The Mail Train

I saw a curious argument advanced in the wild yesterday.

The discussion was on the hoo-hah around Virgin Trains no longer stocking copies of The Daily Mail on board, a marginal commercial decision (I believe Virgin were selling around 70 copies a day) that Mr Branson had turned into a PR ruse (possibly to deflect from some disobliging headlines about the performance of, errrr, Virgin Trains).

A vast panoply of piffle then built up around this one marginal decision, with people taking sides arguing yay or nay as though this somehow represented the Oz trial or the like.

So far, so drearily inevitable. In the absence of real examples, we’ll search out imperfect analogs to fight our ongoing war.

But then, I saw someone advancing the argument that the “ban” (it wasn’t a ban) couldn’t be “censorship” (it wasn’t censorship, at most it could be described as “censorious”, but it wasn’t even, really, that, it was Branson playing to the gallery) because the state wasn’t involved.

I brought this up elsewhere and it was pointed out that on a pedantic lexicographer level, the original arguer had a point. However, leaving aside such chin-strokery…

It’s a weird one, that, isn’t it? And I started wondering the purpose of it.

The discussion I had leading off it covered many things but it kept circling back to the idea that it needed state involvement to really be censorship.

An example was given, of the Merseyside campaign to stop newsagents stocking the Sun.

Now, having been (as part of a group) on the receiving end of the Sun in its hey-day, and understanding what the Hillsborough families went through, this campaign is something I understand, and support.

But it most definitely does count as censorship. People have organised, en masse, to ensure a publication whose views they disapprove of is unavailable in a location.

On the face of it (leaving aside our value judgements as to whether they were justified to do so), this differs from a mob of Deep South Baptists demanding the local library not stock Darwin only, really, in the subject of their ire.

So why the inability to admit this as true?

I assume that a large part is down to the cachet the word has. Censor. We think of it and immediately a prude springs to mind, a humourless old stick. Hey, we aren’t like that!

An understandable urge, no doubt. But a misguided one.

All societies censor. All societies reach agreement as to what is acceptable discourse within and what isn’t. For us to have informed debate as to what is acceptable, for us to reach that level of understanding, it’s surely important to grasp the censor’s urge lies within us all.

Name it, own it, and argue why you feel it in this case. Don’t hide behind the idea it can’t be censorship because it isn’t the state.