Ethics in the Media and Entertainment

Society is constantly challenged by a high influx of content from a myriad of mediums. This is more true than it has ever been before given the climate of the world’s struggle at the moment. Content producers will continue to produce that influx of content inasmuch as there are stories to be told and an audience to receive those stories.

Issues underlying the context of the content and how audiences receive it is one of the main causes for concern. Content has been censored for many years by different means such as burning books, banning books in school, and changing rating for movies. Today’s world is vastly different from ten years, twenty years, or even fifty years ago. The world is filled with so many different forms of artistic expression that is is nigh impossible to oversee the censorship of every single piece of media. Understanding what should be censored and the reasons behind it is essential in further understanding the necessity of monitoring produced content.

Conflicts over censorship have been taking place for hundreds of years. Thankfully, regardless of the type of content that is being argued, the arguments have evolved over time in favor of content producers. This is obviously more prevalent than ever in today’s world with more and more questionable content making its way into homes and audiences. Some examples of this would be foul language, partial nudity, violence, and much more seen in television, movies, books, social media, and news outlets. While the argument for the consideration of questionable content is fallible, the essential argument for and against censorship is still prominent.

In my opinion, arguing against or for censorship has evolved into an immovable object attempting to stop an unstoppable force. Granted, this doesn’t stop the arguments from actually taking place, but the metaphor stands. The argument for censorship takes on many forms, but nowhere is it more prominent than in entertainment and social media.

The most frequent argument against censorship is that the quality and content found in entertainment should be approached with a relaxed mindset. An interesting conundrum exists about the rhetoric and debate of what constitutes the need for the censorship. Both sides of the equation attempt to comprehend the alleged perception of the other. One side will argue that is a universal understanding of what is moral and ethical to the general public. The other side argues that nobody is able to interpret the general public’s perception on a subject except for the people actually within the general public.

Both of these arguments lead to the fact that no documented or proven effect has ever been decidedly obvious. Studies have been made and tested for many years regarding the effects of video games, movies, books, and other mediums on the psyches of people. No study has ever provided an answer or reason to fully censor every aspect of content production, and no study has ever completed enough rigorous steps to allow the government high modicums of interference or moderation. This allows for arguments in favor of no censorship to flourish and succeed on most cases.

Following up with those two arguments, a strong argument towards violence and graphic content in film and television, or more prominently video games, having no actual effect on real life versions of both exists. Society and history are the main sources for those effects on people. Those people that argue against that rhetoric also believe the status quo is perfect and does not need change. Currently, the world is always evolving and changing, and the content found in film and other mediums help support that change.

Contrariwise, censorship attempts to quell that change. Some of these arguments hold strong merit, the question of moral and ethical ambiguity playing a durable role. Many people argue that the government should play no role in censorship because of the relaxed mindset needed. The government’s agenda is usually based around serving the people as an entire whole, which is seemingly proving less and less true as time passes. Given that the interpretations of the severity of offense and graphical content is ambiguous for every single person, the government cannot be tasked with overseeing the overall whole.

In that case, content producers must follow a set of ethical principles. Those principles include justice, fidelity, veracity, beneficence, and a lack of maleficent ideas. Justice is a given explanation with fairness, whereas beneficence refers to the idea of doing the right thing and good things by the moral standards of people. Fidelity fills its literal definition by hoping that all content producers uphold their words and directions. Veracity asks that content producers remain completely open with the public, refusing to hide anything. Keeping everything away from maleficent intent means the content will do no intentional harm to those participating in the content of those viewing it.

All of these arguments hold strong merit simply based on the fact that individual perception is difficult to gauge. Every single piece of content production will always find a way to offend somebody, thus it then begins a game of finding what graphical nature is too much for the vast majority. The general standard for understanding the implications of a specific piece of entertainment falls under the interpretation of the producer of the content, who then holds responsibility for its outcome. Individual responsibility is vastly different than societal responsibility, and this is where the true basis for that argument lies.

Censoring content is a fallible exercise that always remains unclear as to whether any censorship should have happened in the first place. Content should be censored on a limited basis, only when harm will be brought upon the viewer of the content. This holds intrinsic value as it is perpetuated through a small group of people over the general population. Even though the government tries, successfully in some cases, to censor material, is should inherently fall upon the content producer to make the final decision about what gets produced. By putting the decision in the hands of a group of people that have their own ideals and thoughts, the decision becomes biased in nature.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some content definitively needs to be censored in some regards. Certain taboo aspects of society can cause friction and mass uproar upon a distinct viewing. As an example, child pornography is one of the highest instances of unlawful, unethical, immoral, and unnecessary acts of treachery. Even though murder, adultery, graphic sex, and violence can be just as severe to certain people, child pornography is completely taboo from portrayal. Anything that directly relates to children should be automatically be reviewed for censorship.

Another taboo subject that usually requires closer review is rape. Rape has become a forefront in the United States in the last few years, and the portrayal of rape in news and entertainment can cause a ridiculous stir. American film and television should view rape with the same tenacity as child pornography. The argument still remains that murder, death, and violence is a harsh reality when portrayed, but the reality of child pornography and rape are so graphic to many people that the general population usually views it as such. Accordingly, many rumors circulate that child rapists and child killers sent to prison are often killed by other prisoners.

Dictating how content should be accessed is just as important when done correctly. The MPAA exists for this kind of access limitation by giving certain movies ratings and saying that movie theaters can only allow somebody into the movie as the person is of an appropriate age. Video games are given ESRB ratings to follow the same guidelines. However, television gives a viewer discretion warning but does not actually have a way to interfere in the process of consumption. Books do not contain any kind of rating system, and unless sold in a store specifically for adults, can be purchased by anybody that wants to purchase them. Social media outlets also include an 18+ and viewer discretion warning, but again, has no way system in place to avoid viewers of any age.

This causes a separation of responsibility, as it then culminates into a “person by person” basis. The government has attempted to quell certain materials from making its way to an audience, sometimes successfully, but should not hold a higher power over the final choice. This is where it becomes individual responsibility; whether it is a parent that monitors its child’s consumption of entertainment, a person’t ability to critically think and make educated decisions, or relying on another person to give honest indications as to whether something should be consumed.

Allowing the decision to fall into the hands of the individual is the best course of action to take from an ethical standpoint*. Yes, this line of thinking means that more content producers might feel compelled to release every piece of content with no censorship at all, but that is where societal responsibility takes its place. The individual has a responsibility to ensure that he or she, or the people for whom he or she is responsible, consume and believe what each person wants and needs. People are inherently smart and taking power out of their hands and throwing it into the hands of another is inappropriate, misleading, and belittling.

Regardless of personal beliefs, censorship will continue to be a heavily debated topic that may never see a finalized solution. Ethical implications will plague and contest the rhetoric of both sides of the argument. Certain staples exist within the world of censorship arguments, and all of those staples hold certain forms of ethical and moral merit. The ethical principles underlying some of those arguments could have vast consequences on overall reception. Although censorship should be limited, the broader spectrum dictates that certain types of content should be censored with careful review. Individual responsibility is the core of censorship, and a critical understanding of the ethical implications of content is essential. Irrespective of the side a person leans in the argument for censorship, the challenge will continue to reign until critical thinking and societal responsibility finds a way to outweigh each individual person.

*Given the recent Executive Order signed by Trump, I am of the personal opinion that he should feel free to say whatever his heart desires on social media. However, if his tweet, given his influential power and status, is misleading or false, it should be flagged as thus but not removed. If his misleading message violates the terms of service for Twitter, then Twitter reserves the right to do with Trump’s message as they so please. If it did not violate the terms of service, then flag it, put a notice on it, and leave it in place.

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