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If you don't like it, why are you watching it?
Member Name: hogsflesh
Date: 28/02/08, updated on 25/11/09 (98 review reads)
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SS Experiment Camp is an idiotic film (and unlike the authors of stern op ed pieces in the Times and Express, I've seen it). It depicts some bad stuff - mutilation, upside-down crucifixion - and sounds on the face of it to be immensely disreputable. (Concentration camp exploitation was a short-lived sub-genre that developed after the success of semi-respectable films like The Night Porter and Salon Kitty.) But as the BBFC has pointed out, the film is made with such ineptitude that it's more likely to amuse than offend. The overall impression is of an infantile attempt to shock rather than a genuine attempt to transgress. It certainly doesn't support Nazi or anti-Semitic viewpoints; I don't think it has any viewpoint, beyond hinting that testicle transplants are a bad idea and that the Nazis weren't terribly nice. It certainly isn't in good taste; but since when was it acceptable to start censoring on the basis of taste?
The BBFC has passed this film uncut. The BBFC's sole purpose is to judge the effect films will have on audiences and rate and censor accordingly. An MP and a few journalistic hacks do not know more about what is acceptable in a film than the BBFC does. And the BBFC is hardly an organisation of woolly-minded liberals - the UK still has some of the strictest film censorship in the Western world.
We've always had moral panics about censorship. Certain types of person just aren't comfortable with the idea that other people should be allowed to watch, read or listen to whatever they want. What seems to be different about this latest attempt is that it seems to be based purely on bourgeois notions of taste.
In the past, censorship panics focused on 'harm', on the idea that watching horror films has a damaging effect, especially on children. Awful, high-profile crimes like the Hungerford massacre and the Bulger murder were blamed on violent films. This has always struck me as rather cowardly; people are looking for an easy scapegoat rather than trying to examine what really causes horrific things to happen. It's natural to want simple, easy explanations in the wake of terrible events, but the truth is almost always a complicated interaction of several factors. In the case of the Bulger murder, the killers hadn't even seen the film that the tabloids blamed for the crime.
This is about fear of the working class, as ever. The late James Ferman, former head honcho at the BBFC, once famously told an audience that he banned the Texas Chainsaw Massacre because, while it was fine for middle-class cineastes like them, it would be disastrous if it fell into the hands of 'a factory worker from Manchester', a remark worthy of Brass Eye. It's always been about class - about ring-fencing middle-class pleasures to keep the great unwashed out of sight and out of mind. The view seems to be that working class people are dangerously childlike and impressionable, and that if they see something on television they will attempt unthinkingly to re-enact it. This is ludicrous.
SS Experiment Camp has been available, uncut, in many countries outside the UK for more than 20 years; the Holocaust has notably not reoccurred. If there *were* credible evidence that watching violent films caused violent crimes, then that would clearly offer justification for censorship. But that isn't happening this time; we're instead presented with the attitude that films like SS Experiment Camp shouldn't exist simply because they offend the sensibilities of the middle-class.
A low-budget horror film like Cannibal Holocaust has scenes of animal cruelty removed while a Hollywood film by an 'important' director, Apocalypse Now, ends with a cow being hacked to death. Grindhouse sleaze-a-thon I Spit On Your Grave has its rape scenes removed; subtitled French arthouse movie Irreversible has an explicit, ten-minute rape scene left intact. If you're going to censor one, you should censor the other. It isn't the job of state censors to judge a film's artistic merit. You can't legislate on the basis of taste; that's what Stalin and Hitler did. Islam is often criticised in the UK media for being overly censorious. I don't see how you can criticise any religion for repressing freedom of expression if you support film censorship.
The pro-censorship campaigners have chosen their target well; I can't imagine many critics or academics stepping up to defend SS Experiment Camp. But if you oppose censorship it isn't enough to just oppose it in good films; you have to oppose it in the bad ones too, otherwise the next time the government wants to earn some easy credit with the right-wing press, they'll start banning the good stuff.
This is an unsurprising argument from a long-time fan of horror movies like myself; many bad horror films try to hide their paucity of ideas by throwing in buckletloads of gore. This is a very partial opinion full stop - I'm not addressing pornography, partly because it's a more complicated subject, but mainly because I don't enjoy porn so haven't bothered to think about it much. This probably makes me every bit as bad as the Sight and Sound reader who congratulates himself on owning the BFI's DVD of SalÚ, but would sneer at the very notion of SS Experiment Camp.
I can't believe that there will really be a tightening of film censorship. If there is, what happens to all the ex-video nasties I own? Will they become illegal again? Will we start seeing police raids? I doubt more censorship would be workable. Unless the UK is going to start blocking what its citizens can view online, like China or Saudi Arabia, then people will always be able to import racier films from abroad, something many horror fans already do. Other fans will just download the films illegally.
But it's the principle that bothers me. I don't understand why I, as an adult, shouldn't be allowed to watch whatever I want, as long as no one was deliberately harmed in the making of it. I would never make a Fundie Christian sit down and read a Harry Potter novel; nor would I object to him reading a book about Creationism. Would he extend me the same courtesy?
That's what angers me. I don't try to impose my views on others; I don't try to make it illegal to watch films I don't personally approve of. Why are other people so arrogant that they believe they know what's best for me? How can they possibly presume to say that their taste in films is better than mine, or anyone else's? If we were all a lot more tolerant towards each other there would be less nastiness in the world. We should keep the nastiness on DVD, where it belongs.
Summary: A rant about something that probably won't even happen.