Sometimes an apparently small piece of news says a great deal about the world.
The Monty Python movie, the Life of Brian, has been rereleased to celebrate 40 years and reclassified as PG. It would have been a U but there is some ‘mild’ swearing.
So now this classic film is suitable for children.
It was released in 1979 amid a storm of controversy; banned by the BBC and ITV. Some local authorities also banned it, including Torbay.
Here, the ban was not lifted until 2008 when there was a comedy film festival in Torbay and the organisers discovered that the ban was still in force.
Some local authorities who banned it had not seen the film. Even more amazing some of them but did not have any cinemas in their area which could have shown the film.
Blasphemy was taken seriously. When I was a child saying ‘Oh my God’ would have been seen as bad as any swearing; now OMG is standard for many children’s text.
Back in the 1870s Gilbert and Sullivan produced a version of their opera HMS Pinafore for children.
In the show the captain sings the line ‘Damn-me it’s too bad’. It caused great offence to hear children utter such appalling words.
But other shows were fine with some blatant racist comments which have to be changed in modern productions.
Other prejudices have changed over the years.
I am left handed, which has never been a problem, but if I have been born in earlier times to less enlightened parents or in a different culture I might have been forced to use my right hand.
Left handedness was a sign of the devil. We still use words like ‘sinister’ which came from the Latin meaning left.
When I was a student homosexuality was classified as a mental illness although by then it was legal. It always seemed odd to me to both call it a mental illness and make it illegal. There was no suggestion that other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia should be made illegal.
We now know that being gay is not a mental illness or a lifestyle choice. Like being left handed, it is just what someone is.
The two prejudices came together in 19th century Europe when a euphemism for gay people was ‘left-handed’.
The attitude to ‘straight sex’ has also evolved. In the 1930s, during a debate on family planning, a member of the Torquay Medical Society described allowing the ‘lower classes’ to breed was ‘utter folly’.
The family planning pioneer Marie Stopes had no problem with the ‘better classes’ having children. It was just that the ‘inferior classes’ could outnumber the others and weaken the human race if they had too many children.
It was only after the horrors of the Nazi regime when people started to realise where these attitudes led.
Even in the 1960s and 1970s family planning clinics tried to ensure couples receiving contraceptive advice were married. Living together was ‘living in sin’.
When the rubella or German measles vaccination was first released it had to be given to girls after puberty but must not be given to anyone who might be pregnant.
At an international conference an expert scientist suggested that the best time to give it would be when a woman gets engaged to be married.
It is easy to become complacent. Attitudes have become more liberal. We assume we are more enlightened.
But will we still look more enlightened in 50 or 100 years’ time?
While people tear down statues and criticise historical figures for behaviours which we find unacceptable today, will our decedents be equally horrified by some attitudes today which we see as ‘common sense’?
Attitudes to ‘Life of Brian’ have changed dramatically in 40 years. We cannot assume that they will not change again.