Saturday, April 04, 2009

Censorship begets creativity: Aqua teen hunger force and communist China

Does censorship stimulate creativity? A few recent examples suggest a strong link. Whether in China or in the classroom, web filters are stimulating some entertaining, yet thought-provoking trends to occur.

1) In China, a very funny video has been circulating (thanks to my friend Zhuohua for sending me the link), and even remade in an animated hiphop version. On one hand, it's a protest against censorship (the grass mud horses are fighting against the repressive river crabs), it's also a funny demonstration of how futile censorship for 'moral behaviour' can be. Grass mud horse, translated into Chinese, sounds almost exactly like obscene words which are vilified by the censors. More on the phenomenon via the NY times. It's spawned lots of spin offs including stuffed animals and T-shirts.

2) School kids are also finding funny ways to swear. Many filters ban specific swear words, resulting in massive growth of the phrase 'Sofa King' (say it fast, out loud..), originally used in Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Coincidentally, it has also made the leap into hiphop... Perhaps less politically engaged than the Grass-Mud Horse, it just illustrates how we cannot stop kids from using language in ways they want, and that they'll just find creative ways to bend the rules.

It reminds me of the days of the Criminal Justice Bill in the UK, which banned the public playing of "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats," to prevent the organisation of raves. Warp records' Autechre then released the "Anti EP" including a track called 'Flutter',"programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law." Ironically, it was arguably one of the most creative times for UK electronic music, stimulated by the sense of rebellion.

While writing this post, I also came across an old, but interesting post comparing access to the web in China vs. a school in Oklahoma, US by Wesley Fryer, which is really revealing!

Is China really more repressed than Western counterparts? And are we inadvertently stimulating the development of more creativity by censorship?


Peter said...

Hi Lexa - we've been trying to sort out the "Sofa King" swear. Tried saying out loud and fast. Is it a French/Belgian term? Curious minds want to know.

Lexa said...

Hey Peter, wow you commented as fast as light on that post! It's an English term, just move the space a bit: "so f**king". Took me a while to figure out the first time too...