|The dreaded screen of doom.|
I never cease to be amazed, amused, and annoyed (in turn) by the censorship that is rife in the Sandlands. Print censorship is annoying enough - if a book or magazine is simply unavailable, that's frustrating, but unless you're the author or engaged in a very specific research project and not able to travel, it's not something that you're constantly aware of. One rung up that ladder is the occasional censoring still seen, mostly in magazines, but occasionally on consumer-product labels and elsewhere; that usually takes the form of Sharpie-swipes creating impromptu fichus, sleeves, and/or skirts for inadequately covered female models. More rarely yet, you'll get this month's copy of some glossy monthly, only to note a suspicious lacuna, in which, say, page 64 is mysteriously facing page 73, and flipping back to the table of contents you realize you won't be reading the latest seriocomic diatribe about the bizarerie of Dubai or exposé of the more colorful doings of some member of the royal nomenklatura.
Online censorship, though, takes things to a whole different level. You notice it so much more frequently, for one thing, and it's so widespread and, at least in part, so seemingly arbitrary. The various filters in use are clearly meant to protect delicate local sensibilities, and so the Wonderful World of Pornography is put beyond the pale, up to a point. Religion is sensitive, so don't try to find sites that ridicule (some of) it. And of course we can only say good things about the glorious state of this glorious nation, and why on earth would any good citizen (or resident, since we're all under the same watchful eye) want to read anything different?
But today, these attempts to keep us good and pure (and docile) are increasingly irrelevant and quaint. Annoying still, but quaint. Anyone with the slightest techno-savvy can with relative ease set themselves up a proxy and surf away at even the vilest filth or wildest calumny against Sheikhs X, Y, or Z. Beyond that, the censorship itself doesn't really work - there's plenty of naughtiness that slips around, past, and through, of all kinds. Meanwhile, though, the breadth and indiscriminate nature of the blocks interfere with all sorts of perfectly respectable and practical online activity - doing research on breast cancer is perhaps the classic example of this, almost impossible since the operative word is frequently, as it were, on the no-fly list.
After so many years out here, one mostly gets used to it, putting up with the slight reduction in speed that comes with surfing via VPN (virtual private network, for those who live in freer climes). Still, even so, sometimes something will still surprise.
This week, for example, home with my cold, I've been, as previously noted, Youtubing a lot. So there I am, working through snippets of What's My Line? and enjoying the ever-changing array of obscure movies that come and go. All wrapped up, a terrier on each side and, within the limits of feeling lousy, having a marvelous time. So far, so good. Then I say to myself, "Self," I say, "let's find another bizarro Christmas video to post. Dear Thombeau has already beat me to one holiday favorite [Andrea Martin as Ethel Merman singing "Silent Night" way back on SCTV's Liberace Christmas Special], but let's think... I know! I bet Shirley Bassey has some really cringeworthy yuletide goodies out there!"
And so I duly type her name. And then: the dreaded screen of doom. Blocked. Shirley Bassey? For God's sake, in the last year or so we've had Amy Winehouse (pre-mortem, not that many in the audience could tell), Madonna, and JLo play live in this country, not to mention the Scissor Sisters - but Shirley Bassey is too risqué for online viewing? I tried it again. Same thing. I tried a different browser. Same thing.
I tweeted out my puzzlement (as one does - and by the bye, are you following me on Twitter? You really ought to, you know. Go do that, but then come right back.). One kind soul tweeted back: "Because believing that diamonds are forever is blasphemous?" It's as good an explanation as any, I suppose.
Actually, it turns out, it's still puzzling, but not really anything to do with the tigress of Tiger Bay. Having done a little more fiddling around, I quickly established that one could watch the full range of Dame Shirley offerings, as long as one didn't search by name. I tried her first name: no problem. I tried her last name: blocked. I tried lots of variations on it: mostly blocked. For a while, I thought that perhaps there was some local cultural taboo of which I was unaware against things like bassists, bassos, and bassett hounds, when finally lightning struck. Of course; I had been blind. It wasn't B-A-S-S-E-Y or any other variety of it that was the problem - it was, in fact, just three of it its component letters: A-S-S. That's what the delicate flowers that live in these parts aren't supposed to see on YouTube. Ass. Fine, fine ass.
If it's any consolation, this particular oddity is limited to YouTube. I've discovered that one can quite easily head over to Google, search on "ass" and "site:youtube.com", and lose as many hours as you like viewing bootie in all its many forms (I think Mr. Peenee might particularly like this intriguing playlist, elegantly and concisely titled "hot men ass", for example).
Sigh. It's this inconsistency that makes the censorship, ultimately, so pointless. Since it can't really work, all it does is make the self-righteous feel more so, while causing those bound and determined to check out the forbidden fruit all the more eager to do so (and clever at doing it) and simultaneously inconveniencing those who just want to watch some bassett-hound puppy videos (very cute indeed, but not I'll wager where we'll find Peenee for very long). I don't really see the point, and trying to see the point of the people who think it's a good idea just makes me tired. Just another reason, as this old year wend its way to the finish-line, that the Sandlands and I may need to find a way to part ways in the new year.
And you know what's worst? Dame Shirley, it turns out, is one of the few Entertainers With A Capital E who appears not to have ventured too frequently out into the dangerous realm of Christmas specials. Don't worry, though - plenty of others have, and we still have four days to go...