A Passionate Plea for Censorship

Hitler spoke of the Big Lie. He wrote in Mein Kampf that the most effective lies are those so outrageous people can’t believe they’re not true. It’s the old ‘you couldn’t make it up’ shtick used for propaganda purposes.

It was this realisation that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it that enabled Hitler to take over Germany and half of Europe despite having the silliest moustache in history.

Now nobody wants to be Hitler or even discover they have anything in common with the mono-testicular egomaniac, but I think we should all face one simple truth. Wittingly or not, we use the Big Lie technique on our children every day of their lives.

We feed them guff about Father Christmas, trolls, giants and dragons and seldom consider what effect such guff might have on their unformed, perfectly malleable minds.

Many of the stories have been handed down from generation to generation and are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years old.
Such stories delight our children. They stir their imaginations and make the world seem a happier, more magical place than it really is. Some, like the stories of Brer Rabbit or Aesops fables come with a moral attached which we hope will make our kids better citizens.

Now I’m no believer in censorship, but there is one story which I believe should be banned. One the surface it is a harmless enough tale with no violence and not so much as a hint of s-e-x. But when you examine it, it reveals itself as the most insidious, subversive piece of literature ever devised.

The story of The Hare and the Tortoise is a millennia old tale first told by a slave called Aesop in ancient Greece. Anyone reading this piece will almost certainly be very well acquainted with the story, but for those who aren’t, here’s a brief summary.

There’s this hare who thinks he’d God’s gift and is something of a bully. He starts picking on a tortoise, mocking him for his slowness. So what does the tortoise do? He challenges the hare to a race.

Come the day of the race, the hare has the tortoise eating his dust. By the time the finishing line is in sight, the tortoise is nowhere to be seen, so the hare decides to have a nap (as you would) before snatching his pathetic victory.

When he wakes up, however, he discovers the tortoise has beaten him.
And the moral of this heart warming tale?

Slow but sure wins the race.

How profound that sounds to a young mind. It is a lesson that sticks. All through our lives we unquestioningly repeat that mantra as if it were holy writ.

And yet, if you think about it – really, really think about it – it’s not true. The clue, dear friends, is in that last word: race.
I can do slow but sure as well as the next man. In fact, I have slow down to a fine art – just ask my boss.

If slow but sure really does win races, I would by now have a shed full of gold medals.

Why do we believe this nonsense? Why do we never question something so obviously wrong?

Let’s go back to the story and see if it makes the slightest sense.
So there’s this tortoise and he challenges a hare to a race. As if! I think it’s a safe bet to say that never in the history of hare-tortoise relations has such a challenge been made. I mean, what would be the point? If ever there was a foregone conclusion, there it is – right there.

A tortoise challenging a hare to a race is like Woody Allen calling out Mike Tyson.

OK. We can allow a bit of artistic licence. It is after all only a story.

So this tortoise bets this hare he can kick his butt when it comes to running. I’ll go along with that, but that’s it. If this was my story, I would have the hare laugh in the tortoise’s face and suggest they arm wrestle instead.

The moral of my version of the story would be: Don’t be silly. End of. Now go to sleep children and try not to have nightmares.
Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?

But Mr. Aesop has other ideas. He has a point he wishes to make and he doesn’t care how contrived a story he tells so long as he gets to make it.

This guy is determined to milk his artistic licence for all its worth. So we have this hare and this tortoise racing against each other. The hare, as we would expect, is soon a dot on the horizon. Up ahead, the finishing line beckons. The most one sided contest in history is about to reach its totally unspectacular conclusion.

But wait! Mr. Aesop has a twist up his sleeve. Never mind that it’s blatantly contrived and about as unlikely as Sarah Palin reading without moving her lips. So what? This is a kiddy’s story and as Roald Dahl once said, ‘The beauty of writing for children is that you can churn out any old drivel and the little buggers will lap it up.’

So we have this hare with victory in sight. And what does he do? He goes and has a nap.

Because that’s what sportsmen do, isn’t it? How many times did we see Mohammed Ali beat clearly superior boxers because the opposition suddenly decided to take a nap halfway through Round 7?

I’m obviously too young to remember the 1966 World Cup Final, but
I’m assured that England won only because the West Germans took an unscheduled siesta.

Oh and the Confederates were winning the battle of Gettysburg right up to the moment General Lee decided to lie down for a few minutes.
The Hare and the Tortoise is Hitler’s Big Lie writ large.

Even if the story was plausible – which it ain’t – is it sensible to draw from it the conclusion that slow but sure wins the race? I mean, if you saw that on television, is that really what you would be thinking?

Or would you conclude, as I do, that the moral of this very silly story is that if you want to win a race, you really shouldn’t go and have a kip part way through it?

Listen. If you want to tell your children a tale with a moral, tell them about how a tortoise outran a hare by taking steroids and doping the hare. You might be teaching them an ugly truth but isn’t that so much better than an ugly lie?

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About Patrick Whittaker

I'm a writer and director of the occasional short film. Although a Londoner, I'm based in Blackpool on the north east coast of England.

Posted on December 2, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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