When I worked and lived in fundamentalist Muslim Saudi Arabia in the first decade of new millennium, we Western expatriates there found it quaint that Sharpie- and black-tape-wielding government censors somewhere blotted-out all sexually suggestive images in every magazine and newspaper distributed in the kingdom.
We were actually impressed by the sheer enormity of the effort required to sanitize presumably hundreds of thousands of publications (likely more) by blotting out female cleavage or exposed skin, kissing or even subtle romantically suggestive images, even clothing deemed seductive, etc.
It must be an unbelievably tedious and joy-darkening job, we imagined, grateful we didn’t have such oppressive and suppressive censorship in our own countries.
At least I used to think that.
But recently on a Facebook page titled Atheist View, I discovered that at least one religious educational institution in Florida — Pensacola Christian College — does the exact same thing. The Atheist View posting showed one page (and linked to others) of a school textbook, Looking at Paintings, in which all genitalia, exposed rear ends, breasts, etc., were purposefully blacked out. Even the oh-so-chaste mini-cleavage of Michelangelo’s Mona Lisa was obliterated.
This kind of censorship has been going on since the Middle Ages, when, after Michelangelo died, papal authorities hired artist Daniele da Volterra to cover some gentalia in “The Last Judgment” painting with new fig leaves and loin cloths. Da Volterra thus became known as “Il Braghettone,” the breeches maker.
Founded in 1974, Pensacola Christian presents itself as a college whose goal is to “train young men and women in higher education for a life of service to Jesus Christ,” and to “promote the cause of Christ by providing a distinctively Christian-traditional, liberal arts education that develops students spiritually, intellectually, morally, culturally, and socially.”
They do this, in part, by concealing much of what priceless classical art has to offer in helping students more fully comprehend the depth and breadth of human history and achievement.
So, whenever we may think to criticize other nations for their seemingly primitive and cloistered practices, we should pause to consider that things may not be all that much better at home.
I don’t personally know of any other colleges that censor art in textbooks, but I know of a lot that censor text in textbooks — regarding evolution, climate change, the genesis of Earth fauna, etc. — most commonly to make them compliant with Christian scripture.
There are many ways to deceive and distract students from evidence-based actualities and turn them unwittingly toward the divine. How covering up body parts in art books achieves that, I don’t know.
To my mind, it should only beg these two questions in the minds of even mildly curious students: What is being obscured beneath the black censor’s marks? Why, exactly, is it being obscured?
American Taliban, indeed.