Currently, I’m going through a load of old Dirty Feed articles, for preparation for the site’s 10th anniversary in January.1 And this particular piece about the now-dormant Dirty Feed Tumblr caught my eye.
There is no polite way of saying this. The most popular post I ever made on Tumblr was a collection of pulp book covers featuring women about to have sex with dogs.
Now, you may not be particularly keen on my bestiality material. You may prefer my in-depth articles about sitcom edits instead. But it was definitely the most popular post I ever made on Tumblr, by an order of magnitude. I mention over 200 likes/reblogs in that previous piece; it had over 400 before it was removed.
Removed? Ah, yes. Sadly, that post is no longer available, due to Tumblr’s porn ban in December 2018. As soon as that ban was announced, I stopped using the site. I never really clicked with Tumblr anyway; the porn ban was the final straw.
But the fact remains: by far the most thing I ever posted on the site was deleted by Tumblr. That’s a mildly annoying state of affairs, even if I’m not using the site any more, and even if the post did feature an illustration of an Alsatian with a particularly lascivious look on his face.
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OK, fine. If you want an article on sitcom edits, let’s talk about some sitcom edits.2
Back in 2012, I wrote a series of articles on pre-watershed edits made to Red Dwarf on Dave. One recurring motif presented itself: time and time again, some of the funniest moments in an episode were cut.3 Kryten sticking up his finger and saying “Swivel on it, punk!”; “Rimmer Directive 271 states just as clearly: No chance you metal bastard”; “Santa Claus – what a bastard! He’s just a big fat git who sneaks down chimneys and steals all the kid’s favorite toys…”; “No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity”; “Men! They’re all bastards!”; and by the funniest moment in Red Dwarf VIII:
CASSANDRA: I already told you: Rimmer dies of a heart attack, and then you and all the other Canaries die too; all except Lister, Kryten, Kochanski and the Cat. I’ve seen it.
RIMMER: That’s as well as maybe, but have you seen this?
RIMMER flips his middle finger to CASSANDRA, then turns and storms out.
CASSANDRA: Yes, I’m afraid I have.
My analysis of pre-watershed I’m Alan Partridge edits brought up similar points: “Don’t rub your fanny on me!” and “He means his cock!” were gone. And if I ever get round to writing something about pre-watershed Porridge edits on Gold, I’ll be sure to mention that the climax to the episode where Fletch sticks two fingers up to the camera is pixellated, destroying the joke entirely.
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This isn’t really an anti-censorship screed, at least not per se. My point is simply this: when things are deleted from the internet, or cuts are made to programmes, it’s worth remembering that the effect of such things isn’t random. It’s not arbitrary chunks that disappear: it’s the outliers that go. The rudest joke in a sitcom episode; a blog post which takes a left turn into filth. And those outliers are often one of the most popular parts of a piece of work.
And slowly but surely, the corners of things get knocked off. Censorship is often talked about – sometimes correctly, sometimes not – in terms of how dangerous it can be. But often, the enemy is the sheer blandification of pop culture. It’s not that anybody dies. It’s not about suppressing important conversations. It’s about which bits of our culture survive in the popular memory, and which don’t. Which is both very important, and not important at all.
And that leads to one of the joys of owning your own little part of the internet. Away from social media giants changing their policies on a whim, and away from UKTV’s bizarre editing policies, you can quietly sit and document things. And documenting these things shifts the power dynamic back towards the integrity of the text, however slightly, rather than companies just doing things because it’s easier. I find it immensely rewarding.
Especially when – just occasionally – you get to stand up for an author’s original intention, when it never managed to make it to the screen properly in the first place.
Though that’s not as important as dog cock, obviously.