Sunday, 18 July 2010

Is the silly season ever over?

Are the recent court judgements concerning a fancy comment on Facebook and the more recent one concerning the play Stitching as well as other worrying incidents all unrelated? Or is the good doctor MP less barmy than he sounds and really wants us to become part of Iran? Victor I Xuereb asks a silly question

We are approaching the silly season so the newspapers can all stop chasing racy stories and juicy gossip because nothing happens during these coming months. Even the World Cup, once a conveyor of great stories about Italy or England didn’t afford any oil to our news-pool as the big teams that Maltese people traditionally support got booted out quite unceremoniously at an early stage. So the carcading was slim and flimsy. The commissioner of police, together with most residents on the Sliema front, breathed deeply and serenely.

But I can’t understand why the silly season starts in summer. Silly seasons might be all about stories not happening but in Malta we seem to have a terribly silly season all year round. We don’t lack stories although we hardly have too many scoops being chased on the Malta rock. Most of the juicy gossip goes unreported and our paparazzi, if they actually exist, don’t seem to be around at all.

Madly silly stuff happens all the time in Malta but we hardly bat any eyelid. This year has been a really silly one: we had a judge passing one of the most retrograde judgements for free speech, an MP from the progressive camp calling for Iran-like intolerance, an MP from the conservatives calling for divorce, the editor of a little known publication arraigned for a silly sexy story; and a young man’s silly dalliance on Facebook ended up with him receiving a suspended prison sentence.

Yes this is Malta in 2010. Now I admit to being slightly liberal and also, according to some acquaintances, a bit barmy myself. But where is this country going? We do have free speech enshrined in the constitution and I know we will not ever get close to suffering the regular onslaught on our basic rights as happened in the 70s and 80s under the bad old socialists. But isn’t it worrying the way things have progressed lately? The eminent judge in his 115-page judgement on the case regarding the play Stitching had some erudite words uttered in sensible style. And the judge judged it right to ban the said play. How utterly sad for us all living in Malta.

If the judge is to be followed properly we have to make very sure that all plays, songs, books and all that silliness that goes on at naughty Nadur during carnival are cleared of all offending material. As someone rightly said elsewhere even Shakespeare’s oeuvre could be censored; there are instances where the actor has to swear quite openly besides indulging in all sorts of strange censorable stuff. Are we going back to the 60s’ style of censorship where the books of James Joyce were banned? I doubt whether anyone reading Joyce will be corrupted. And you have to be quite persevering to read Joyce for the porn. But if quoted out of context, porn it becomes in the eyes of the beholder especially if the beholder wears the same lenses as the eminent judge. In Ulysses, by the way, there are a few blasphemies too so that’s another reason to place James Joyce on the banned book list.

Will we be re-living the horrors we unleashed on authors who lived here some 50 years ago? The story goes that Desmond Morris was told that he could not have his own book delivered to him because it had fallen foul of the local censorship board. The book was banned because it would or could corrupt the supple minds of Malta’s population. Now it was bad enough people in Malta were deemed so corruptible that they could not read The Naked Ape. If he actually wrote it could he have ended up more corrupted? Will we now stop Billy Connolly (who lives, it is reported, in Gozo) from receiving his own stand-up comedy shows because in them he swears and takes the name of God in vain? And also, alas, makes fun of the Catholic religion? Will we next have him pilloried and maybe stoned? Maybe we are all stoned out of our silly senses and we cannot grasp the fact that the world has moved on and that this censorship business is just wrong and is depriving us of a right to judge for ourselves what we should read, see or hear. When that silly young man cracked a silly joke on Facebook about the Pope did anyone think the silly man could end up with a suspended prison sentence?

Censorship stinks in whichever way it is applied. It is an affliction. I once heard a prominent Maltese bookseller being interviewed. He said that he thought he had never had a book stopped by the censors. I was greatly impressed; this was a few years ago and I thought we really had made the grade. Then he let out that the purchasing department is very careful and only orders books which they know will not fall foul of the censors. This is even worse than censorship: auto-censorship. Doing things the way the establishment wants us to do them: that is when we censor ourselves out of thinking, out of creating, out of being individuals.

Maybe the judge had the law to back his findings. Well if the law is silly, dump the law before more harm is unleashed on this sweet but sometimes silly land.

Article published on 18 July 2010 in the Malta Independent on Sunday

No comments:

Post a Comment