Videogames are too violent! Pop music is degrading to women! Filmmakers are pushing ‘the wrong kind of message’! Over the past 12 months these have been the rallying cries of the cultural elite. And it’s shocking how seriously this spew has been taken. Hadn’t we settled all this? People aren’t stupid. Art isn’t ‘corrupting’. We can handle it, thanks. But now it seems the cultural sphere has been flux-capacitored back to the 1980s. Sex-and-violence panics about film, TV, pop music and videogames – dolled up in modern ‘progressive’ moralism – were all the rage in 2014.
We saw this when Gone Girl, a star-studded crime-thriller movie, was spat on by the great and good for having the temerity to feature a female character who framed another character for rape. This pulpy (and actually pretty decent) thriller was ‘recycling…rape myths’, said one commentator. More recently, it was the turn of that master of corridor dialogue, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s TV show, The Newsroom, was pilloried for featuring a scene in which one character admitted that he believed the male defendant in a rape case. This, too, was slammed as a step too far - ‘the Hollywood screenwriter appears to be telling victims not to pursue their allegations’, claimed one writer, in something of an Olympian logical jump. And, at the greasier end of the cultural spectrum, there was #GamerGate, a still-rumbling gamer rebellion against accusations that the games industry is misogynistic, sparked by some blogposts about foul play in games journalism.
There’s nothing more annoying than having the same argument over and over again. Just when you thought artistic freedom had won out over the kneejerk blue-rinse brigade, we’ve been plunged back into discussions about age classifications for pop music and tighter classification of films.
If the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC), the 1980s think-of-the-children outfit for whom we have to thank for ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers, was about today it would be a trendy, feminist-hued political organisation chaired by Jessica Valenti. The patronising and angst-ridden logic of old conservatives has become mainstream, leftish and ‘radical’.
But there is something about 2014’s cultural moralists that sets them apart. Because while the Mary Whitehouses of the past shouted ‘ban this filth’, the Mary Whitehouses of today want to take culture and shape it for their own purposes. They don’t bother with outright censorship – that’s still, just about, a dirty word. They want to straighten culture’s act up. They want to nag it and finger-wag it into a nice, socially acceptable form. They want to stake their flag in the savage world of culture and give the natives a lesson in piety. This was not the year of the cultural censor. This was the year of the cultural colonialist.