Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity


Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: Published: February 2013

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Sociology > Social Theory

In the world of globalized media, provocative images trigger culture wars between traditionalists and cosmopolitans, between censors and defenders of free expression. But are images censored because of what they mean, what they do, or what they might become? And must audiences be protected because of what they understand, what they feel, or what they might imagine?

At the intersection of anthropology, media studies, and critical theory, Censorium is a pathbreaking analysis of Indian film censorship. The book encompasses two moments of moral panic: the consolidation of the cinema in the 1910s and 1920s, and the global avalanche of images unleashed by liberalization since the early 1990s. Exploring breaks and continuities in film censorship across colonial and postcolonial moments, William Mazzarella argues that the censors' obsessive focus on the unacceptable content of certain images and the unruly behavior of particular audiences displaces a problem that they constantly confront yet cannot directly acknowledge: the volatile relation between mass affect and collective meaning. Grounded in a close analysis of cinema regulation in the world's largest democracy, Censorium ultimately brings light to the elusive foundations of political and cultural sovereignty in mass-mediated societies.


“This book is eminently readable and the arguments are easily accessible…. [S]o much of the density of the theoretical arguments that it resorts to are softened through such tender and accessible language that doesn’t for a moment appear to moralize or sermonize even when the author is forced to take up sensitive issues of culture, class, gender and morality…. Censorium is at once a documentary on censorship and a theoretical space for hair-splitting analyses.” — Usha V.T., The Hindu

"This book, which lies at the intersection of anthropology and meida studies, is a path-breaking analysis of censorship in the Indian film industry." — Rohit K. Dasgupta, Asian Affairs

"The volatile tug of war between the phenomenon of mass publicity and the fear, which often defines the censor board, provides for Mazzarella the founding predicament of mass publicity that characterises modernity itself." — Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Economic and Political Weekly

"Mazzarella’s work is theoretically ambitious and suggestive." — Monika Mehta, American Anthropologist

"Mazzarella insightfully employs ideas deriving from psychoanalysis to account for contradictions and ambivalence in the stand of elites in a diverse society like ours, which is widely understood to be perpetually caught between tradition and modernity." — Ganeshdatta Poddar, Pacific Affairs

"The book’s stage is cinema, but it helps us understand how dominant caste groups have been so effective in mobilising support for informal bans such as on writer Perumal Murugan’s Mathorubagan, till the courts’ defence of the writer’s right to write. Mazzarella’s exploration of India’s engagement with censorship begins during British rule, and shows how restrictions on free speech got enshrined in the Constitution. The legal framework of censorship is still a work in progress. . . . To defend the indefensible, to be a little more tolerant and a little indulgent — for me those are the unstated takeaways from this important book." — Anuradha Raman, The Hindu

"As a system of regulation behind mass publicity, censorship stands at a scholarly impasse, often arbitrary in its exercise and yet seemingly consensual in its popular outcomes. William Mazzarella fills major lacunae in the existing literature on censorship by his incisive analysis of the cultural forms of censorship across colonial and postcolonial periods. This is an important addition to the anthropology of media and globalization in South Asia." — Arvind Rajagopal, author of Politics after Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India

"In Censorium, William Mazzarella demonstrates that censorship is integral to the performance of sovereignty and the constitution of 'mass-publics' in socially diverse and mass-mediated societies. His incisive and immensely suggestive book is destined to become a standard reference in film studies, media studies, and the anthropology of the state." — Thomas Blom Hansen, author of Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

William Mazzarella is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India, also published by Duke University Press, and coeditor (with Raminder Kaur) of Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation From Sedition to Seduction.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction. The Censor's Fist 1

1. Performative Dispensations: The Elementary Forms of Mass Publicity 29

2. Who the Hell Do the Censors Think They Are? Grounds of the Censor's Judgment 76

3. We Are the Law! Censorship Takes to the Streets 115

4. Quotidian Eruptions: Aesthetic Distinction and the Extimate Squirm 156

5. Obscene Tendencies: Censorship and the Public Punctum 190

Notes 223

Bibliography 257

Index 275
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Maldives & S. Asia, incl. Myanmar

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5388-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5374-4
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