*** Save the Queen

By Sean Carroll | January 4, 2007 10:23 pm

The QueenA couple of days ago, flying from Washington to LA, I was happy to discover that the in-flight entertainment was actually a decent movie: The Queen, featuring a fantastic performance by Helen Mirren. (Not that Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights, which I managed to see on more than one flight in December, wasn’t a piece of cinematic magic in its own right.)

At one point in the film there was a strange moment of silence, as if the soundtrack had momentarily cut out. Airplane movie technology being what it is, this hardly registered as unusual. But then it happened again, and later on it happened yet again — and every time, when one of the characters was clearly about to say a particular word. The word was “God.”

So, like, anyone know what’s going on here? This is clearly an intentional feature of the “edited for content” version of the film that was being shown by United. I checked with others (same airline, different flights) who confirmed the phenomenon — the word “God” has been censored out of United Airlines’s version of The Queen. As far as I could tell, the word wasn’t being used in any especially problematic context, whatever that might be — basically it was people saying “God only knows” or “for God’s sake” or something equally mild. Someone apparently thought that somebody should be shielded from hearing the word “God,” but I honestly don’t know if it was for fear of having the Lord’s name taken in vain, or dislike for heavy-handed religiosity. Neither one of which would have fit the circumstances at all. (Could Richard Dawkins be succeeding in his nefarious campaign to criminalize all forms of religious speech?)

According to the World Airline Entertainment Association, the edited-for-airlines versions of films are provided by the film distributors themselves. But I couldn’t find anything from Miramax, who distribute The Queen, about this particular phenomenon. I simply refuse to believe that someone is going around deleting the word “God” from movies, for whatever reason, without stirring up enormous resistance (or at least argument) from someone else, for whatever other reason.

Worst of all, the Internets are failing me. I’ve googled around, searching for any chitchat about film distributors expurgating the word “God” from airline movies, only to come up short. Can I really be the only one to have noticed this? I feel lost without the internet to guide me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Entertainment, Religion
  • graviton383

    Sean, amazing story. I can’t comment about the word `God’ (or absence thereof) in the movie but, having seen the `uncut’ version last month in a theatre, I must say that Helen Mirren convinced me she WAS QE2…it was one of the best(if not THE best) of the movies I saw last year & am happy to hear that the airlines (which one??) were willing to show it (i) while it was still playing in theatres and (ii) instead of some drivel. I can’t imagine the motivation for anyone to do this kind of `editing’ to this movie & am anxious to hear from others.

  • http://argotnaut.com/ argotnaut

    I don’t know about airline policy, but I was very surprised to find that South Park was edited for network TV by bleeping the “god” from “goddammit” (instead of the “dammit”)!

  • ikkyikky

    A pop song that recently got a lot of top 40 radio play was censored in a similar way, by blanking the “god” in “goddamn” (if you’re curious, it’s “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” by Panic! at the Disco).

  • http://www.xanga.com/darkveggie John

    That sounds like an absurdly overwrought reaction to the sensitivities of the minority of atheists who are actually allergic to the word ‘god’.
    Also, were you on United Flight 0233? I just took the plane back to Caltech from IAD January 2nd. Small world.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Sean,
    could it just be that Republicans don’t think much
    of the monarchist mantra – “God Save the Queen”
    alas, political ‘correctness’ – where will it take us. lol!

  • http://bigpicture.typepad.com/ Barry Ritholtz

    Old news –

    I used to travel on JetBlue (NY to LA/SanFran) mostly for the entertainment value of their seatback video — but the edited movies were absurd. The last straw was Sideways — the “F$%^&in Merlot” line was ruined for me.

    So I went out and bought a portable DVD player/screen — now I also fly Southwest and American witht he same entertainment.

    The fear of offending someone has ruined Jet Blue’s system for me, and since I now have portable entertainment, I can travel on other Airlines.

    The atheists have no lobby — its the Christian Right behind these ridiculous edits.

    And the folks at Jet Blue should realize that it is costing them sales . . .

  • http://insti.physics.sunysb.edu/~siegel/plan.html Warren

    Have really none of you people ever watched (US) TV?
    “God” is ALWAYS censored.

  • greg

    God dam!

  • anonymous too

    It’s much more likely that this editing was done out of fear of offending religious folks than the reverse, in my opinion. It’s not an atheist maxim “not to take the Lord’s name in vain”, after all.

  • DB

    Isn’t there a Jewish prohibition against naming God?

    This site suggests that it is only the erasing or defacing of God’s name that is prohibited, but ironically, that’s exactly what the censors are doing!

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    I saw The Queen in theaters, and the only mentions of “God” I recall were when people were talking about how she believes she is the monarch because it is God’s will. Still not necessarily understandable from a censorship point of view, but definitely less innocuous than “for God’s sake.”

  • http://www.tristram.squarespace.com Tristram Brelstaff

    I suppose they also cut out the “Bugger”?

  • http://www.allysonbeatrice.com/blog/ Allyson

    Sean, I was on a flight from Dulles to LAX, and noticed the same thing. At first I thought the sound just went out. Then I thought I was nuts.

    Odd.

  • http://www.negativesmart.com/ Candice

    I’ve recently noticed the same thing as commenters #2 and #3. I was wondering for a while if people had begun saying fuckdammit these days…

    It certainly hasn’t always been this way… I moved to the US about 5 years ago, and the greater censorship in this country was immediately apparent to me, but bleeping God is not one of the things I noticed.

  • http://www.negativesmart.com/ Candice

    Actually, I take that back. I did notice God being bleeped — but I hadn’t noticed it until relatively recently being bleeped on cable networks or late night TV.

  • http://argotnaut.com/ argotnaut

    Actually, Warren, no … I rarely watch TV, so I didn’t know about that. :) And I’m sure Barry is correct — believe me, no one caters to atheists.

  • Darrell

    This is just ridiculous. One step forward, and now …. how many steps back will we go?

  • arghous

    We should let the Jimmy Kimmel Unnecessary Censorship guys tackle Jesus Camp.

  • http://andyxl.wordpress.com/ Andy Lawrence

    Seems it not just United that is sensitive these days .. I attempted to post a comment a little earlier, and it was rejected by the spam filter. This can’t be because it contained the word Gee-Oh-Dee, as lots of other comments did .. but maybe because it also contained the word Ess-Eee-Ex ???? If this is true, it must make life really hard for genetics blogs.

    In case it doesn’t come back, my commment was a reference to UK punk icons the *** Pistols. They, of course, had a hit with the single “God Save the Queen”, which got banned by the BBC, and started with the refrain “God save the Queen, a Fascist Regime”

  • Jack

    By the way, what’s this business about referring to the internet in the plural? Is that kewl these days?

  • Yvette

    I flew from Denver to Philadelphia yesterday on US Airways, and the same thing happened. So it’s not just United unfortunately.

  • Ginger Yellow

    My favourite bit of pointless censorship was on the music video of Electric Six’s Gay Bar, when the word “war” was blanked out of the line “Let’s start a war, start a nuclear war”.

  • Stephen

    I saw the movie on United last night from New Orleans to San Francisco, and noticed the same thing. The word “God” was censored about four or five times. It was never used as an expletive, just in phrases like “She believe’s it’s ***’s will” //”Let’s leave *** out of this.” // “*** bless you, ma’am.” // “I took a vow to ***.” The only other word I noticed was missing from the movie was “homosexuals” (or something like that) used with disdain by Prince Phillip when he was listing the type of people who would be at the funeral. The word “bugger” was left in. I can see cutting “homosexuals” since it could be seen as slightly offensive, but the “God” references couldn’t really be construed as offensive to anyone, including atheists/agnostics like me (unless, I suppose, I suppose very conservative Jews might object to the use of a name at all). I honestly don’t believe that any sane atheist would be too upset to learn that a character in a movie had some level of belief in God, but maybe I’m wrong.
    (By the way, I think my flight was a United/US Airways, Singapore Airline code share).

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    I’d recommend to the producers they replace potentially offensive mentionings of higher authorities with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    ps: confusions intended, offenses not. I can see us sitting in an airplane in the year 2030 listening to a conversation like ‘Hey, *** is just a *** with a ***’ – ‘No offense, but why’d you ***** with ***** when *** *** ***’ ******** and ****’ You get the point.

    Btw, anybody every flies air india (great food)? They have different video programs, the one is esp. an ‘Hindi Feature’. Maybe one should try that. How about they provide our in-flight entertainment according to sexual preferences and religious convictions?

  • http://insti.physics.sunysb.edu/~siegel/plan.html Warren

    Here’s the real problem:
    How will they ever make a movie about the Higgs?
    They’ll have to call it the “>BLEEP!< particle”!

  • Pingback: Mystery Solved? | Cosmic Variance

  • Emily

    I noticed this phenomenon today! I don’t even think these were in the context of taking the Lord’s name in vain. At one point, I think QE2 or someone says, “God and country,” which is not taking the name in vain. Either there’s another motive or someone is really lazy on the bleeping.

    I’m so fed up with people being so sensitive that we have to shield everyone from everything that might be considered offensive. It’s the same mentality that lead to all activities being oversafe for fear of lawsuits. It’s sickening.

  • Stephen Barton

    I work for the airlines and this is an unusual situation.

    Could have simply been an error on the part of the editor.

  • Matt Nelson

    I just saw this on a flight last Friday. On my flight out, they had “Gridiron Gang.” I was surprised to hear an f-bomb that was left in the movie. I wrote it off as an erroneous miss by the editors. It was still evident in my mind on my return trip. I then watched “The Queen” with more open ears. I was very surprised at the God omissions. The comparison of the two movies’ editing would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive to me as a Christian.

  • Ray Heitzman

    I had the exact same experience, but twice in one day. On Continental and the connecting flight Delta. God was definitely deleted on both airlines.

    I have alerted 2 radio stations here in Hawaii, what else can we do. This is totally outrageous and unaceptable.

    Aloha,

    Ray Heitzman

  • Stephen Barton

    Since I fly for a major US airline, I originally thought it might have been an unusual editing error, and I have since found out that it was exactly that!

    We, and I think also the other carriers usually edit out the word “God” when connected to a blasphemy like “G-d damn it”, but I heard that an inexperienced editor went overboard and cut out every utterance of “God” to play it safe. I also heard that this overedited version of the film was being replaced as fast as possible with the right one.

  • Adrielle

    Apparently, they made a mistake with ‘The Queen’

    ‘God’ mistakenly bleeped out of in-flight showings of ‘The Queen’

  • Coolasacert
  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    I don’t even bother to watch movies on US flights. I only ever flew Virgin here for years (and they don’t censor any movies to any extent at all) and was bemused to discover, when I flew Continental for the first time (that flight was a codeshare with Virgin), what was done to the films. The only ones worth watching were 50 years old because they didn’t get butchered.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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