Apparently, it’s not what you think it is. “It,” that’s censorship. And people seem to have cultivated a most curious interpretation, so let’s repeat the basics:
Guaranteeing the freedom of speech, the freedom of the written word and freedom of images, and the unhindered access to and dissemination of information are the key elements that define german law on censorship (GG, §5). Guaranteeing the freedom of the arts and scholarship and research are fundamentals as well. That means that germany, as a national entity, as a government, as a constitutional state, as a society, entitles you to say and write and watch and learn whatever is publicly accessible to you and whatever the hell you want to put out there (within constitutional limits).
You know what you’re not entitled to, however? Saying and writing and watching and learning and publishing whatever you want without someone commenting on it or criticizing your choices or without the possibility of potential consequences if you produce discriminatory and/or insulting crap, for example. Criticism is not censorship. Potential consequences resulting from criticism are not censorship (they are consequences resulting from criticism).
Let’s take Christian Ulmen’s already infamous “Who wants to fuck my girlfriend?” clusterfuck of a proposed TV show as an example: both its title and concept have been heavily criticized as sexist and misogynistic, as a poor attempt at satire that might aim at subversion in a society steeped in rape culture (Sasha Baron Cohen’s movies and their reception seem to not have taught some people anything) but actually only works because it relies on rape culture for entertainment purposes, and “exposing” rape culture is neither the central aim nor a possibility within such a framework of late-night “entertainment.” The fact that certain people respond to a “satire” like that is precisely because of their internalization or even conscious normalization of rape culture (otherwise, the premise of pimping out your girlfriend to earn credit or the premise that this is something that women would actually want wouldn’t work and wouldn’t be mainstream-recognizable) is something Ulmen and his producers are just rolling with; they are actually enjoying feminist criticism and ridiculing it for their idea of subversive anti-sexism. How fun!
So – yes, it’s Tele 5, and who watches that channel anyway? Yes, maybe the show will be quite funny for a very specific group of people (see whom in the paragraph above)? So what? It’s still misogynistic bullshit, and – thanks to GG §5 – I am entitled to say so. Ulmen and other people’s entitlement to create and produce a show like this one is not similar to an absolute right of broadcasting it, come hell or high water – some people might have gotten that wrong. Angela Merkel issuing an executive order to stop the show because she doesn’t like the title or Ulmen – that would be quite understandable but it would also be censorship. Tele5 being served with an injunction against any broadcast activity – that would probably be for the best but it would also be censorship. Christian Ulmen being physically prevented from entering the studio or threatened because some people don’t like his hair – that would be censorship (…and really, his hair? Who cares?).
But here’s the crucial distinction: criticizing this TV format and its creators and asking for the show to not run because of its sexist content – that is criticism and social activism (open to all, by the way, in a variety of means and directions). Lobbying against sexism and misogyny in entertainment – that is criticism and social activism. Urging companies to not run ad campaigns to sponsor shows like Ulmen’s, that is criticism and social activism. And if the show should never run, that would be said criticism’s and social activism’s outcome, not censorship. That would be the result of a political process, not censorship. That would be a success of democratic campaigning, not censorship. You are entitled to hold your own opinion. But you are not entitled to not face criticism because of it or to not be ridiculed or called an asshole. That, by the way, also holds true for people who think that substituting “Black person” for “N*” is “censoring” children’s books (because, naturally, racist slurs in children’s literature hold historical value that has to be conveyed with every bed time story because said value is more important than, you know, actually being a halfway decent human being).
So, repeat after me: Criticizing sexist shows is not censorship, it’s criticism. Criticizing Blackface is not censorship, it’s criticism. Criticizing the use of racist slurs is not censorship, it’s criticism (and basic human decency). Laws against censorship exist to protect people and political positions from governmental interference and to prevent the oppression of marginalized points of view from political, economic, cultural and social hegemonic power structures. Criticizing hegemonic conversations about marginalized people is not censorship – it is exercising the right to fight against oppression. Criticizing sexism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, racism in its daily and special appearances is not censorship, it is the attempt to re-claim at least a small part of forcefully occupied spaces.
Censorship is not what you think it is. I’m not censoring you, I’m contradicting you. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt if you’d shut the fuck up once in a while.
[Update:] Another post on censorship (in german), over at Metalust & Subdiskurse Reloaded: “Mal kurz was zu Zensur.”