Couple of years ago, on the summer before my sophomore year, I was taking a creative writing class in Prague, Czech Republic. One night during that crazy month, I and a bunch of my new friends were returning home from a party. Since subway ride at that time of night was often boring, one had to find ways to entertain oneself, and what better entertainment for a guy than trying to impress a girl with pretends rhetoric. After all, there’s nothing wrong with it, just a show my creative spirit (for the lack of any athletic ability). I don’t remember how it all started, but this girl was trying to impress me with some story of how she and a friend of hers are afraid of police officers in subways, since they were always hiding from them through New York subways because they were underage.
In cases like this, it is best to fight fire with fire. “I totally know what you mean. I too am afraid of police officers” or something like that were my words at that time, “I actually have a sort of a phobia. I guess it came from the time I was in prison”. Her pupils dilated, “Oh my God!” her heart started beating faster, she sighed in amazement, as I crushed her story to nothingness. “I was a political prisoner… nay intellectual prisoner…” I pretended as if I had difficult time talking about it, “I wrote some things that apparently turned out to be disliked by the government, and I paid a price for it”. I don’t know whether the humidity or the darkness of the subway made my story more believable, but all ten people that were with me stood there hypnotized. “This is difficult for me to talk… I hope you understand”…
Days after that we would laugh and laugh, but something really stuck with me from that night, as if I was entranced by my own story. What if I really lived in a place, or for that matter a period of time, when one couldn’t write freely? What if I lived in Albania during the 1950’s? What if I lived in the middle ages? What if I lived in Communist China or Soviet Union during the period of socialist realism? How would I write? What would be the consequences for me if I wrote, let’s say, a word that wasn’t allowed? Would I have ended up in a prison colony for political prisoners, spending my days building tunnels or railroads with my force labor buddies? Or maybe I would have been executed by a firing squad?
One of the many reasons why I love US of A is because no matter what I write, I would never experience any of the above examples. Or would I? Does censorship exist in places guaranteeing freedom of speech? Maybe not in a traditional firing-squad-sort-of-way, but I certainly wonder what’s on HBO when it automatically unplugs itself. I wonder what’s that sound replaced by a beep. I wonder what is that word replaced by a euphemism.
There’s not much that you can’t talk or write about in a free-speech society. You can tell a nauseating story of blood and violence, talk against politics, or even make fun of the president. This story of censorship is like that of Bluebeard, you can do anything, go to all of the rooms of the house, but one; the one with a big lock on its door, bearing the inscription: vulgarity.
There is something about “vulgar language” that seems appealing to student audiences. I’d say it is probably the fact that it is not considered appropriate and in this way perfect for rebelling spirit of college students. Nowadays, if you want to catch the interest of young audiences, you must mix your philosophical thoughts with little bit of vulgarity. The only thing I regret is that the punishment might not be as noble as a firing squad. In these instances, when you go down, there’s nothing noble about it, and the punishment is author’s worst nightmare: change of text to fit standards!