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Violence, Censorship, and the Human Centipede II

In a related theme to gruesome, violent ads (commercials) being removed from programming in the UK, as described in my previous blog post, the UK has censored an entire film (movie).  The Human Centipede II has failed to get a certification (rating) from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The BBFC is an independent, non-governmental body that has been responsible for classifying (rating) films in England since 1912.  The current law requires that all cinemas must have a license from the local authority (local council) in the area in which they are located in order to operate.  One condition of this license is that the admission of children under 18 be restricted in accordance with the recommendations of the BBFC.  This also means that local councils have the ability to override any decisions made by the BBFC.  The BBFC has a statutory authority to review videos and DVDs, and also operates a voluntary scheme where it classifies video works that are distributed by other means (such as online).

The examiners that make classification decisions come from all walks of life, and include a lawyer, journalist, academic, actor, and a diplomat.  The classification is typically made by two examiners based upon Guidelines that are consulted on, and updated, every year.  The Guidelines include a number of legal factors, such as compliance with the right to freedom of expression and the right to private and family life, which are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998; and whether the film contains scenes that are considered obscene under the The Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 & 1964.  (Obscenity in this scenario occurs when: “taken as a whole, [the film] has a tendency to deprave and corrupt a significant proportion of those likely to see it.”)

The decision of the two examiners is then reviewed by a senior examiner.  The classifications of films and DVDs in the UK are:

  • U – Universal – suitable for everyone;
  • PG – Parental guidance recommended;
  • 12 and 12A – not suitable for anyone under the age of 12;
  • 15 – not suitable for anyone under the age of 15;
  • 18 – not suitable for anyone under the age of 18; and
  • R18 – not suitable for anyone under the age of 18 and may only be shown in specially licensed cinemas or supplied in licensed sex shops.

Under these certificates, only people of, or above, the age indicated may view the film in the cinema, or purchase it on video/DVD.  The only exception are films shown in cinemas rated 12A, which allows a child under the age of 12 to view a film if accompanied by an adult.

In the case of the Human Centipede II, the film was examined by the most senior reviewers who ”considered whether cutting the work might address the issues but concluded that as the unacceptable material featured throughout, cutting was not a viable option and the work was therefore refused a classification.”

The film’s writer/director has protested the refusal of a classification, stating that it is an act of censorship and that: “I made an horrific horror film, but shouldn’t a good horror film be horrific?”  Viewers in England may not be readily able to answer that particular question as it pertains to his movie as we take our video/DVD classification system seriously.  It is an offence, punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £20,000 (approximately US$35,000), to supply materials that has not been classified (rated) in the UK.

Interestingly, the BBFC has a catalog of over 60,000 classification decisions that were made since 1913, which can be seen in person.  The Independent newspaper has a list of some of the more interesting titles that have been banned (some of which later received a classification), including:

  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (banned 1974-1999);
  • The Last House on the Left (banned 1972-2002); and
  • Mikey (banned 1993-current).

Whenever films have been banned it seems to throw them into infamy and leads to inevitable talks about censorship among some people while sending others scrambling to see the prohibited films, if only for bragging rights at the pub.  It will be interesting to see whether this particularly gruesome film will generate these responses.

2 Comments

  1. Dr. Emanuel Goldfarb
    June 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Britain is a prime example of a “nanny state,” with enormous govt. and quasi-govt. censorship and restrictions on advertising, film content, and book content. The UK has nothing equivalent to the U.S. free speech rights, nor has it any equivalent tradition.

    British law also makes it easy for a well-funded party to censor or suppress opinions or factual reporting it doesn’t like. The problems revolve around British libel law. These laws have been abused greatly in recent years, with well-funded Islamicists suing and threatening to sue moviemakers and publishers who tentatively dare to have factual reporting on Islam’s violence against women and against non-Muslims.

  2. Clare Feikert-Ahalt
    June 27, 2011 at 10:20 am

    The libel laws have caused a lot of controversy in England – the government just finished a consultation on a draft Defamation Bill, which also aims to update the libel laws. A copy of the draft bill and the consultation is available here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/consultations/draft-defamation-bill-consultation.pdf

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