Iran is banning Valentine’s Day. Alright pedants, the government isn’t removing February 14th from the calendar, just stopping the production of Valentine cards and generally acting all huffy like a singleton who’s not been invited on a date for years, and given Iran’s current political isolation in the context of world affairs that is an apt analogy. Be fair, the Iranians have a point. This pukemaking annual festival has done more harm to the world by fostering the dangerous myth of “being in love” than Barbara Cartland has by publishing rubbish novels or The Script by releasing their songs about weirdly stalkerish thirty-something males who just REFUSE to be dictated to by a bloody restraining order – see ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’, ‘Nothing’, ‘Talk You Down’… I could go on, but I’ve run out of examples. Also I was reminded recently that, in the Soviet Union, homeopathy and new age religion were banned, so that’s off to the Gulag with YOU Gillian McKeith and Deepak Chopra.
In China, until recently, plastic surgery was outlawed but now free from the shackles of an authoritarian state, people (women, mostly) are queueing up to have their faces rearranged to look more “Western” (i.e. more like Cher, not John Wayne silly). As Slavoj Zizek would no doubt claim, the opposite of strict communist-style authoritarianism, is liberal authoritarianism; this typically involves liberating Islamic women from their head dresses and drawing their attention towards – ooh! – shoes! And make up! And if you have a problem with that you’re a widow-murdering capitalist who hates progress. Meanwhile, possibly in a fit of liberal guilt, Canada has just banished Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ from the airwaves on account of it containing the term “faggot”. I agree with all of the aforementioned prohibitons, and thinking “hey – this totalitarian zeal for banning obvious horrors isn’t so bad”, I decided to find out what other surprising stuff has been banned by such regimes. (I know Canada isn’t a “regime”, but go with it.) It just could be the case that the paranoid ideological zealots get it right sometimes. Let’s have a look…
Recently declared “dead” by pop professor Paul Gambaccini, although it is undoubtedly just pining for the fjords, rock music has been on a highway out of hell since erstwhile rock and roll sexbomb Cliff Richard was defused by Jesus. After that point rock split into, on the one hand, ace, Satanic stuff like The Stones, Joan Jett, heavy metal, AC/DC, Queen, punk rock, Nirvana and Boston. And on the other hand, Jamie “Afro” off X Factor. While Soviet era kids relied on bootlegs for their rock and roll kicks, as anyone who remembers the “RSVP” pen-pal column in Smash Hits will attest, they also developed the most bizarrely eclectic musical tastes on the planet (e.g. “Hi! Sergei from Minsk talking! Also 22 years old and boy! I am of the liking Dave Clark Five, Ultravox, Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, Napalm Death and Nolan Sisters. Write me post unless you are ropeyfaced! Hello!” etc). They may have been patronized by Sting in his song ‘Russians’, but at least they were spared having to listen to it.
Microwave ovens (Soviet Union)
Prohibited after a Swiss chemist called Hans Hertel linked milk and vegetables which had been heated in microwave ovens to – aherm – “the start of the initial stages of a pathological process such as occurs at the start of a cancerous condition”. Although Hertel’s findings weren’t peer reviewed, and the chemist has slipped into obscurity in the intervening years, for a time the familiar “ping” sound to announce the “preparation” of another space age meal was unheard throughout the superpower. That means no useless microwaveable meals for one, no student japery involving putting light-bulbs in a mug of milk to see what happens, and no Hale & Pace sketch involving a cat and a subsequent “storm of protest”. Maybe Hale & Pace should have been banned come to think of it.
Monopoly (Soviet Union)
Monopoly – or a precursor to it called the Landlord’s Game – was invented by a Quaker educationalist called Elizabeth Magie as a warning about the evils of free market capitalism in the 19th century, and what did we do? Adopted the bastard greed game, squabbled over who got to be the dog, overcharged our parents for rent on Park Lane, and fell out after Sunday lunch. The plethora of spin-off editions of this board game now include a Australian Football League edition, a Coronation Street edition and somewhat improbably, the ironically named “Monopoly Revolution” which requires batteries and “plays hits from the last 7 and a half decades each time you pass go”. Understandably the Soviets banned the game, and more recently Fidel Castro ordered that all existing Cuban versions of the game must be destroyed. Possibly having heard ‘The Chosen Few’ by The Dooleys on Monopoly Revolution once too often.
Mickey Mouse (Romania)
Banned in 1935 for being “frightening to kids”. Children’s literature has always been a bit sinister. Once, when I was undergoing the selection process for a place on an English course at a well known university, I announced that one of my favourite books was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, to which the chipper lecturer interviewing me asked “What do you think Charles Dodgson was doing on the boat on that lake with those girls?” From surreal 19th century novels to 1970s kids TV, children have had terrifying, traumatising imagery foisted at them by adults who are probably revelling in the “layers of meaning”. Romania interrupted this trend, giving Mickey, the twee oversized rodent, the well-deserved boot. Sounds a bit harsh? Watch this creepy clip.
Dogs (Beijing, China)
Who in their right mind could take exception to the presence of man’s best friend on our cobbles? Banning the ownership of rottweilers makes sense, no-one wants to be attacked as they go about their business by salivating quadrupeds that look like Wayne Rooney, and yet we allow Paris Hilton to carry chihuahuas around in her Louis Vuitton handbag. Paris’ pet pooches would fare well in Beijing. Once banned from the city’s streets, dogs are now enjoying whatever the doggy equivalent of “dog days” are, with the Chinese capital providing dog swimming pools, dog cinemas and even a bring-your-own-dog nightclub. And if you think I’m going to do an obvious, mysogynistic joke based on that last detail, you are going to leave this article disappointed.