I’ve taught one of the funniest classes ever, and I can’t really take credit for it being funny. All the laughs came from that well known stand up comedian Socrates, brought to you by Plato’s chef d’oevre The Republic. Now, you wouldn’t think that one of the cornerstones of Western philosophy is also outrageously funny, but my student and I were consumed with fits of giggling after discussing this masterful work of political thought.
Of course, it was not intentionally funny… At first, Socrates talks about his plan for designing the perfect city, to be ruled over by a Philosopher King, who would basically be a tyrant. Such tyranny, however, is justified because the philosopher obviously knows what’s best for the people. Among other things, he would ensure their moral soundness by censoring Homer’s poetry and other works that portray gods and heroes in a “negative” light. He is expecially concerned that heroes should not be depicted as weak and unmanly:
Then we shall be right in getting rid of the lamentations of famous men, and making them over to women (and not even to women who are good for anything), or to men of a baser sort, that those who are being educated by us to be the defenders of their country may scorn to do the like.
More specifically, he points out Achilles’ mourning of Patroclus as an outrageous example of unmanly behaviour:
Then we will once more entreat Homer and the other poets not to depict Achilles, who is the son of a goddess, first lying on his side, then on his back, and then on his face… now taking the sooty ashes in both his hands and pouring them over his head, or weeping and wailing in the various modes which Homer has delineated. Nor should he describe Priam the kinsman of the gods as praying and beseeching, rolling in the dirt, calling each man loudly by his name.
Very strange indeed… In our times, we censor things that are either too violent or too sexual, whereas in Plato’s times people were more interested in censoring out strong expressions of emotion because they were considered unmanly! One can only conclude that Socrates’ ideal man would somewhat resemble a screen persona portrayed by Clint Eastwood. Whether he has just seen his best friend killed or his favorite ice cream flavour sold out, the only hint we would get of inner turmoil would be a powerful glare of those piercing blue eyes.
Yes, it was funny to think of censorship being used in that way, but on second thought, maybe Socrates was on to something. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had a Philosopher King who would censor out huge chunks of Jersey Shore? I had to suffer through a few episodes of this travesty because my former roommate was a fan, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that show is unmanly. Whether you use Socrates’ definition or a more contemporary one, of a man being someone strong, dependable, and not petty, it is clear that the men of Jersey Shore fall short of the mark. As far as I could tell, they are usually busy gossiping, cowering away from their problems, and when they’re not busy with drink and debauchery, judging others who engage in drink and debauchery. All of this should be censored out, leaving only the parts when the characters are either asleep or interacting respectfully with their Italian elders. And then the show would probably lose some of its appeal and people would stop watching it. So maybe censorship can be a force for good! What do you think, readers? Have you ever wanted to censor a movie, TV show, book, or anything else?