A week before the Mayan apocalypse, I was all a chuckle over how China’s cultural authorities limited the number of historical dramas on TV to 10%. I suppose it’s only from my spoiled American kid’s perspective that censorship of this level is just so ridiculous, it’s laughable. Censorship is clearly no laughing matter in many countries today and in many of the darkest hours of human history. However, it looks like the joke’s on me. Being an proud Angelino, I definitely have a lot of pride in Hollywood’s success and cultural impact on the world. Hearing about how Hollywood bows to China’s censors is disconcerting, to say the least.
I had read about this before, and it’s just a pretty obvious common sense conclusion, if you just sit down and think about it, that Hollywood would have to play by China’s party line rules. China’s got over one fifth of the entire human population of the world within its borders, and the fact that Hollywood makes bank off of international ticket sales adds to the need to play censorship when trying to make the most of this market.
Of course, all movies (and artistic endeavors) are a struggle between the creator and the viewer. The creator has the burden of deciding how much of the art is for the self and how much of it is for the viewers and making compromises in order to get the maximum amount of viewers while still maintaining the integrity of the art is just part of the deal. Make a movie that nobody wants to watch and you’ll just have to be satisfied with the isolated accomplishment of just making the thing. Make a movie that everyone wants to see but makes you sick in the stomach and you’ll just have to be okay with that. Hollywood and the making of a film is always struggling with this audience and that, this investor and that, in the complicated process of putting a film together.
Nevertheless, it’s just not a nice feeling, knowing that the making of our American movies is being influenced by the censorship agenda/propaganda of another country. This is especially unpalatable knowing that they put the thumbs down on anything that makes Chinese people look bad, but I doubt they do the same when Chinese filmmakers are vilifying Americans or blowing up our cities. I’m pretty sure they don’t practice courteous pro-American censorship in return for Hollywood editing their films to fit their political tastes.
Now, if the people of China themselves were putting the thumbs down on our movies, then hey, that’s fair game. At least that’s straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s no different than when a movie sucks and it gets bad ratings from American audiences, because at least it’s the people who are giving their honest to God reactions to a piece of art, and not some “cultural authority” filtering through scripts and scenes.
At the very least, even if our films are being sent to China “edited”, it seems that the censorship is not all-altering. Having an open door policy is better in promoting more understanding between the peoples of both nations. In the end, I feel the people who get the shortest end of the stick in this situation are the Chinese citizens themselves who are always getting their films hand-picked and specially edited for them, as if they are children who are not capable of making their own artistic choices, stifling the creativity and diversity of a nation of people with over 5,000 years of historical and cultural potential. Although China is part of my personal heritage six generations removed, I have a deep love of Chinese history, culture, art, and philosophy, which is part of why I have an extra level of love for movies that integrate that great heritage into a modern medium.
Censorship is like a metal choke placed on a tree to keep it from flourishing to its fullest potential, and clearly, we all lose out on our world heritage when such potential is stifled. What a shame.