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A Quiz for Censors

Copyright © 1997, 2000 by David E. Ross

(Inspired by the current uproar over TV ratings and the Supreme Court's decision on the Communications Decency Act)

When someone judges whether the general public may read a particular book, see a play, watch a TV show, hear a speech, examine a photograph, or browse a Web page, we the public should first be allowed to judge the fitness and ability of the censor.

This is a essay quiz. Spelling and grammar count. Answer the first three questions in 250 words or less. If you answer the "Extra Credit" question, use 500 word or less. The final question has no word limit.

  1. Have you experienced the entire work you are judging?

    If the answer is "yes" go on to the next question.

    If the answer is "no", then explain how you can judge a book, movie, play, TV show, speech, photograph, or Web page about which you know little or nothing. If you rely on someone else who did experience this work, then you are dismissed. We must quiz the actual censor. However, you are also dismissed from the role of censor; we cannot allow someone who is ignorant of a work to judge its suitability for the rest of us.

  2. Were you corrupted by this work?

    If the answer is "no", then explain how you escaped corruption and then determined that we, your fellow citizens, would be corrupted by this work. Include a statement regarding how — in a democratic society — you are superior to the rest of us; that is, explain why you believe we are weaker than you.

    If the answer is "yes", then explain how a corrupted individual such as you remains fit to judge what literature, philosophy, entertainment, or politics are suitable for the rest of us.

  3. What qualifies you to experience this work and judge whether the rest of us can experience it too?

    Explain the basis of your privilege with respect to this work. Describe the necessary characteristics you need in order to judge for others and why we cannot judge this same work for ourselves. Do not use any argument that asserts that we adults must be treated as defenseless or naïve children without providing proof of your moral, intellectual, and political superiority over the average adult.

Extra Credit

Take the statement: "Our primary goal is to protect children from …", and choose one or more of the following items to complete the statement:

dangerous philosophy
sexist bigotry
un-American politics

Defend the completed statement. Include support for at least four of the following:

Final Question

Defend the following statement; give supporting examples:

The government in general and elected politicians in particular have consistently demonstrated a special ability to determine what entertainment, literature, and artistic expressions are appropriate for public enjoyment.

3 July 1997
Updated 9 January 2000

The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.

U. S. Supreme Court decision #96-511,
Reno vs ACLU, 26 June 1997

7 December 2000

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