When it comes to popular culture, censorship is rarely considered a plus. The back of your favorite show's Blu-ray box doesn't say "And now with 37 fewer scenes!" And yet censorship is sometimes enacted in such creative (or just plain hilarious) ways that it kind of becomes an art form in itself. Like how ...
Censorship can completely change a TV show. For instance, in America, Sailor Moon aired as a wacky show about a bunch of schoolgirls with magic powers saving the planet, while in Japan, it was originally ... the same thing, but with some more progressive elements. Removing said elements for the American localization sometimes led to interesting plot problems.
Take Sailors Uranus and Neptune, two of the aforementioned superpowered schoolgirls, who were presented as "cousins" in the American version. Originally, however, they were girlfriends. And not like "Hey, girlfriend!" but in the romantic sense. Some scenes about their relationship were deleted, while others were left in, confusing young viewers when the "cousins" stood awkwardly close to each other while delivering trivial dialogue:
"Too bad about your hearing problem."
Or how they'd hold hands and touch each other's thighs while one of them wore what amounted to negligee:
Above: arm wrestling, probably.
Then there's the time Sailor Neptune reminisces about her first kiss while lovingly looking at Uranus. The censors tried to cover it up by having her add that "It was with Brad, the cutest guy in the school" ... even as the flashback clearly shows Uranus' silhouette.
The cartoon also featured a crossdressing man as part of one trio of villains. The American version elided the "crossdressing" bit. We've told you before how this caused a bit of confusion in one scene, in which the disguised man rips off his top and shows his flat chest. The censors cut the bit where you see his chest, but left in the shock from the people in the room, so it looks like they're extremely appalled by a random act of exhibitionism.
Movies in the old days of Hollywood had to follow the Hays Code, which plainly laid out all the naughty things American audiences were not allowed to see. Fourth on that list was that alcohol could not be consumed unless it was required by the plot or for "proper characterization" -- excuses directors usually reserve to get actresses to take off their clothes. This meant that all good characters couldn't drink booze, which was simple enough in most films ... But what about westerns? Everyone knows that cowboys were a hard-living, hard-drinking kind of people. They had to imbibe something. Enter sarsaparilla.
In films like Calamity Jane, Shane, and the Hopalong Cassidy series, the titular cowpeople would slide up to a bar and order themselves a nice cold sarsaparilla. (Shane does order whiskey at one point, but never gets to drink it.) This satisfied the need to show western heroes holding drinks at bars while letting the censors know that these were still responsible, clean-living individuals. It became such a staple that it left westerns and entered other movie worlds. The first thing the cowboy from The Big Lebowski does when we see him onscreen is order sarsaparilla:
Doc Brown also orders one in Back To The Future: Part III ... which probably means Doc Brown is a sex fiend. You see, not only is sarsaparilla a refreshing beverage, but at the time, it was believed to be an aphrodisiac, and it was used to treat STDs (especially syphilis). You could go to the bar and order one, go have sex with a nice hooker, then come back to the bar and drink one to flush out all the bad things you probably caught. So now we know how Calamity Jane got her nickname, and why Hopalong Cassidy walked funny. Let's not dwell too much on the fact that Smurfs regularly eat sarsaparilla leaf, though.
Whenever you're making a movie featuring lots of gore and violence, you have to think about the poor, innocent children. After all, what if they catch some of your film on TV, and while a zombie is getting its head beaten in, they hear someone utter a bad word? Clutch your pearls and be happy that the censors won't let something like that happen.
Director Edgar Wright knew that Shaun Of The Dead would have to have all of its characters' potty mouths censored when it was shown on television and airplanes. So for the scene wherein Peter Serafinowicz is yelling at Shaun and Ed to stop playing music because it's late, Wright decided the best way to cover all the "fucks" and "pricks" was to replace them with the genre of music they were listening to: funk. And you know what, it works surprisingly well. The director enjoyed the results so much that he even included the cleaned-up version as an extra on the DVD:
But the censors weren't finished yet. The original film also includes the queen of all curse words: cunt. Obviously, this had to be changed for one channel's PG viewing ... in which they left in every instance of the word "fuck." Only the rude slang for female genitalia had to be changed. And what more logical word to change it to than slang for a man's genitalia? As confirmed by Wright himself, the television station changed "cunt" to "cock." And as he points out, this is pretty outrageously sexist. Why is it only lady bits that we can't talk about rudely?
Stupid anime censorship isn't an exclusively American thing. In Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, the main character is supposedly 17, and the legal age for smoking in Japan is 20 -- which is a big problem for the censors. Adult characters can hurry up and die already, but an adult-looking character who is in fact a teen? That's too fucked up even for Japan, apparently. So they decided they were going to put a stop to it in a subtle, elegant manner:
Wait, he's 17?
Believe it or not, that big black smudge in front of the main character's face isn't supposed to be there. They added it to hide the underage smoking by making it look like a black hole spontaneously spawned in the middle of his face. Other times, it looks like our hero is wearing a ski mask:
Or he's wearing blackface, judging from his friend's shock.
We're starting to think they may have half-assed this. On some frames, the cigarette is in relative shadow (although you can still see what it is), while the smoke emanating from it is completely uncensored, almost drawing more attention to it. Where is that smoke supposed to be coming from? Did he eat a big bowl of ultra-spicy Mexican food earlier?
That's not a cigarette, that's his scorching hot tongue.
Don't smoke, kids, or the sun will ignore your existence and your breath will stink. (OK, that last part is accurate.)
Hey, remember Watchmen? No, not the brilliant comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, but the forgettable 2009 film adaptation of it. There are plenty of things that the censors could come down on in that movie, including sex, violence, and a blue wang the size of the Washington Monument. But no, the real problem was a gun which you saw for less than a second in the trailer.
The preview included part of a scene in which Adrian Veidt thwarts an assassination attempt by hitting the would-be assassin with a brass stanchion (aka one of those poles that hold up velvet ropes outside clubs). The wannabe killer falls into a pool of water, and all is well with the world. Except for the censors, who saw something that disturbed them here:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Veidt's appalling posture?
Right at the beginning of the clip, the assassin points a gun straight at the audience. The MPAA informed director Zack Snyder that guns are not allowed to be pointed straight at the audience's face in advertising. That's why they're always seen from the side in movie posters (it's not to show off their butts, as we'd assumed). So either those 12 frames must be cut, or Snyder had to do something about the gun. He picked the second option, and in a homage to Steve Spielberg's bad decision in the updated E.T., he changed the gun to a walkie-talkie.
Warner Bros. Pictures
It was this or reference another great director by changing it into shitty, pointless flying droids.
Suddenly, pushing that guy into the fountain seems like overkill. He probably just wanted to see if Adrian wanted to talk to a trucker.
These days, the world doesn't seem to care much about what astronauts are doing unless they record a David Bowie cover in zero gravity or something, but there was a time when everything that went on in space was a TV event. And we mean everything. This was great for science, but not so much for the censors. You see, lots of astronauts come from a military background, and the military is not known for saying "gosh" and "darn."
Since NASA didn't want to be associated with bad language, they tried to change history and pretend it never happened. They would alter transcripts of what was said. For instance, when astronaut John Young said the immortal words "I have the farts again. I have them again, Charlie," NASA replaced "farts" with "gas" and deleted the "oh, shit" that soon followed.
In one case, though, they reportedly went the extra mile to make sure everything stayed clean. According to spaceflight historian Amy Teitel, one astronaut (possibly Pete Conrad, though others say it was Charles Duke) had the bad habit of cursing when his mind wandered. Obviously, an astronaut bouncing around on the Moon while dropping F-bombs would have made for classic television, but NASA didn't think so. And so, claims Teitel, they went for an even more absurd solution: They had Conrad hypnotized so that he'd hum when he would normally curse. If you go back and watch the footage, you can actually hear Conrad constantly going "dum dee dum" or "dee dee dee" at odd times while he's on the lunar surface. If it wasn't for the supposed hypnotism, the official transmission would have sounded like a Tarantino movie.
Director David Fincher isn't exactly known for making uplifting, happy-go-lucky films, so you would expect that he has had his share of run-ins with censors. And yet his biggest problem might have come from one of his own producers on Fight Club. Anyone who had read the book knew how dark and twisted the movie was going to have to be to do it any justice. The late Laura Ziskin, a producer at Fox 2000, was one of the people who believed in its message and fought to get it made (hopefully not actual Fight Club-style).
But Ziskin wasn't ready for how offensive the movie was going to be, at least when it came to one line. According to the book Rebels On The Backlot, the script took a line from the book which was a step too far for her. In the scene in which Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tyler (Brad Pitt) have sex for the first time, Marla makes the over-the-top quip "I want to have your abortion." Ziskin was appalled, and even though it got a big laugh when the film was test screened for audiences, she begged Fincher to take it out. He ended up agreeing to this, but said he would only reshoot the scene on the condition he could change the line to whatever he wanted. Ziskin said that was fine. What could possibly be worse than joking about abortion?
Well, Fincher edited in the new scene, and when they did more test screenings, the new line got an even bigger laugh. The change? "Oh my god, I haven't been fucked like that since grade school."
Ziskin decided that she had been wrong, and that abortion was less offensive that pedophilia. She begged Fincher to change the line back, but that's how it is in the movie today. The magic of cinema!
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