The Joy of Censorship: A Fiery Defense of the First Amendment

Joe Raiola

[Night of Vonnegut is only one week from today. To whet your appetites for this great evening, we have a post from guest blogger, Cindy Dashnaw. Cindy recently caught up with Joe Raiola, who will be making an appearance at Night of Vonnegut to perform his show.]

The good news and the bad news: Joe Raiola isn’t likely to run out of material for his one-man show, The Joy of Censorship, any time soon.

With the release of the documentary Bully and its R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, Raiola has a new topic on which to unleash his ability to find humor in the absurd.

“The idea that they’ve given Bully an R rating, which will prevent the very people who need to see it from seeing it, because of a few words displays just how vulgar these people are. It’s a vulgar morality they have,” Raiola said recently, in typical no-holds-barred fashion. “These same people will take some slasher movie like Lord of the Rings, with all the death and destruction and truly gross stuff in that movie, and give it the same rating? It’s crazy. It’s just like the comic book censorship of the 1950s.”

[Editor’s note: On April 5, Bully was given a new rating of PG-13.]

Raiola was referring to what happened to EC Comics, whose editor, Bill Gaines, founded the source of Raiola’s full-time paycheck, the satirical Mad Magazine. Gaines had led the shift toward mature-audience comics, and according to the investigation, comic books were intended for children. In light of the misguided scrutiny, Gaines had suggested the creation of the Comics Magazine Association of America, a self-policing organization he later opposed. Gaines became the poster child for the “amoral publisher,” and EC Comics eventually was driven out of business.

The CMAA “just didn’t work,” Raiola said. “It was self-censorship, just like the MPAA is, based on fear of the government.”

Fear is, in fact, the root of all censorship, he says.

“Censorship is always about fear. People want to protect us from what frightens them, or censorship allows them to retain power in some way over others. That’s always been true. There have always been uptight censors – mostly from the right but some from the left, as well – and there always will be. I’d like to say we’ve evolved, but I don’t think we have.”

So how can he find such a topic funny?

“Because there’s great humor in it! When I started doing this, one of the big stories was that Where’s Waldo was banned at libraries because of a tiny topless character in one of the drawings. That is how you make censorship funny,” Raiola said. “If someone is actually saying that Moby Dick should be pulled off the library because it does not conform to community standards, that’s funny. Pointing out the absurdities of it is tremendous fun, and much better than giving some serious, erudite talk on censorship.”

Raiola will present his acclaimed one-man show, The Joy of Censorship, for the first time in Indianapolis at Night of Vonnegut at the Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan Street, Indianapolis. The event is hosted by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He called Vonnegut the first author he ever loved.

“Reading his books changed my life. I discovered his books in college and they had a tremendous impact on how I saw the world, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five especially. He was a secular humanist, and he taught me what that meant. To paraphrase him: It means to be inspired to do good things and treat people well, for no promise of reward in this life or the next. He was a great champion of the human spirit.

“For me, this is an absolute honor to be participating in this celebration.”

Joe Raiola has been senior editor at Mad magazine for 28 years and has produced the annual John Lennon Tribute in New York City for 30 years. He has performed The Joy of Censorship in 41 states (43 by the end of 2012) and is bringing it to Indianapolis for the first time. http://joeraiola.com/

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