The student unions at the universities of Nottingham and Birmingham have become the latest to ban the pop song ‘Blurred Lines’ from their respective campuses. Elsewhere, Essex University’s student union became the twentieth to ban the sale of the Sun and the Daily Star on campus.
The student activists certainly seem pretty pleased with themselves. ‘[It’s not] going to ruin your night out if [Blurred Lines] isn’t played’, argues a Birmingham University student in the Huffington Post. ‘Could it ruin someone’s night if it is played? Yes’, she continues. ‘Go and perpetuate rape culture elsewhere, because if student unions have any sense, it is not going to be welcome there’. And of the decision to ban the sale of the Sun and the Daily Star, an Essex student-union representative argues: ‘We’re part of a society that is trying to empower the next generation of women. How can we show them that they are amazing individuals capable of anything when they are judged by their appearance rather than their skills and personality?’
Female empowerment. Tackling ‘rape culture’. It all sounds terribly radical doesn’t it? Yet speaking to Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free-speech defending, liberty-advocating organisation based in the US, it becomes clear right away that he is less than impressed with Britain’s censor-happy student unions.
‘What is ironic about the various bans issued by UK student unions’, says Lukianoff, ‘is that I know that they think of themselves as very forward-thinking, very progressive, very much in keeping with a new age of sensitivity and compassion. But they are echoing, in rationale and substance, the thinking of the old Victorian censors both in the UK and the United States in the nineteenth century.’
Lukianoff expands on the analogy. ‘I would say that the situation on college campuses today is analogous to the censorship which arose out of the Victorian era both in the US and in Britain, because campaigners in both eras share this idea that there are certain moral ends which are so much more important than someone’s measly right to freedom of speech. This idea ends up producing a crusader mentality which leads to people wanting to blot out normal aspects of everyday life: sexuality, sexual expression, speech that might be offensive to women. And in that sense, what you’re seeing in relation to the song “Blurred Lines”, for example, is eerily reminiscent of the practices and rationale of nineteenth-century censorship.’