|Influences||Sylvia Plath, Stephen House|
|Bio||Laura Desmond is a playwright, poet and emerging author from Adelaide, South Australia. She has been performing her own theatre work around the world over the last three years, including Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia, and Edinburgh, London and Manchester in the United Kingdom. Desmond’s poetry work predominantly stems from anger at society and others, and central themes include treatment of women, social expectations and love. Desmond has been actively involved in the Fringe Festival world for a number of years, including working with performers from the UK, US and Australia. Desmond is currently working on a new theatre work, film script and short story.|
Censorship ≠ Control
In modern society, censorship is most often linked to safety. We, the People, are being kept safe from content which may harm our ‘Community Guidelines’. We, the Proles, rely on others – those with power – to keep our delicate sensitivities from seeing content which may offend.
Safety, however, is not the link that I make with censorship. I suggest it is more closely linked to control. Not to ‘Community Guidelines’, but Community Enforcements. Ultimately the need for censorship from those in power, be it governmental, web-based or otherwise (looking at you, Instagram), rises from a fear of losing control.
Rather than protecting its citizens, censorship aids in moulding citizens; in crafting abiding, docile masses who will actively avoid content of any sort that may challenge their delicate, comfortable bubble. I understand – normal is comforting. Normal is, well, normal. But if normal is suffocating – if censorship is painting not an image, but a vignette, from a forced and narrow perspective – how can the people learn and grow and become a group who create genuine work based on their lived experiences?
So to challenge censorship in itself is to challenge the normative social guidelines set out and enforced by those in power. A daring feat, to be sure. To what do we owe any who dare speak up against this control? Anger. Pure, unadulterated anger. Directed towards situations, inequalities, circumstances and a powerful will to change to expand this narrow focus crafted by censorship laws and enforcements.
The outcomes of this anger vary depending on those who enact on it. In its most destructive form, anger breaks things. Physical objects, emotional ties, mental stabilities. To harness anger, however, is a powerful tool. As Soraya Chemaly states in her novel Rage Becomes Her, “[a]nger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. While uncomfortable, it’s not inherently undesirable.” Those who dare challenge the hegemonic worldview presented to them are those who have recognised and understood this emotional definition of anger and chosen to harness it to incite powerful change.
Censorship dictates what topics are appropriate and the suitable manner in which these topics should be discussed. Throughout history, art has been one of the most visceral methods to break this hold and challenge the normative vignette, and therefore one of the most censored expressions of anger.
In 2017, high school student David Pulphus presented an allegorical painting at the U.S. Capitol which was removed by Congressmen without discussion with Pulphus. The artwork, Untitled #1, depicts a street scene inclusive of warthog police officers arresting and holding people of colour at gunpoint, as a parade of people of colour amass behind. The only clearly white person is between the conflict and the mass, safely sheltered inside a car with an expression of annoyance and inconvenience. Black and white signs make cries that “RACISM KILLS” and to “STOP KILL[ING]”. Pulphus, a young African-American man from North St. Louis, clearly and potently shows his anger towards the racism in the United States and its constant effect on the African-American people, predominantly through police brutality and violence. Untitled #1 was removed because it was found by Republican Congressmen to not suit the competition. They claimed it was violating the rules as it was “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy” and contained content of a “sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”
In this instance, Pulphus is already a voice from a marginalised, and often silenced, group. By creating his art, he had constructively harnessed his anger towards a social injustice and created an effective catalyst for change. The work highlights racism in America in both overt and covert ways and should be celebrated as a powerful work from an insightful young artist. The theme of systemic racism and injustices and their ongoing impact on the communities of people of colour in the United States should be heralded as an affront to the unchecked privilege of others. To see this work and be offended, rather than be angry at the inequality being displayed, is to be in a position of privilege – where removing a challenging art piece which sparks feelings of discomfort is an easy fix for the severe inequity felt by those depicted in the work. Don’t fix the problem, just remove the representation of it. Instead of allowing Pulphus’ anger to be heard, those with privilege and power decided to censor and effectively silence him – allowing their carefully constructed and selectively advantaged worldview continue.
Societies experience paradigm shifts as time progresses, but it would be ingenuous to suggest that these shifts are naturally occuring, rather than forced changes from the people within the society. In previous decades, censorship was more easily controlled by governments and organisations. The current climate and its increased globalisation provides a plethora of options for those who wish to constructively harness their anger and project their pleas for change via visual art, poetry, writing or film. We are lucky to live in a time where one person can use online platforms to reach a large and varied audience including people with shared and diverse experiences. Where people can contact and connect with one another through these experiences and incite genuine change in their respective societies.
To create a shift, move society forward and change the world, claim your anger and recognise its strength. Create work which privileged people would want to censor. Spread it like wildfire.
Chemaly, Soraya. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. London: Simon &
National Coalition Against Censorship. ‘Art and Culture Censorship Timeline’ Accessed 2 May,
The St Louis American. ‘David Pulphus honored by US Congress for protest painting’ Accessed
2 May, 2019.
“Hurry up!” Gary’s voice boomed through the corridor as Daniel and Georgia emerged from the living room and made their way to the table, glasses of wine in hand.
“Took you long enough,” said Gary.
As they sat down, their mother Carol entered from the kitchen, carrying a plate of carved roast lamb.
“Dinner’s up!” she said.
“Whadda we got here?” Daniel asked, rubbing his hands together.
“It’s just roast lamb,” said Carol, placing the plate on the table.
They loaded their plates with Carol’s hard work, Gary drowning his plate in gravy and Georgia with mint sauce.
“So I was working with this abo kid today,” Carol said.
“You can’t say that, Mum!” interjected Georgia.
“What do you mean? Don’t get me wrong, I love my ATSI kids, saying abo just saves me time.”
“And what do you do with all this time you’ve saved?” Georgia challenged.
“Stop it, Georgia. So this abo kid was trying to follow the cell division steps, but he was having real trouble getting anything on the page!”
“But they’re in class, they should be paying attention,” said Gary.
“Well, yes, but these kids are interested in the walls and the windows––” said Carol.
“I had the cane in my day and they would never let you look out of windows. If I was the teacher I’d make sure they weren’t screwing around,” Gary said.
“Yeah Dad, and how to plan to manage that?” Georgia asked.
“I’d threaten them,” Gary said. He pointed his finger at Georgia menacingly. “Look mate, you can’t do that kinda thing in here.” Georgia laughed.
“You wouldn’t last one minute in a classroom,” she said through a mouthful.
“Anyway, so this kid, he turns to me at one point and says ‘It’s like these cells don’t know what the hell to do!’” Carol laughed.
“Well I wanna know why this one abo kid was getting one-on-one help in a classroom full of kids,” Daniel said through a mouthful of spud.
“Can we please stop using that word––“ Georgia pleaded, before being cut off by her mother.
“Well it’s just like that in public schools, the abo kids are considered ‘high-risk’, so they get more help,” Carol said.
“But you also help the white kids, right?” Daniel awaited his mother’s answer with bated breath.
Carol shrugged. “If they need help I do, but it’s usually the ATSI kids.”
“I mean, they’re called high-risk for a reason,” Georgia said. “They’re far less likely to even finish high school.”
“Yes, but it’s all very flimsy these days,” said Carol. “You can be listed as an ATSI student if you say so. I know a family and I’m pretty sure they weren’t considered abo when they started, but they are now,” Carol said.
“You should actually be disadvantaged to get special treatment,” stated Daniel. Georgia, with her background in teaching, considered what Daniel must assume happens in a classroom. That the Indigenous kids are put on pedestals, perhaps.
“We do have a lot of students with low SES backgrounds, but I generally get asked explicitly to work with the abo kids,” Carol said.
Daniel shook his head at the end of the table and scoffed. “That’s like the other day when I was at work. I heard on the radio about how Australia is racist.”
“Well that’s a joke, isn’t it? We’re not racist!” Gary said.
“Exactly,” echoed Daniel. “I’m like, ‘We’re only racist because you call us racist. If a black sparky came into the shop, I’d treat him exactly the same as a white guy. I’m not racist!’”
“Of course you would, dear,” said Carol.
Georgia was clearly in the minority of people at the table who agreed Australia was indeed a racist country. After a brief moment of silence, she spoke quietly.
“It’s not just you in a hardware store though, is it? It’s more than that.”
The table turned to look at her. Her eyes dropped to her plate.
“I don’t know what you mean. People keep saying that and I don’t know what they mean. How can it be more than that?” Daniel asked.
“It’s bigger than that. It’s so much harder for an Indigenous person to even get to that point––"
“People keep saying that it’s harder but harder how? I treat them the same and they get treated the same all the time. Everyone says that we’re racist but no one is actually doing anything racist ever!”
“Daniel’s right, Georgia. You’re not making any sense,” said Gary, ensuring his two cents were thrown in.
“It’s not you in a hardware store though, it’s systemic––“
“Yeah, but what do you mean?!” Daniel said, slamming his hand on the table.
“I’m literally trying to explain it to you and you won’t let me get more than two words in at a time,” she said. “How the fuck am I meant to explain systemic racism in three words or fewer?”
They sat in a silence pierced only by the scraping of cutlery on plates and the occasional involuntary and inexplicable groan from Gary.
“She’s right, you know,” said Carol. “You’ve not let her speak.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Fine, then. Explain it to me.”
“Systemic means it’s a lot higher up in society than a one-on-one interaction,” Georgia began. “It also stems from different cultures, like, in traditional Indigenous cultures, our school system isn’t seen as having much worth but then our government forces them to go––“
“Yeah, but that’s not the point,” Daniel interjected.
“That’s not even relevant,” said Gary.
“It’s exactly the point! Their traditional views are not respected by our government or by anyone. They’re not acknowledged at all––“ said Georgia, before being cut off by Daniel.
“But how does that make me racist?” Daniel asked.
Georgia put her head in her hands in frustration. Daniel, taking this as a sign of a win, smiled as he reached for his wine glass.