By censoring the film, they urged me to see it | AspenTimes.com

By censoring the film, they urged me to see it

John Colson

The refusal by GrassRoots TV last week to air a “Holocaust denial” film was disturbing.

The film, which purports to tell the story of how “Judea Declares War on Germany,” and at the same time questions the accepted view of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews and others, apparently scared the board so badly that its members could no longer read the station’s mission statement clearly.

In the process, the board has placed itself squarely on the wrong side of an ongoing battle over our rights as citizens of the United States to consider all viewpoints and draw our own conclusions on any number of questions and issues.

It is an attack on our right to think.

I’ve been observing this battle all of my adult life, starting with our country’s ill-considered Vietnam War and the government’s attempt to paint the conflict in the red, white and blue of patriotic fervor.

As I went through my high school years, while the war escalated and our streets back home erupted, I confronted a bewildering array of supposed “truths” expressed in cultural and political propaganda on everything from the dangers of rock music and marijuana to the jingoistic sentiments represented by the phrase, “America, love it or leave it.”

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The prevailing blue-collar culture in suburban Maryland outside Washington, D.C., where I was living in those years, enforced conformity with violence, which in my case manifested mainly in demands that I cut my hair, dress like everyone around me and think and behave as I was told by teachers, fellow students and the police.

I rebelled, and I’m glad I did.

I learned to be skeptical, to think for myself about everything around me, and to make up my own mind about what I saw, read and heard. And in many cases, my conclusions were radically different from the ideas being foisted upon me by society.

This is the intellectual tide that has carried me along throughout my life, and I don’t like it when supposedly clear-thinking, progressively minded adults tell me I can’t look at something because they think it is wrong, or evil or subversive.

I find this kind of paternalistic, smothering attitude wrong on so many levels it’s hard to enumerate them.

For one thing, when a group of people begin to see themselves as the guardians of what is “right,” I begin to look for evidence that they are wrong. Can’t help myself. And I believe I am not alone in this.

So, when the GrassRoots TV board decided to nix the film, they left me wondering if maybe the film contains some information I really need to know. I still haven’t seen the film, mostly because it really hasn’t risen to the level of a “must-see” in my mind, but also because I’ve just been too busy to check it out.

But I intend to, and that, it seems to me, directly contradicts the intent of the GrassRoots board.

It could be, of course, that the board believes that the station’s viewers are so complacent and lazy that they will simply cave in to this blatant censorship and forget about the whole thing soon enough.

If so, that is truly dangerous thinking. It is Orwellian in the most basic sense of the phrase, in that it assumes that by controlling what we see and hear they can control what we think. But history has shown us that this does not work, at least not usually, and that the suppression of objectionable ideas leads to frustration, which can lead to curiosity, which can lead to exploration and possibly to action, maybe even revolution.

More than a century ago, a small number of women and their supporting cast of men rebelled against the idea that women should not have the right to vote. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that women were too delicate and simple to deal with the tangled and complex ideas and passions of politics.

Well, we got that wrong, as the explosive women’s suffrage movement showed, and all the effort to block the movement only made it stronger.

The same was true of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Society as a whole was wrong on both counts, and it took a lot of violence, death and turmoil to get it right.

I’m not saying the GrassRoots’ decision is on a par with those historic movements or the film has historic merit. But the underlying principles have parallels, and the GrassRoots board has erred on the side of fear and prejudice.

John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com