Posted by: manafanana | March 31, 2009

Goddamn R****ts! Excuse my French.

parental-advisory-explicit-lyricsHere’s a little mystery I stumbled across yesterday when looking up a BBC New podcast—apparently iTunes sensors the word “rapist” in their album, podcast, movie, etc. descriptions, along with a few other strange ones like “murder.”

I tried looking into this phenomenon to read some other opinions on it, but came up empty-handed except for a few random message board posts reading something like: “Why is rapist censored in the Law and Order episode descriptions?”

The word is censored with asterisks (i.e., r****t), and it took me a minute to figure out what word they were censoring. My feeling is that this is a really bad idea. Besides being generally opposed to most censorship, this seems like it could have more adverse effects than positive. On the one hand, it’s a nice sentiment to consider rape a true “four-letter word”—something that is vulgar and intolerable. But I feel like censoring the word rapist is affording some kind protection to rapists. I know that sounds really melodramatic, but I’m not sure how else to say it.

Considering that silence about rape in the public discourse, stigmatization of rape, and shaming rape survivors all play into the guilt and emotional trauma that often make it difficult for survivors to report the crime, seek medical help or heal emotionally, more silence and stigma does not seem very helpful. Instead of sending the message that “rape is unacceptable,” I think this censorship might be easily misinterpreted as meaning “talking about rape is unacceptable” or “calling a rapist a ‘rapist’ is unacceptable.” Not to mention that I wonder where they draw the line. Would they censor “terrorist,” “Hitler,” “violence,” “sex”? If not, why only “rape” and “murder”?

I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but I personally hope it doesn’t become a trend.

Thoughts on this?



  1. I just linked to this in a post at the CA NOW blog:

    I see this as on a continuum with the inability to refer to rape as rape (rather than “sex”) in the media that Cara just wrote about at The Curvature.

  2. I’ve heard some radio stations censor “rape” from the song “what would you do.” the implication is that rape is something too naughty to TALK about it, not necessarily too naughty to perform.

  3. iTunes censors quite a few words, although it does not always seem to make sense. For instance, “rape” is not censored, while “rapist” is. The phrase “summa cum laude” is censored, even though it does not have any negative connotations. Also, many songs are available in both clean and explicit formats. It seems to me that their caution comes from the fact that many underage people use the service, although there is really no way to prevent children from downloading questionable content.

  4. I’m here via Feministing; I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before, but I had to this time because this is just so weird… I’ve seen things like this a few times before — the censorship of a word that has in itself never traditionally been considered profane, but designates something that has. I’ve noticed that the comment section on the Daily Show website stars out “penis” and “vagina” and that kind of thing. And just yesterday I read a comment on a YouTube video where the author self-censored the word “prostitute,” and there was that whole thing a couple of years ago about the children’s book that won the Newbery Medal having “scrotum” on the first page. So “rapist” doesn’t really surprise me at this point (although “murder” does a little). But it does reinforce a social danger to women’s sexual safety, even more so than “vagina” or “prostitute,” which just reflect the same old discomfort with women’s sexuality.

    It’s pretty obvious that people are just trying to be delicate — “oh, dear me, well, that’s not a very nice idea, is it? Let’s just see if there’s anything we can do to make that a little less shocking…” When a concept, especially a sexual one, is stigmatized enough, then even the most inoffensive language used to name that concept can be just as much of a jolt when you’re not expecting it as can honest-to-God profanity. I think it would probably tell us a lot if in looking at instances of words like “rape” being censored, we also considered all the times TV Guide, or whoever, chooses to craft some kind of elaborate euphemism rather than use the word at all — “The detectives struggle to identify the man who took the virginity of a young girl against her will,” or something similar, just to blunt the shock of summing up the crime of rape in a single, even censored, word. That’s nothing new. I don’t think the idea is that the word itself is obscene; it’s that gee, it’s a shame that we have to use that word at all, and isn’t it more tactful to sort of ease people into the idea?

    Well, yes, it is a shame, and yes, it probably is more tactful, but if we feel obligated to protect people from even thinking about the act of rape without training wheels, then what are we hoping to accomplish in discussing it at all? It’s not an easy issue. Watering it down or sanitizing it constitutes a misrepresentation. This is true of murder as well, and of any number of other things, but with rape, as we all know, there’s already so much difficulty in naming it for what it is and making people understand that it’s neither a little thing that happens in college and is shrugged off in time for marriage and kids nor the One Sacred Crime that must be talked about in hushed voices and only happens to damsels in romance novels. False impressions like those already have such a hold over the discussion and are so hard to dispel that the danger posed by validating this kind of well-meaning, watered-down, sanitized misrepresentation is hugely magnified. We can’t afford to give points for trying. Maintaining a polite taboo around the issue of rape does protect rapists and endanger the victims. It tells them we’d rather ignore the problem than upset anybody by being too direct about it.

    Thanks for this post, it’s an issue that’s been nagging at me lately and it was good to see it hashed out a little.

  5. I agree with you sensoring the word rapist does seem to be proctecting said rapists. Its crap. Love you blog!


  6. If we as a society ever intend to confront sexual assault, domestic violence, etc, then it is helpful that censorship remain out of the mix.

    Society self-censored such that when Grace Metalious wrote Peyton Place over 50 years ago, her work was the first bestseller to actively show that there were things like rape and incest and domestic violence lurking in what people liked to pretend were happy homes.

    If we hide it, we also hide that it happens, cover up the fact that misogyny lurks. I rather see these things where we can deal with them.

  7. I believe ignoring the word rape is unproductive to rape survivors. How will rape victims heal if the censors believe the word rape is an unacceptable or dirty word? How is it horrible to censor the word rape? WRONG WRONG WRONG!

  8. This reminds me of last year at the MTV awards, where they bleeped out the words menstrual and venereal durring Little Johns performence

  9. Well, FWIW; my experience. I’m 53 now but still remember this; I was reading the newspaper at about age 5 (I was reading early) and asked my mom what “rape” meant (from a front page story about a girl a little older than me). She turned pale and went in the other room. I followed and asked again; she told me I didn’t need to know.

    I’ve often wondered what in her past life triggered that reaction. I looked it up in the dictionary and didn’t really understand the definition; it wasn’t until some time later that I really got it and was horrified.

    Censoring? I don’t know. A lot of kids do like youtube, but like any other internet place, they should only go accompanied by parents. Although — my mom thought the newspaper was safe enough. I think she thought I’d stick with the comics and ignore the news.

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