Category Archives: censorship

Visit to the small but perfectly formed Cartoon Museum

cartoon-museum-logoLast week I joined in with the LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) visit to the Cartoon Museum.

For several years I had walked past the building in Little Russell Street, just around the corner from the British Museum, on my way to work. So I was curious to see what was inside.

After a short introduction from the director and some typically ‘info-pro’ questions relating to copyright of the collection, we were free to explore the exhibits.

Downstairs I took in the permanent collection of historical works from seminal cartoonists such as Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Coming up to date with some hard-hitting images relating to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Source Wikimedia

Source Wikimedia.org

Next was the current featured exhibition Heckling Hitler, with cartoons and comic art from World War II. There were some classics by David Low which you can view on the British Cartoon Archive.

In addition were some famous government propaganda posters from the time, including Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Doctor Carrot the ‘children’s friend’.

 

 

 

On the way upstairs I stumbled across a short video from Simon’s Cat. This creature was a new discovery, but this example was a brilliant reminder of my own cat’s ruthless methods of getting my attention.

Upstairs was a wonderful collection of original drawings from the likes of Dennis the Menace, Dan Dare, Rupert Bear and Roy of the Rovers. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar sight from my youth. On closer inspection it turned out to be a page from the Trigan Empire, which appeared in my childhood magazine Look and Learn. An unexpected blast from the past.

Source Wikimedia.org

Source Wikimedia.org

I would strongly recommend a visit to the museum if you get the opportunity.

The Cartoon Museum
35 Little Russell St
London
WC1A 2HH

Fracking with the F-word on the Battlestar Gallactica

battlestar_galactica_logoOne of the ways I try to ameliorate the boredom of my five hours of daily commuting is to distract myself with entertaining TV shows.

I have always been a fan of Science Fiction, and still remember watching early Doctor Who episodes from behind the sofa in my youth, and revelling in the cult trash of Blake’s Seven in my teens.

So I was aware of Battlestar Gallactica, but was confused by very mixed reviews of the series. It turns out there were two separate versions of the series, with a rather weak original from 1978, followed by a far superior ‘reboot’ from 2004.

The premise of the series is a familiar one from the annals of Sci-Fi. Robots developed to serve humankind develop consciousness, rebel and go to war against their masters. The Battlestar Gallactica version of this story takes place far into the future, after we have left earth and colonised distant space.

It follows on from 40 years of peace after a bloody war against the Cylons. Needless to say the Cylons (dismissed as ‘toasters’) have not been idle. They have spent the time infiltrating the human defences, using replicants (referred to as ‘skin jobs’). When their offensive finally starts the consequences for the human population are devastating, with billions wiped out in a nuclear apocalypse across the 12 colonies.

A mere 50,000 manage to escape destruction in a rag-tag collections of space-ships under the protection of a rather long in the tooth battlestar (think rusting old aircraft carrier), under the leadership of retirement ready admiral Adama. Their desperate hope is to find a new home in the now mythical planet of earth, whilst avoiding any run-ins with the vastly superior fire-power of the Cylon fleet.

Battlestar-Galactica

So far so straightforward, with the addition of lots of fighting to keep things from getting dull. However the writers manage to take the story to the next level by exploring the overlaps between human intelligence, and these newly created sentient beings. For instance the many of the humans have a belief in their ‘old gods’, but this is trumped by the Cylon’s much stronger faith in their one god. They firmly believe it is their destiny to discover and repopulate earth, instead of the humans.

In one episode the humans are shown to be capable of an ‘inhuman’ level of cruelty to a flesh and blood Cylon. An ongoing theme concerns the humans who fall in love with ‘skin-jobs’ and vice-versa. Each being perceived to have betrayed their community. One case even leads to the birth of a human-cylon hybrid child, over whom both sides contest ‘onwership’.

As you can see, the four series of the show has kept me entertained with rapt attention over the past few weeks. But that is not the theme of this blog post…

For many years I have been aware of – and irritated by – the way American television programs are so prudish. Having been used to hearing swearing on British television since a teenager, it always seemed odd to have hard-hitting US programs limit themselves to the occasional mild obscenity. The notable exception to this rule is the HBO subscription channel, who have produced such wonderful series such as Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Game of Thrones.

So, I was shocked to hear the F word uttered in the very first episode of Battlestar Gallactica. How were the makers of the show allowed to do this on American network channels?

But when I started listening more closely I realised the F word being used wasn’t ‘fuck’, but ‘frak’. Thanks to the hard work of some dedicated viewers it is possible to hear every frack voiced during the show on YouTube.


As you can hear, the word is used in all of its rich and varied contexts and meanings. Needless to say Wikipedia has a whole page on the use of frak and fraking in the series, and difference between the ‘frack’ used in the earlier version of the show.

At first this substitution seemed ridiculous. But after a while it began to seem natural and didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the series. In fact it enhanced the ‘believability’ of the show. After all, people do swear a lot in life and death situations, and the military are famous for their sweariness.

So if you do get the chance to watch this epic series, which according to a friend was a “life-changing” experience, listen out for lots of fraking and try not be offended.

Private Case – Public Scandal – The secret books in the British Library

I find it fascinating how much our attitudes to subjects change over time. In this case the topic is the British Library’s collection of pornography. In the past a few individuals have become somewhat obsessed by the various holdings in our Private Case collection. This seems Private_Case-Public_Scandal-coverstrange to me, in an era permeated by sexual content, from  television shows like Big Brother, to teenagers sexting each other, and virtually unrestricted access to pornography through the internet.

Since first joining The British Library back in 2006, I have heard many myths and legends about the collection of pornographic material. It was, I was confidently assured, the second largest in the world, behind the rather surprising winner, the Vatican Library, and slightly ahead of the Library of Congress in Washington, home of the First Amendment.

As a ‘newbie’ in the library I received this information in good faith, and in the knowledge that the collection was safely locked-away our basements, where I was unlikely ever to stumble across them.

However a chance mention in an article about the National Library of Australia led me to Private Case – Public Scandal by Peter Fryer. Published in 1966, this book claimed to expose the deep dark secrets of what was then known as the British Museum library (home to the famous Round Reading Room).

Naturally my first instinct was to look up this controversial publication on Explore The British Library, and within minutes I had located and ordered it.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Erotic Fiction , but I was surprised by just how dull and turgid these 160 short pages turned out to be. The contents mostly consists of excessively detailed reports of the author’s struggles to unearth the library’s ‘hidden gems’, his numerous letters to those in charge at that time, and many lists of the controversial titles and their provenance.

Perhaps any serious attempt to catalogue the more ‘exciting’ content of The British Library stacks was bound to end up being something of a snooze, but I have to say I was disappointed. However here are some of the highlights I thought worth noting:

Early on Fryer reports that;
“The BM collection of erotica is without doubt the most comprehensive in the world. The Kinsey Collection does not hold a candle to it. The celebrated Enfer Of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris probably runs it a close second; but the alleged riches, in this field, possessed by the Vatican, the Library of Congress, and the Bodleian in Oxford, turn out to be small fry indeed compared with Bloomsbury’s well-stocked private case.”

It seems that the confusion stems from their “courage and honesty” in listing publicly their collections, whereas, up until the 1960’s The British Library had not.

Later on, Fryer recounts an episode relating to a request for a ‘naughty’ book by Iwan Bloch. He is asked to meet with the Superintendent of books who explains that he has to satisfy himself, that Fryer’s purpose  was serious, and that he was unlikely to steal, mark, or mutilate the book.

It was subsequently explained to Fryer, that the intention of this kind of interview is to protect the library’s books from the readers, “which experience has shown to be a necessary part of a librarian’s duty, rather than to protect readers from books, which is not thought to be a librarian’s business in this country.”

Fryer divides up the library’s collection of erotica into several categories including what he terms ‘sexological works’, which include books on “contraception, guides to erotic technique and coital positions, sociological surveys of teenage copulation in Cockfosters and homosexuality in Rutland.” I’m guessing this last part was Fryers attempt at humour.

round_Reading_RoomA section of the book covers the history of the Private Case at the British Library and includes mention of Anthony Panizzi, of one of the key figures in its development. Rather surprisingly Panizzi was not British, but an Italian lawyer and revolutionary democrat, who had been sentenced to death by the government of Modena. He escaped to England in 1823 and joined the British Museum staff, working his way up to Keeper of printed books by 1837. During his tenure Panizzi grew the book collection from 200,000, to over a million by the time of his retirement in 1866. Many of these were catalogued by Panizzi himself., The creation of the famous round reading room was also his idea.

In keeping with his democratic principles Panizzi wanted the library to be open to all students of knowledge.

“He wanted the student to have the same means of indulging his curiosity on any topic, consulting all authorities, and ‘fathoming the most intricate enquiry’, as the richest man in the kingdom. ‘And I contend’, he added, ‘that Government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect.’”

This was quite a change from the views of his predecessor Henry Ellis, who opposed the idea of opening on public holidays because, “I think that the most mischievous part of the population is abroad and about at such a time.” Ellis claimed that if the library was not closed for the Easter holiday period, “the place… would really be unwholesome.”

Fryer managed to track down an article published in the English Review from December 1913, complaining about hidden books in the British Museum. In The Taboos of the British Museum Library, the authors claimed there were three general classes of books liable to be secreted by the library at that time:
1.    Subversive of the throne
2.    Subversive of religion
3.    Of an improper or obscene character

In response to an author who’s latest book had been ‘dissapeared’, the Keeper of books wrote this rather unhelpful reply;
“Dear Sir, – In your letter of the 12th July, referring to books which are not entered in the catalogue, you ask me whether there are any printed instructions issued, and available for public use, by which the public may know of the existence of such books, and to the conditions under which they may be consulted. My reply to your question is that there are no printed instructions relating to such books.”

A_Dictionary_of_ExplosivesTowards the end of the book Fryer covers some of the non-erotica related causes for books in the library being ‘suppressed’. One, is if the publication has resulted in a successful libel case. Others are breach of copyright by the publishers, or serious factual errors in the publication. A more interesting cause was those containing commercial or state secrets. Examples included  the cautiously titled Statement respecting the Prevalence of Certain Immoral Practices in his Majesty’s Navy from 1821, and those containing information on lock-picking and safe-breaking. Also included was the 1895 edition of Lieutenant-Colonel John Ponsonby Cundill’s Dictionary of Explosives.

Fryer makes his views on these restrictions clear on the final page of the book;
“It is high time the museum authorities realized that the un-catalogued books in their care are not their private property, and that their refusal to let people know exactly what they have and have not got is unworthy of a great national library and totally inimical to scholarship.”

Since those repressive days of the 1960’s the library has indeed opened up the catalogue, and these curiosities can be found. But only ordered up from the basement by those who have a serious academic interest.