my "argument".

 
At 5/19/2006 10:05 am , Blogger dio said...

tym: Respectfully, you missed my point =)
In my entire post, I did not say the movie deserved to be banned. I said that the censors did it for political reasons, not because they think 16 year-old S'poreans can't handle the material. But of course they can't come right out and say "We are giving this an NC16 rating so you all Christians dun angry with us and scold us religiously insensitive hor!"

Basically, in a nutshell: the rating was not given to protect lil innocent peeps -- it was given to appease a certain religious faction in this country. Yes, it's still censorship, but for a different reason than the one you are displeased with.

 
At 5/19/2006 10:15 am , Blogger L'oiseau rebelle said...

Add me to the list of literary snobs. Ok, I did read Harry Potter - the first four books - last summer: first two on the flight back to Singapore, third and fourth on the flight back to America.

I don't particularly like the idea of censorship - so who's going to censor the censors?

 
At 5/19/2006 5:19 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

Yes, it's a political move, it's made to appease the interests of a religious group etc. If it weren't made, the reason would be to cater to the interests of a non-religious group of secular liberals. Same difference. Except in the latter case it's obscured by the fact of secular liberalism's hegemonic dominance in the public sphere.

More interestingly, I think there's a tension between two ostensibly "liberal" principles here: autonomy and respect. The standard liberal answer is that autonomy *ought* to trump respect for group interests, but it's easy to see how that is virtually indistinguishable from a fig-leaf/trojan horse for the advancement of a very specific liberal group interest. And therefore bad conscience results. If in the interests of liberal "fairness" we censor the anti-Muslim comic strips, then we have to do the same for all other religions, correct? Or are some more equal than others?... ;)

Oh and btw, as far as personal opinions go, you'll find me putting up debunking criticisms of the book/movie everywhere, from a specifically Christian perspective even, but I don't think it should be banned, so long as you read my pieces too. =)

 
At 5/19/2006 5:50 pm , Blogger dio said...

TaLieSin: I think the reason why the censors slapped an NC16 rating on the film (note I did not say "*only* an NC16 rating")is because the rating, in being a rating at all, "proves" to the NCC that the gahmen does care about their beliefs and all. Thus, NCC cannot complain that the gahmen is being insensitive etc.

Yet in being an NC16 rating, rather than R21 or M18 or whatever more stringent ratings are out there, the censors are also attempting to accomodate the "secular liberals" you mention. The percentage of people who might conceivably want to watch the movie in cinemas but can't (hmm 10 to 15-year-olds?) is much smaller than the percentage of people who can (16 up). While it is indeed unfortunate that some are being deprived of an entertainment experience (and I am confident, having once been under 16 myself, that most can differentiate fact from fiction), it is a compromise the censors have come up with to accomodate both parties (NCC and secular liberals). It's not the perfect solution, but it is not a perfect world.

PS: Aiyar anyway under 16 can just watch VCD from M'sia lor ;)

 
At 5/19/2006 6:29 pm , Blogger Tym said...

dio > Yah, sorry. I just found that last comment more interesting to riff off than the first part.

I think there shouldn't be censorship, period. But I'm not getting into a full-blown argument about why right now. However, I will say that I suspect I am from the really teensy minority of extremely secular liberals.

Oh, and TaLieSin, feel free to debunk or whatever. As someone who hasn't read the book (yet? Maybe someday I'll read it so I'll know what the hell all this fuss is about) and who will probably not see the movie (except by accident, you know, like it's playing in someone's house when I walk in), I just won't have a clue what you're talking about :)

 
At 5/19/2006 9:01 pm , Blogger ichoisarius said...

Read the book, hated it ('prose' aside, it goes into Langdon: "You don't know what xxx is?", Sophie: "No.", Langdon: "three hundred pages of textbook history" every other page).

Saw the movie, hated it for the same reasons, but considering the movie itself is even tamer than the book ('an apology for the book' is how the Times described it I think), the whole furor over it is even more unjustifiable. Every evil Church guy in it is either misguided or psychotic, and it keeps stressing the importance of faith, and so it comes off, in the end, as being more sympathetic than opposed to Christianity.

 
At 5/19/2006 9:05 pm , Blogger ichoisarius said...

Uh. My point was that while I don't agree with censorship in any situation, by attempting to impose censorship on so harmless a target the Church is really only hurting itself in any case.

 
At 5/20/2006 3:30 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So the censorship board of our world-class, first world country, is on record as opining that one who reaches the magical age of 16 then magically matures, mastering overnight the very difficult task of differentiating between fact and fiction"

I don't agree with the censorship but anyway, the rating is just a general guideline to measure the maturity of the youth. Some people of age 21 are still unable to differentiate fact from fiction and some below 16 can do it much better. The board just has to cut it off somewhere.

 
At 5/20/2006 3:39 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that with the Da Vinci Code it IS more difficult to decipher what is "fact" or "fiction" as compared to your typical Korean/Hong Kong drama. The movie and the book both don't claim to be pieces of fiction and what's fact or fiction in this story is not entirely clear.

 
At 5/20/2006 7:23 pm , Blogger Tym said...

I think mr brown has said it all.

Anonymous #2> It's precisely because age is such an imprecise yardstick that this particular approach to censorship irks the hell out of me.

 
At 5/20/2006 9:06 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

In response to the mr. brown piece: I think the official reason given by the censors is a red herring. It's easy to lampoon them by pointing out a million other cases where people are left to make up their own minds.

I think the real reason is the offensiveness of the material being presented, which has nothing to do with whether or not some people might mistake fiction for fact. The same argument goes for, say, pornography: people want to ban it primarily because they find it morally repugnant, not because they think anyone's going to suffer cognitive confusion from watching porn.

Politics is the art of the possible, and in this case I think one should read between the lines to get to the "real" approach to censorship being taken - and proceed to evaluate that, rather than the somewhat hollow official reasons given.

 
At 5/21/2006 7:20 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5/21/2006 7:33 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You conveniently forget to mention that the Da Vinci Code movie adversely affect its viewers if seen from the point of view of the people who may find the movie 'morally repugnant'.

However, if seen from the point of view of someone who doesn't find the movie 'morally repugnant', the movie in question might be nothing more than just yet another movie.

Unless there is concrete evidence pointing to the fact that people who find this movie repugnant are in the majority, it'd be difficult to use this as a justification for its censorship, would it not?

 
At 5/21/2006 7:34 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5/21/2006 7:35 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

Gah. I keep getting my comment wrong.


"The interests of a non-religious group of secular liberals"?! What nonsense.

Every ideology has a very specific group interest of championing freedom of speech as long as the ideology itself is being expounded, exposited, defended or agreed with. The difference is that while many ideologies grow hysterical at other ideas being expressed, liberalism (secular or otherwise) is adamant that one should be free to vocalise views antithetical to it - instead of "a very specific liberal group interest" it instead promotes the interests of all - people would rather be free to be offended by others' views than escape offence but be unable to express (or hold, even) their own views.

The red herring of secular liberalism's tyranny simply disguises the face that you feel oppressed by other people's vocalising of their views and ideas. To call the championing of freedom for all "hegemonic dominance" is like complaining that tax cuts have suddenly made you richer.


As for the Da Vinci code, even a historical, non-Christian perspective based in reality can "debunk" it. I don't see why people don't go around debunking Superman instead.


I love how, as usual, "liberals" are pigeonholed and the promotion of freedom can be seen as oppression. Sheesh.

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength


`When /I/ use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you /can/ make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

--- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass



Unless there is concrete evidence pointing to the fact that people who find this movie repugnant are in the majority, it'd be difficult to use this as a justification for its censorship, would it not?
If you find it morally repugnant, don't watch it! Simple.

Do we ask for condoms to be banned because people find them morally repugnant? Oh wait...

 
At 5/21/2006 8:38 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

Anonymous: I'm sorry, I think I wasn't completely clear there. I meant to say that the offended group wants censorship for completely non-consequentialist reasons relative to the actual viewers themselves. They aren't bothered by what happens to the viewers, so this is not an issue of paternalism and deciding for yourself what to watch/what is true. It isn't an issue of majority decision either, as if the whole problem could be solved by an arithmetic summing up of morally arbitrary utilitarian preferences. That might be appropriate for choosing what sort of ice cream my family buys at the supermarket, but it's plainly not analogous to our case.

I suggested that we evaluate the real reason, which I'm glad we're proceeding to do. I never suggested that my evaluation would come down in favour of censorship - in fact I said precisely the opposite. But now I want you to know the reasons why.

My reasons are not consequentialist, as I've already suggested that consequentialism is the wrong ethical framework for this issue. Neither am I deciding on basis of moral relativism or subjectivism, i.e. some hazy and unrigorous waffle about "to each his own" and "it doesn't really matter", or "truth is in the eye of the beholder" etc. Not being a hypocrite, and being honest to boot, I have to say that I *am* offended, I *am* hurt by what's being portrayed in the movie. I think it's a slur on the truth about the character of a Person whom I love very much. I think it's a matter of real moral significance. These are the facts about my perspective, even if Agagooga or anyone else tries to belittle or marginalize it.

But I don't think the movie should be censored, because in keeping with the character of this Person whom I am trying to follow, I forgive the offending people. I forgive those who made the book and the movie a "success", and who want to promote it because of their hatred and disdain for this Person and His followers. But this Person loves these people and wants to reach them. And so, as His follower, I actually want to read the book, I want to watch the movie, so that we can talk about it together and there can be a point of meeting, a moment of engagement, a chance for contact and discussion, an opportunity for reconciliation and peace.

I forgive because I've been forgiven - that's why I can overcome the feelings of offense and hurt, and review the book/movie and talk to its champions without hatred in my heart. That is my only reason. =)

 
At 5/21/2006 9:11 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

You think the Da Vinci code is some vast conspiracy to discredit Christianity? I think most people would rather do other things - like earn money.

Incidentally, Dan Brown describes himself as a committed Christian. But that aside, you seem to have problems telling fiction from truth. The Da Vinci code is FICTION.

 
At 5/21/2006 9:15 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

I hope you similarly do not offend conspiracy theorists, UFO witnesses, Elvis fans, Scientologists and members of other religions, who would feel very hurt if people belittled their *strikethrough*faith*/strikethrough* knowledge (which incidentally is often contradictory to yours).

 
At 5/22/2006 12:46 pm , Anonymous The J-thing said...

Dear TaLieSin, what I find extremely amazing and painfully apparent is that you proudly profess—with all supposed lack of hypocrisy and in all honesty to boot—that you are so offended and hurt by what is portrayed by DVC when you have never read the book nor watched the movie.

So may I ask: on what basis do you derive this supposed slight or offence? How do you know it is so offensive when you have not seen it for yourself? Is it on hearsay? Or just something that your church tells you and which you blindly accept without question?

So you say you want to read the book, you want to watch the movie, but before that you're already denouncing it, and you're already approaching it from the perspective that all this is BAAAAD, 'mmkay—even though you don't know why. How is that making an objective judgment and therefore lacking in hypocrisy?

I too am a Christian, but I don't see what all the big fuss over DVC is all about, because ultimately I know that DVC, like any and every other novel, is fiction. Most people don't have a problem differentiating fiction from the real world, and those who do (which for some reason only happen to be rabid Christians) need to get a grip on reality. Raiders of the Lost Ark drew inspiration from biblical stories, but ask yourself how many people, in all honesty, seriously believe that the Ark of the Covenant currently resides incognito in some US Army warehouse amongst thousands of other boxes. No one does, because Indiana Jones isn't real, just like DVC.

 
At 5/22/2006 4:51 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

Dear J-Thing, I get my information from the news, same as everyone here who hasn't watched the movie but is commenting on it anyhow. And by "news" I mean not Andy Ho, but the international media and the internet. Oh, and by talking to rather critical historian friends at University too. I think there's been enough written and discussed about DVC for its content to be sufficiently familiar for comment. ;)

I *will* be getting down to read the book and view the movie, once this Masters thesis thing hanging around my neck is out of the way. =P I'll be able to comment more accurately then, until which time I apologize for the limited knowledge at my disposal.

I think, however, based on what I do know, that your comparison with Indiana Jones is somewhat misplaced. Being Christian, you would know that the whereabouts and status of the Ark aren't important to Christianity today at all, whereas Jesus Himself is absolutely central. So there is a difference between the Raiders of the Lost Ark and things like the Last Temptation of Christ, the Jerry Springer Opera, and yes, the Da Vinci Code.

I don't think that shouting "it's F-I-C..." really resolves the issue, as if anything fictional (or, for that matter, artistic) can't be offensive. This ignores the fact that people do things with fiction, that prose has meaning and intention, that imaginations are powerful, that writing and reading are purposive actions. Someone might "progress" to the next logical step of producing a porn video starring "Jesus" and "Mary Magdalene" - this would be "fictional", as all pornography is, but definitely offensive. Or how about a nice racist piece of Nazi fiction? I'm sure we can find examples galore from the 1930s and 40s...

As for the mistaken idea that I am accusing Dan Brown and his fans of some sort of "anti-Christian conspiracy" - well, no. Not in the same sense as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. But Dan has certainly made comments to the effect that "all the historical evidence I used is real", suggesting that perhaps *he* has trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. And the supposedly less nefarious motive of "making loadsa money" plays a role too. It's precisely because Dan and producers are quite aware of the publicity value of making something offensive towards Christianity that they do what they do. The greed motive and the publicity success are implicitly reliant on the offensive content and impact of the piece. If ever there were a bad motive for art, this is it.

I suggest a reading of G.A. Studdert Kennedy's poem "Indifference" for you and others who find my reactions incomprehensible. =)

 
At 5/24/2006 11:06 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here is Studdert Kennedy's poem, "Indifference"

When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

 
At 5/24/2006 11:25 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here is my response:

Do I find the Jesus story moving? Yes.
Do I find it possible to convert based on this story? Yes, I almost did once.
And how did I become indifferent, as this poem was charging me?

By thinking of how LONG AGO and HOW FAR AWAY it was. I don't believe Jesus died saving the Chinese souls he knew nothing about. The man (Good though he was, but whose godhood I doubt) may have wanted to save the world, and I would have let
him too, except he just doesn't seem
supremely wise if you considered all his other actions in total.

As for the Da Vinci code, well, it really isn't very insulting (to me) to consider a human Jesus Christ who had a marriage before he made a sacrifice. I don't consider incidental details like marriage to be very important, if the central tenet of the faith was to believe in his SACRIFICE. In fact, his sacrifice seemed more, better if he was married.

Yes, I also watched "The Last Temptation of Christ." I guess whoever felt insulted by that story to be insulted by this too. I can put myself in those shoes, but I won't wear them.

 

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