In her first musings for Owaahh.com, Mari Gloria talks about why censorship has no place in modern society.
I walked into my house to the age-old African beat of a remote banging against a palm. Momentarily confused by my friend’s odd behavior, I stood at the door and gaped as the remote was brandished at the decoder and back for a second beating against the table.
“Ok, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m trying to get the TV guide so I can see what’s wrong?”
I shut the door and rescued the poor remote from further abuse. I successfully opened the TV guide and handed back the remote.
“What were you looking for?” I asked, as I perched on the armrest to take off my shoes.
“They’re showing SpongeBob instead of Loud House right now.”
“Huh.” I remarked and went on to conduct my evening constitutional. The night went on uneventfully until my friend started assaulting the remote again.
“Ok, what the hell’s wrong now?” I asked, yanking the remote away. The violence was unimaginable.
“They’ve brought SpongeBob again.”
“Maybe it’s a scheduled change.”
“Aiii, me I have to find out.”
She yanked her phone from the charger and promptly went to the source of all information online- Twitter. As she navigated the site, I decided to see if it was a scheduling conflict. I looked up the guide and tried to see if SpongeBob was close to Loud House in the lineup or if the time displayed on the decoder was wrong. It wasn’t.
My friend grabbed my shoulder and wrenched me to look at her phone. There, on Ezekiel Mutua’s Twitter feed, was a press release brandished with the grandeur of a buy-one-get-three-free poorman’s discount store announcing that The Loud House had been banned in Kenya. And the reason why was because “…most parents are not aware that the children’s programs are laced with content that promoted the LGBT agenda…” Not only had he banned The Loud House all kids’ “gay content” was to be fully banned. Shows like Legend of Korra, Hey Steven, Clarence and Adventure Time would no longer be aired in Kenya.Ezekiel Mutua, champion of homophobia, self-appointed major general to eliminate “immorality’ in Kenyan content and chairman of the Kenya Film Classifications Board, has displayed this high handedness before. In 2013, KFCB banned The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio. They cited that it had explicit sexual content, profanity, drug use, and nudity. In 2014, Stories of Our Lives, an anthology film about being gay in Kenya [Link], was banned for promoting homosexuality. In 2015, the erotic romance drama Fifty Shades of Grey was banned for sexual content as if that’s not the only reason we wanted to see it in the first place.
When questioned about banning a show that seemed as harmless as The Loud House, Mutua responded by saying that “While adults are free to choose their sexual orientation, children must be protected from content glorifying homosexuality.”
The same man who banned a movie for adults that showed homosexual life in Kenya, and one that involved terrible dialogue, a playroom, and BDSM- in the name of preserving morality. Hypocritical much? According to Ezekiel, you become gay by watching a cartoon where a normal, wholesome family happens to have two dads. I mean, according to them that’s how it works, right?
Ezekiel probably believes that watching a Tusker advert before 9.00 pm will make an eleven-year old grow up into an alcoholic. I grew up in the 90s when the Trust condom advert was a condom being slid over an umbrella. It showed how a condom should be worn, and while it was laced with suggestive activity- I am in no way some nihilistic pervert who will use every opportunity to become a sexual fiend.
How far can one institution go to “protect children from exposure to harmful content?” Censorship has been a ubiquitous phenomenon in countries that have the definition of freedom mandated by people in power.
Censorship hasn’t been restricted to TV shows and print publications. Music is another form of expression that has had government interference in the name of culture or morality. In Kenyan colonial times, the colonial government banned a Kikuyu song Muthirigu that appears to have been borrowed from the Swahili dance called Muselegu. The song mocks uncircumcised women. In South Africa, the SABC refused to play Beatles songs when they claimed to be more famous than Jesus until the Beatles issued an apology (really, WTF?). Songs like Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing were banned because they were sexually suggestive.
In the 70s, 80s and 90s, content was borderline sycophantic to the ruling powers. Any content that undermined the government was pulled off air or banned. Ngugi wa Mirii’s and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s I Will Marry When I Want was banned and led to the detention (1977) and eventual exile in 1978 of the beloved writers. Copies of Ngugi’s book, Matigari, were seized by security officers from bookshops and libraries. Later on, a musical written by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Maitu Njugira called Mother, Sing for Me was never to legally see a stage.
In the 1980s, the VOK TV show, Usiniharakishe was banned for having “immoral content” but the show has since been revived.
In the 90s, the state was frequently criticized by newspapers in an expanding political space. TV stations out of government control were also increasing. Several newspapers and magazines were banned and copies destroyed. Society Magazine had 10000 copies of the January 1992 issue confiscated. Beyond Magazine also went through a similar fate and its editor, Bedan Mbugua, was wrongfully imprisoned. He had his conviction overturned after an appeal in the high court.
The government denounced The Nation and threatened to have it shut down “if they continue with irresponsible journalism.” Alex Cage and Julius Mukaya, Nation writers, were sacked after Cage had alleged that a building had been sold to a minister at less than market value; while Mukaya had said Amos Wako was preventing the rewriting of Kenya’s Constitution. Finance Magazine was the victim of an arson attack in February 1995 and the government shortly after banned all issues of Inooro– which was then a Kikuyu newspaper run by the Catholic Church.
Censorship is like an infestation of cockroaches. No matter how much you try to prevent it, it just comes coming back, and increasing. The gagging of “subversive” or “divergent” content will most likely always be an issue for governments that rely on a personal code of beliefs- that may not always be a reflection of the values held by the diverse population. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, advertisements where women show skin are covered with crudely added black markings. In Jordan, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was banned because they believed it to be blasphemous. In Lebanon, Wonder Woman wasn’t shown because of Gal Gadot’s service in the Israeli army.
In 2017, freedom of expression, should be as much a right as water or air. We live in a time where information is one of the most powerful substances in existence. An election can be swayed depending on the information a voter is fed. Propaganda relies on how swaying information can be and can dangerously mislead a community to believing something that is blatantly false.
The need for freedom of expression ensures that not just one view is seen or heard or acted upon. There shouldn’t be “certain things” that I “shouldn’t know” because of one institution’s views. In the case of “kid’s gay content” instead of banning it and showing an intolerance toward the LGBT community Ezekiel should have encouraged his complainants that there is a feature on DStv, GOtv and Star Times called “Parent Lock” which they can utilize. That would have effectively prevented children of such parents not to watch such shows and the ones who are accepting would have continued with their blissful enjoyment. In the event of the content which he deemed to contain nudity (because he probably showers with a censorship bar covering his schlong) and sexual activity- an age limit should have been provided to cinema goers.
Banning “kid’s gay content” is also harmful because it doesn’t allow discussion of homosexuality. Kenya’s stance of “hear no gay, speak no gay and do no gay” is dangerous. LGBTQ people exist and acting like they shouldn’t is what allows events like these to happen: Ugandan authorities break up any pride rallies and vigilantes harass, attack or kill people.In 2009, The Anti Homosexuality Act was introduced which broadened the criminalization of same-sex relationships and introduced the death penalty for “serial offenders”. This led to Ugandans fleeing to Kenya as refugees where things aren’t much better. In Iraq, a male model was murdered for being too handsome. In 2016, extremists blindfolded a man before pushing him to his death from a 10-storey building in Aleppo, Syria, after accusing him of homosexuality. In Chechnya, there have been reports of homosexual individuals being tortured.
Banning content where gay people are doing what people are wont to do- living- gives rise to such dangers. Ezekiel Mutua is perpetuating intolerance and hatred subtly. And we shouldn’t kick back and let it be.
In 2017, it is unacceptable to tell me there are things I shouldn’t see or know. That there are subjects that should be silent. Too much freedom has been achieved for such archaic practices to be acceptable. To misquote Christian Grey, “That’s fifty shades of fucked up.”
Mari Gloria often thinks of herself as eccentric. She dreams in text and is unafraid to admit that her cat owns her. A firm believer in Wi-Fi for all, the rest of her thoughts, beliefs, ramblings and unique insight can be found on her blog Nairobi Pedestrian here [Link].
Featured image from [Source].