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Censorship as Reward: Evidence from Pop Culture Censorship in Chile

Jane Esberg

American Political Science Review, 2020, vol. 114, issue 3, 821-836

Abstract: Censorship has traditionally been understood as a way for dictators to silence opposition. By contrast, this article develops and tests the theory that certain forms of censorship—in particular, prohibitions on popular culture—serve not only to limit political information but also to reward dictators’ supporters. Using text analysis of all 8,000 films reviewed for distribution during Chile’s dictatorship, I demonstrate that rather than focusing only on sensitive political topics, censors banned movies containing content considered immoral. Through a combination of qualitative and quantitative evidence, I show that these patterns cannot be explained by masked political content, distributor self-censorship, or censor preferences. Instead, they reflect the regime’s use of censorship as a reward for supporters, particularly conservative Catholic groups. My findings suggest that even repressive measures can be used in part to maintain support for authoritarian regimes.

Date: 2020
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