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Fascinating Censorship: Mundane Behavior in the Treatment of Banned Material

Abstract: This paper deals with the issue of free speech versus censorship in Germany. It examines the impact of censorship and the behavior of a special fandom that is attracted to banned material. The censors and fans of censored material are bonded together in a kind of a symbiotic relationship. The paper shows that censorship is accepted by the majority but proves both intolerable and fascinating for the fans of the bizarre. The exploration of banned material is explained as a thrilling if temporary departure from the mundane world of the censored. However, fans of the bizarre implement mundane practices in their individual behaviors and social interactions by routinely obtaining, discussing, and disseminating banned material. While banning explicit material may be ineffective, it clearly delineates socio-cultural boundaries and renders standards of mundane media use explicit.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
George Orwell, Animal Farm (unpublished introduction, quoted from: Robertson, 1993, p. xiii)

We are socialized by the different kinds of mass media that shape our view of life and influence our behavior. Socio-cultural experiences and associations do condition our opinions and preferences. Moreover, the contents of media are to some extent a kind of refractive mirror of society. How tolerant or restrictive we treat media reveals to us a significant part of our current socio-political situation and moral beliefs. But neither the official picture of the mainstream culture nor the research that often criticizes the portrayals of sex and violence in the media to justify control and censorship reveal the behavior of people who are fascinated by banned (and often bizarre) contents.

The “normal” taste of ordinary people as well as the members of so-called “advanced civilization” is distinguished from the activities of those who prefer unusual media precisely because of the restrictions. But even this behavior and the banned materials themselves are part of the cultural landscape, although they get rarely into the focus of academic interest, despite the fact that a huge number of theoretical studies have been written especially by jurists and social scientists. Yet, the ordinary, simple everyday things of life are a valid source of knowledge. The main questions are: What is the quarrel between censorship and free speech all about? How are these deviant products of the media used by which kind of consumers in their everyday lives, and why are these items “media-worthy” for them? And, what point of view do the censors have? What is at stake in banning dubious contents, and what is at stake in allowing the free flow of uncensored media?

My research in the field of the sociology of popular culture conducted in Germany (Seim 1997, Seim/Spiegel 1998 and 1999), and even this short paper, deal with this “twilight zone”, a gray area where a strange struggle occurs behind the scenes. To be honest, I must admit that I collected dubious material myself. During my research for this paper I interviewed some fans of the weird, read a lot of special fanzines and books and investigated websites firsthand. I concentrated my investigation on the orientations and behavior of German fans of censored material rather than on the activities of the censors. The main source for the latter’s behavior might be the journal BPjS Aktuell, the official organ of the German bureau for examination of harmful media.

The Current Situation of Ambiguity

“Censorship happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their political or moral values on others by suppressing words, images, or ideas that they find offensive” (Heins, 1993, p. 3). Censorship always has a Janus-face. It creates an odd scenario of ambiguity. On the one side, the government and many pressure groups try to suppress unacceptable media content within the bounds of human rights and constitutional law regarding freedom of speech, art and press. On the other side, forbidden things become rather attractive to many fans because of the specific thrill of interdiction. Michel Foucault once said that a ban makes a book valuable. This two-faced phenomenon of repressive control versus self-determination of mature users raises questions about how fans on one side put into practice their fascination with breaking the taboo and, on the other side, why and how censors ban the items they select.

The Censors and Their Objects

According to Post (1998) censorship can be understood as a kind of cultural regulation. As with any other reasonable measure, censorship must try to balance the claims of the common good against the claims of individual freedom. In general, censorship as a mandatory requirement depends on the commonsensical application of contemporary community standards and conventions; in particular, it is implemented according to the taste and character of individual readers and viewers. But even the censors act on their own subjective tastes to prevent feared anti-social attitudes and actions when they assess the intention and the possible effects of cultural objects they examine. Even a few objectionable sequences or pages that epitomize, so to speak, the bad—taken out of context—could be sufficient to ban an entire film or book. But there are at least two sides to everything. One person’s obscenity is another person’s bedtime reading. Art or morbid filth? Finally, it’s a question of practical ethics and aesthetics as to whether one accepts and permits or condemns and banishes crass descriptions of the physical side of the body.

Most intrusive censorship is supported as taking place in the interests of protecting young people. These censors are likely convinced that they are performing a positive service to society. They must believe that no social system—even a pluralistic democracy—can allow their members total and absolute freedom of informational interchange or they could not do their work.

Insofar as the criteria censors use to distinguish between prohibition and permissible tolerance are in flux, censoring authorities must rely on all sorts of tacit assumptions of propriety in assessing how to do their work. Even today in the liberated time of a postmodern “anything goes” climate, the government finds it necessary to put the ‘kabosh’ on the free flow of certain kinds of information. Decision makers must cope with the problem of determining what would be harmful to minors or might endanger social stability. Many laws prohibiting modes of expression in literature, films and other media thought to be depraved or corrupt are currently deemed valid, but the application of these laws may be questionable. Even if there does not exist a major official agency concerned with pre-censorship in Germany, many authorities closely scrutinize the limits of liberty. Only the FSK (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft), the German Board of Film Classification (a more or less voluntary self-regulating body of the motion picture industry similar to the MPAA in the USA), performs a pre-censorship assessment because all movies are required to be submitted before their first showing. Upon review, the FSK confers several ratings up to warning notices such as “Not to be sold to anyone under 18”.

Above all, the courts and the so called “Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften und Medieninhalte – BPjS” (a unique federal office of examination that identifies the kind of media material that are likely to corrupt the young) can take action against disapproved items by putting them on its index to prevent minors from coming into contact with possibly harmful material. Special committees with from 3 to 12 mostly honorary members of socially-relevant interest groups, such as churches, youth welfare organizations, teachers, publishers and distributors decide if an item should be placed on the index. As we shall see, this index is a two-headed monster because some fans of censorable material use the index as a shopping list.

Restrictions, however, are in force for the more than 80 million citizens of Germany. Any individual can institute legal proceedings against dubious media products at any youth welfare department. About 14,000 videos, books, comics, records, computer games, World Wide Web sites and other Internet contents, and so on are restricted by virtue of being on this index. These items therefore are forbidden to minors because some censors deemed that viewing such material would result in “social-ethic disorientation” or wrong moral concepts due to—more or less—explicit obscenity, sex, drugs, violence, occultism, encouragement of suicide, or political extremism. All bans are mentioned in the lists of the official organ “BPjS Aktuell”. Banned media may not be advertised or sent via the mail. Most media content that is banned, particularly in the area of literature, comes from foreign countries, (compare with Ohmer, 2000) for example: Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Dan Kavanagh’s (Julian Barnes) Duffy, and Timothy Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy. All these bans pose challenges for fans of banned items.

Additionally about 500 books, films, records and so on are totally banned in Germany. Even if Article 5 of the German Constitution establishes freedom of speech (“Eine Zensur findet nicht statt”, means: Censorship does not occur), many criminal and civil laws limit the possibilities of free expression. The reasons for prohibition are varied, such as: Hard core pornography under § 184 Criminal Code (about 175 objects banned), glorification of violence under § 131 (about 170 objects banned), libel or hate speech under § 130 (about 100 objects banned, especially Nazi propaganda and the so called “Auschwitz lie”). Any judge can make his own decision as what is to be banned nationwide for “antisocial harmfulness” (in German: “sozialschädlich”). But every isolated case is a matter for interpretation and many dubious decisions are inevitably made.

The main ground for book banning in Germany is Nazi propaganda (compare with Post, 1998, pp. 67-87), and I think this exception to the right to freedom of speech might be reasonable: More than one hundred publications and records are forbidden for xenophobic incitement, hate speech, right-wing extremism, race hatred, vengeance theories of a Jewish conspiracy, or because they question the Holocaust or German war guilt.

But even manuals for self-defense, such as many books from the US publishers Paladin Press and Loompanics Unlimited, have been seized by Canadian and German authorities: “Get tough! How to win in hand-to-hand fighting by Cpt. Fairbairn, Paladin Press, Boulder, Colorado or The poisoner’s handbook” by Maxwell Hutchkinson, Loompanics, Port Townsend, Washington 1988, although they were “sold for informational purposes only”. In the USA they were freely available because of the First Amendment; in Germany, they have been banned since 1991 because they contain instructions on how to commit criminal offenses.

It is questionable to ban virtual reality artworks or the artificial fantasy world of the movies, literature and comics. Concerning motion pictures, the violation of human dignity by the depiction of graphic violence is the main reason for prohibition. For example the following films are prohibited in Germany: The Evil Dead (director: Sam Raimi: This film has been banned in Germany since 1984. The censors passed this film only in an edited R-rated rated), Halloween Part 2 (produced by John Carpenter), Phantasm (Don Coscarelli) and Braindead (Peter Jackson). Some confiscated records are: Butchered at Birth (by the death metal band Cannibal Corpse) because of violent cover artwork, and Eating Lamb (by the US-Punk-Band NOFX, 1996) because of the depiction of sexual intercourse with an animal. The band issued two different versions of cover art. The LP version Eating Lamb was banned in Germany in 1996 because of “bestiality” (“sodomistic porn”), however the similarly illustrated CD Heavy Petting Zoo was not. Another example of different cover art versions is Bloodthirst by Cannibal Corpse (Metal Blade Records, Germany 1999). To prevent further bans the label created two issues—one with original artwork and one softened for the German market to appease the morality guardians and, respectively, the watchdogs. But, Pieper (1999) shows, that restriction, even of music, is a world-wide problem.

The Fans of the Banned

The consumer’s right to get what he or she wants is wider than the maker’s right to spread ideas, because the laws (and the risks) have always been aimed primarily at directors, authors, publishers or editors. In other words, the law does not forbid consumers from reading banned books or watching banned films (except child porn, possession of which alone is criminal) if you find or own one. However, sale and trade is prohibited so these items could be confiscated and the producers or distributors punished.

Violent media contents and latent sexualization seem to have become quite common. People are exposed to a constant stream of more or less questionable items. Cable networks, videotapes, computer games, and the Internet offer the possibility of getting anything you could want. Anonymity (“Pretty good Privacy”) and encryption technology (“FreeNet”) could neutralize the ability to wiretap and to censor. In this confusing area, an index is unintentionally, of course, a point of departure helping some fascinated individuals to select what are probably the most exciting offers. Reading an index is like looking into an area that moralizers see as the blackest depths of the human soul and the farthest reaches of society’s underground. Already the disreputable circumstances and the feeling of doing something forbidden thrill and entice the fan. The motivation for getting banned stuff may vary, but like a “Pavlovian Reflex” every authoritarian restriction on the publication and distribution of suspicious material inflames the desire among fans of the banned to know what one shouldn’t know.

The mainstream with its social definitions of good taste, impose taboos and speech codes that become predictable and boring to the connoisseurs of the really thrilling stuff. They crave unfiltered, unfettered gore, so they set out searching for the suppressed. Banned films, books, comics, records and so on strongly attract the buffs who want to test the limits and explore the ‘dark side’. They yearn to find something very special. Most of these fans may come from the middle-class, and are young and male. Some statistical research seems to try to discredit these fans who are fascinated by these films by claiming that they tend to have lower education levels. Even serious researchers, such as Vogelgesang (1990, pp. 171f, 221f), attempt this in his analysis of juvenile peer groups that come together for horror film watching sessions. He admits, nevertheless, that the elaborate codes of knowledge of film aesthetics and special effects reflect a sophisticated interchange and involved behavioral style.

He summarizes that taste and habitus are not class-specific, but are rather oriented to specific scenes of like-minded individuals. As far as I know, a study that examines the ethnographic details of the fans of banned media does not exist. (Perhaps such a study would be banned.) Only some data are known: “Adults, particularly college educated males in their thirties or forties with above average social-economic status, are the dominant users of sex oriented materials” (Larsen, 1994, p. 93).

The notion of resistance held by many youth is to be independent from official orders, rules and regulations concerning matters of taste. But even if a fascination with violating taboos is a widespread feeling, especially among adolescent nonconformist groups—active opposition to the prohibitions is infrequent. Only on the relatively anonymous Internet can one find many sites and chatrooms concerning freedom of speech where people fight against suppression by condemning what they perceive to be a sad state of affairs. I would guess that only a few thousand fans demand and collect banned material systematically. But if a case of dubious suppression occurs, the public debate regarding the principles of free speech and human rights is dramatized for a short time in the feature pages, although apparently most of those writers have apparently not seen or read banned material.

Beside the superstructure of the official opinion of political correctness and judicial bans, which mainly are approved by the “moral majority”, there are many sub-cultural scenes where groups try to counteract the authorities and their blocking strategies. It seems that successful circumvention of bans by gamesman-like ploys is driven by a sense of a sporting challenge and produces within the fans a feeling of gloating (Schadenfreude). As an experimentum libertatis, youth culture members frequently support a standpoint opposed to omnipresent restrictive laws. Some minors, for example, ask their elder siblings or friends to get adult-only films or other media for them. This subversive system of distribution, lending, copying and swapping is delimited and works rather independently from the adult world. Only insiders are admitted to this autonomous underworld of the banned. Banned items become a kind of vehicle of oppositional meaning. Friends of splatter, gore and other violent artworks are connected in a special kind of provocative fandom that sustains their hobby. Many of those consumers communicate the results of their observations and interchange new information about banning, cuts and so on in chat rooms, fanzines, or e-mail newsletters.

The Internet has become a particular and seductive marketplace, even for strange ideas. In Germany the state criticizes that, for example “Napster”, could be misused as a barter platform for illegal violent skinhead or Nazi music. E-commerce bookshops also offer forbidden right-wing literature like Hitlers Mein Kampf for sale. The Government intends that cyberspace should not be a lawless sphere. In several countries Yahoo, for instance, blocks the access of web sites that offer Nazi “devotional objects”. But, as the ITAA (Information Technology Association of America) says 1995 in its statement “Internet, Free Speech and Industry Self-Regulation” (

Technology itself has no value system or point of view; rather, it is the behavior of users which determines the purposes served by the particular technology in case of the Internet, the deviant behavior of a small minority has created fear in the public’s mind about this new technology and, as a result, attracted the attention of lawmakers at both the federal and state levels.

In Germany many lovers of deviant, profane media feel that the state is making up their minds for them. The “gore-hounds” are probably more prone to interchanging the results of their observations than are the viewers of pornography. According to Cynthia M. King, the gore watchers are attracted to graphic horror with blood, death, and physical torture. They think these scenes with the “really ill shit” are cool, especially if the film classification board issues an imprimatur. To avoid this heteronomous lack of information and to satisfy fan curiosity, several US fan publications describe the results of video bashing and the current intrusions of censorship in motion pictures and TV. Sequences the censors cut out are detailed in so- called “fanzines”, such as Fangoria, Filmthreat or Gorezone, and in German zines like Splatting Image, Doom or Gory News (http:// and Websites like “”, “” or Special dictionaries by the authors Trebbin (1998) or Bertler and Lieber (1999) list most of the available but banned films. The publishers obviously have a need to express their degree of freedom. They compare, for instance, the unabridged original versions with the cut versions for the local market and show some restricted stills. For similar reasons, other insider fan groups enjoy cracking the check codings of toned down computer games to reconstruct the original version.

Barred objects become rather fascinating to many collectors of the weird, who want to know what the State suppresses. For those inquisitive persons every ban is a cue (signal) and every index serves as a compelling shopping list with the special incentive of the taboo to savor the forbidden fruit. This different kind of adventure/sensation seeking of the fandom has its own conventions with a certain magic of exceptionality. It’s astonishing that— except for some right-wing scenes of skinhead music—almost the only horror films that produced a vibrant fandom in which the members exchange their experiences are those with obliterated scenes, different versions and bans. I can’t find similar interactions in other forbidden zones, such as pornography, perhaps because those films do not attach importance to originality. In comparison with viewing horror films as a test of courage or as an initiation rite, porn watching might be more of a lonesome event that, in terms of fan appreciation, probably requires no embarrassing informational exchange on different versions.

It may increase one’s own experience and one’s social status to find a special prohibited and therefore hard-to-get rarity with a high “market values”. The manner of obtaining such material is “style forming”. In negating the act of banning, alternative ways of procuring materials, along with several strategies of circumventing the bans, have emerged. For example, circumventions include re-issues of seized media under false names, pirated editions and bootlegging on the black market, mail-order lists with cover-named films, imports of foreign versions, or publication of documentaries and fanzines with suppressed details. More open-minded and liberal countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium, where nearly no media censorship exist, became very appealing to fans. Shops like Cult Video (Amsterdam) sell most of the banned tapes in the original unabridged version. German shops such as Videodrom or Incredibly Strange Video (both in Berlin) import foreign versions with harmless titles. While bootlegging is illegal and benefits only the profit of sellers of these bad copies, the re-issue of forbidden films under false fantasy names can work for some time. The Astrolabel obtained the copyright for several cult classics because in Germany banned films such as Maniac (William Lustig), Last House on the Left (Wes Craven) or Mother’s Day (Charles Kaufman) were re-issued in digitally re-mastered and completely uncut versions. This confused the government for a while and ruined the prices for the original cassettes, but brought the suppressed and formally out-of-print material back to availability until the police, in a concerted swoop, seized and charged many titles with being illegal. Since spring 2000 several judges in Berlin have blacklisted these “new” editions because they have the same condemned contents. I would guess that it’s impossible to eradicate a film if some copies survive.

Prohibition demands obedience, not understanding. Censorship demonstrates the power of the rulers, and, from the fans point of view, deprives them of their own free will eliciting their resistance. Those consumers set their own agenda by circumventing the official instructions.


“Every taboo deals with an awakening to the dilemma of curiosity about something both attractive and dangerous,” Roger Shattuck (1996, p. 30) wrote in his book Forbidden Knowledge. Similarly, the everyday struggle of censors and fans is intriguing, but little is known regarding this phenomenon.

We have found a complex situation among certain interest groups that some people may identify as an aberration from the normal use of the media, although the provocative topic of “eros and thanatos” is as old as culture itself. But the dialectical process linking ethics, moral reasoning and society are perpetually in tension over the issues of personal freedom vs. social responsibility. This essay concludes with a consideration of mundane issues that enter into the debate on “how divided and diverse societies decide what is permissible to broadcast” (Shaw, 1999).

Some independent filmmakers try to create a special symbolic code by using exaggerated graphic violence to characterize the horror in everyday situations where the extreme becomes quite prosaic. Disturbingly nihilistic films such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton), Nekromantik (Jörg Buttgereit) or Combat Shock (Buddy Giovinazzo) show an ambivalent mundanity of ordinary madness and abnormality in a degraded form. B-pictures can be made cheaply with no-name stars as long as they can keep an audience’s attention, especially by exploiting taboos (Balun, 1989:173).

Censors won’t tolerate that. Media rating or banning of the so-called “video nasties” or “mind-raping” comics are commonplace for the censors. Society in the main is unaware that these media even exist. The censors routinely cut or prohibit those special interest and “no-budget” films, books and so on, if they feel that the majority agrees or indifferent to making disgusting or sleazy items available. The examiners of the diverse governmental offices feel that they are just doing their well-paid ho-hum jobs in the name of public mental hygiene. They often exhibit a sense of tedium regarding matters of taste, decency and hallowed icons. Most censors adopt a taken-for-granted, unreflective approach and do not recognize that their work depends on a variable “Zeitgeist”, shifting boundaries of discretion, and changing values. As Greene (2000) verifies, when conventional tastes changes they just find new codewords to obscure their underlying notions of moral and political decency.

On the other side are the inquisitive fans who feel compelled to evade restrictions. In their view censorship is an obsolete and undemocratic instrument of control. More importantly, it provides a way for them to experience some form of otherness. Censorship creates contra-cultural fandoms of people who are exhilarated by the act of negating what are actually minor proscriptions.

Of course, some regulating curbs may be necessary, especially on media contents that might constitute a “clear and present” danger. But the fans of extreme cultural items usually do not trespass beyond the point that threatens the freedom and well-being of others. Viewing of repulsive splatter or explicit porn movies is for most simply an effort to neutralize mundanity. These viewers create their own diversions and ask for tolerance of their preferences. Their quest for and gratifications through X-rated artworks are mundane practices that rarely lead to any other violation. Their activities and interactions constitute a routine life pattern that permit them to experience themselves as outlaws while not threatening the sanctity of ordinary society or the dignity of fellow citizens since “normal” viewers are not forced to watch extreme material.

You may ask, what is at stake in banning this filthy material? Well, who can decide for future generations which kind of media content is unworthy? One characteristic of censorship is that it is mundane and tacit so that its sphere of influence can be inconspicuous extended. The consequence could be that a few judges routinely decide what all others will be allowed to receive. But the voices of dissent still need to be heard, particularly those that are rarely found in the power positions of mainstream media. Cultural history suggests that formerly banned things often convey a sense of the everyday thinking and acting of the common people. That is, what is viewed as degraded, unworthy culture in an era may be more indicative of mundane lives than high culture and superior art, which reach only a small elite portion of the population.

I submit that an emancipatory practice might be a better way to master the problems posed by deviant, disturbing or dangerous content. In order to enhance the media competence/literacy and the power of discernment of both the fans and the censors, new ways of understanding sensitive materials are needed. A reasonable use of control and regulation (bans for instance in the cases of child porn or hateful, aggressive Nazi propaganda; restrictions of violent and explicit material in the name of the protection of young people) is ok in my view, but most of the other prohibitions are not emancipatory, and, by the way, won’t work. To blame media for social ills (for example the massacre at Littleton High School) and to demand restrictions is to take the easy route. Of course, people’s behavior and social interactions with others are not only regulated through laws. Many social norms and everyday practices facilitate the social life of humankind. Censorship is not the only way to instill and regulate norms by official actions, but it is the most simple and discernible effort to accomplish this. But since imposed restrictions often have the opposite effect, it is possible that censorship serves more to convince the public that aberrance is being restrained and that cultural values are being preserved than it is to actually prevent access to material. Informal human kinds of social control on the face-to-face level of everyday life are more sensible constraints on the damaging use of bizarre items as long as interpersonal processes are effective.

“The threat of censorship is real. Laws can also be counterproductive. For some, they may only serve as labels to heighten curiosity” (Larsen, 1994, p. 95). If bans were removed, novelty would wear off and satiation would eventually set in. In allowing the free flow of uncensored material the aforementioned fandom of the bizarre would probably be destroyed because there is a symbiotic relationship between censors and fans of the banned. However, a postmodern scenario of an over-stimulated population with complete access to uncensored sex, violent media content, offensive and actionable symbols and racist speech is not desirable. Mysteries are exciting. Showing everything to everybody could not only be quite dangerous for the continued existence of society (as the censors fear), but it would be rather boring for all the trash seeking “truffle-pigs”. But there is no fear of that.

References: An annotated bibliography of mentioned books (further relevant books may be found in my books):

– Balun, Chas. (Ed.): The Deep Red Horror Handbook, Fantaco Enterprises, Inc., New York 1989.

The well-known horror film specialist gives insider views of the scene and presents some famous splatter film directors. His “gore scoreboard” contains many reviews of more or less bizarre movies.

– Bertler, Andreas & Lieber, Harry: Hölle auf Erden Kompendium 2000, Bertler+Lieber Verlag, München 1999 (Munich/Germany).

This huge dictionary reviews thousands of films and books of the horror, action and fantasy genres. Richly-illustrated with stills, this compendium is written for fans.

– BPjS Aktuell – Amtliches Mitteilungsblatt der Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften und Medieninhalte, Forum Verlag, Bonn/Germany (this magazine is published three times a year).

This official organ of the “Bundesprüfstelle” (Kennedyallee 105-107, D-53175 Bonn/Germany) contains the index lists of banned media objects.

– Greene, Marilyn J. (Ed.): New Code Words for Censorship. Modern Labels for Curbs on the Press, World Press Freedom Committee, Reston 2000.

This compilation contains some international texts on recent censorship worldwide. Some new code words are “codes of ethics”, “self-regulation” and “responsibilities” of the press.

– Heins, Marjorie: Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy. A Guide to America’s Censorship Wars, The New Press, New York 1993.

In her in-depth study, Heins explores the boundaries of conventional taste and shows how sensitive taboos affect culture in the USA.

– Kiste Nyberg, Amy: Seal of Approval. The history of the Comics Code, Jackson/USA 1998.

This revised dissertation deals with the development of reprisals against comic books since Dr. Wertham. The author – a professor at Seton Hall University – researches the reasons for campaigns against graphic novels, especially by religious groups.

– Larsen, Otto N.: Voicing Social Concern: The Mass Media – Violence – Pornography – Censorship – Organization – Social Science – The Ultramultiversity, University Press of America, Lanham 1994.

Professor Emeritus Larsen (University of Washington), a participant on the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, compiles in this book many elucidating lectures and speeches on these topics.

– Ohmer, Anja: Gefährliche Bücher? Zeitgenössische Literatur im Spannungsfeld zwischen Kunst und Zensur, Diss., Tübingen 1999, Nomos Verlag, Baden-Baden/Germany 2000.

This study examines book banning in the field of contemporary literature, particularly in the conflict between art and censorship.

– Pieper, Werner (Ed.): Verfemt – Verbannt – Verboten. Musik & Zensur. Weltweit, Die Grüne Kraft, Löhrbach/Germany 1999.

Based on issue 6/98 of the British magazine Index on Censorship this German book deals with suppressed and banned music worldwide. Several entries explain the situation of forbidden music mainly in Europe and America. Vol. 2, which focuses on the history of censoring music in Germany, is in print.

– Post, Robert C. (Ed.): Censorship and Silencing. Practices of Cultural Regulation, The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, Los Angeles 1998.

The compilation of symposium papers held at the Getty Inst. in 1994-1995 contains many important papers in the field. It has three parts: Censorship: The Repressive State, Discourse: The Tutelary State, Silencing: The Egalitarian State.

– Robertson QC, Geoffrey: Freedom, the Individual and the Law, Penguin Books, London 1993, 7th Edition.

A classic guide to civil liberties and citizen’s right mainly in Britain.

– Seim, Roland: Zwischen Medienfreiheit und Zensureingriffen. Eine medien- und rechtssoziologische Untersuchung zensorischer Eingriffe in bundesdeutsche Populärkultur, Diss. phil. (Ph.D. thesis), Univ. of Münster, Telos Verlag, Münster/Germany 1997.

This German sociological dissertation (“Between Media Freedom and Censorship: The Sociology of Media and Law on Censorship Interventions in German Popular Culture”) examines the reasons for censorship and the structures of such intrusions on the free speech. The examination begins with an historical overview, provides the important terms, legal basis and all key institutional players involved in control and self-regulation, followed by case studies of all kinds.

– Seim, Roland/Spiegel, Josef (Eds.): ‘Ab 18’ – zensiert, diskutiert, unterschlagen. Beispiele aus der Kulturgeschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Band 1, Telos Verlag, Münster/Germany 19983.

——– : Der kommentierte Bildband zu “Ab 18” – zensiert, diskutiert, unterschlagen. Zensur in der deutschen Kulturgeschichte [“Ab 18” – Band 2], Telos Verlag, Münster/Germany 1999.

These richly illustrated and annotated documentaries (“Ab 18” means “from 18 years up” – censored, discussed, suppressed – Censorship in German cultural history) show examples of restricted or banned material in Germany mainly from the media. But most of the examples (films, books, comics, records, new media etc.) are of foreign extractions. Vol. 1 displays also some texts written by involved artists such as Klaus Staeck and Jörg Buttgereit; Vol. 2 contains an annotated bibliography and a list of important Internet addresses for further research.

– Shattuck, Roger: Forbidden Knowledge. From Prometheus to Pornography, St. Martin’s Press, New York 1996.

This sophisticated book reveals the difficult history of some hidden topics in culture. His conclusion compiles the “Six categories of forbidden knowledge”, for instance inaccessible, unattainable knowledge, prohibited by religious, moral or secular authorities, dangerous, destructive, fragile, delicate and ambiguous knowledge.

– Shaw, Collin: Deciding What We Watch: Taste, Decency, and Media Ethics in the UK and the USA, Oxford University Press, Oxford/ England 1999.

Shaw focuses on the moral basis and history of regulation as it has been applied to major issues of taste and decency, such as the protection of children, obscenity and indecency.

– Trebbin, Frank: Die Angst sitzt neben Dir – Gesamtausgabe –, Berlin/ Germany 1998 (published oneself).

This excellent large-format filmography on horror and fantasy assembles thousands of competent film reviews and valuations. Essential reading for cineasts and fans of strange movies.

– Vogelgesang, Waldemar: Jugendliche Video-Cliquen. Action- und Horrorvideos als Kristallisationspunkte einer neuen Fankultur, Diss. phil., Univ. of Trier, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen/Germany 1990.

This German sociological dissertation deals with the rarely considered topic of the juvenile fandom of horror videos. It researches into the complex structure of peer groups which are fond of films the majority of society rejects. He finds out that these fans are not “videots” but specialized and reasonable members of a “deviant” subculture.

– Winfield, Betty Honchin: Bleep!… Censoring Rock and Rap Music, New York 1998.

Expensive book on the history of censoring rock and rap music.

Additional links of interest on censorship and banned books:

Author: Born in 1965 in Münster, Germany, Roland Seim studied art history, sociology and philosophy in Münster and Berlin, and received an M.A. degree in art history with a thesis on Alfred Kubin’s depiction of “eros and thanatos” in his early works. In 1997 he received his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Münster with a doctoral dissertation on censorship in German popular culture. He is a part-time lecturer in sociology, publisher and author. In some respects Roland has made his “filthy hobby” the central topic of his academic research. He’s currently joking about waiting for his own documentary books to be banned. These books are available via

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