Superman's toughest foe: Swedish censors

Great Krypton! The Swedes have banned "Superman II." The national film censor has ruled that the movie is unsuitable for children under 15.

The decision means the film's distributors, Europa Film, will lose an estimated $600,000 -- because the film will likely fizzle without the under-15 audience.

Not surprisingly, Europa Films has appealed the decision, pointing out that Sweden is the only country in the world to have banned "Superman II" for kids.

But, believe it or not, stranger things have happened here, and Swedes don't just do unto others, they also do unto themselves.

A now-defunct Institute for Children's Films once blacklisted Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Langstrump), the nation's No. 1 children's hero, created by author Astrid Lindgren.

Even though Pippi had been read and enjoyed by generations of Swedes, the institute said her film incarnation was too violent. There were also objections to some allegedly sexist attitudes in the screenplay.

Pippi -- she is the strongest girl in the world, fictionally anyway -- was too strong for the bureaucrats, it seems.

Swedes have a long reputation for banning or wanting to ban things. Helena Sandblad, chief for children's television, once banned Donald Duck on the grounds that he was undermining national traditions. "Soon there won't be any real Swedish culture left," she said.

Ake Gustafsson, a Social Democratic MP, has called for a ban on John Travolta films. "His films are a symbol for a commercialism which mercilessly exploits youth and at the same time campaigns for a life style which I in no way sympathize with," grumbled Gustafsson.

He called for an increase in public spending on youth clubs and sporting activities to combat Travoltaism.

It might strike outsiders as odd that Messrs. Duck and Travolta should arouse such fury while cinemas in the capital are screening such epics as "Sex Holiday in Majorca," and others of similar ilk. But that's just Sweden.

Not only films qualify for what is known locally as forbudsmentalitetm (banning mania).

A few years ago a highly vocal group of MPs managed to outlaw medium-strength beer, arguing such a ban would reduce teenaged drunkenness. Sales of strong beer and spirits duly increased, and teen-agers got drunk much as before.

This year a ban on Saturday sales of liquor was imposed.

Toy guns were banned long ago as liable to lead children down warlike paths foreign to neutral Sweden. Manufacturers got around that ban via a loophole that allowed them to market toy guns of historical interest. It is still "bang, bang, you're dead," albeit with a 17th century dueling pistol.

It is forbidden to let your dog off the leash from March to August. . . .

It is forbidden to throw your newspapers away with your household garbage. . . .

It is forbidden to spank your children. . . .

To do Swedes' credit, most of them let their dogs run free all summer, the newspapers do get chucked out with the breakfast scraps, and children still do get spanked when they deserve it.

But forbudsmentalitetm goes marching on.

Environmentalist Ludvig Rasmussen wants to ban ice hockey, the nation's No. 1 winter sport.

"Hockey is just becoming more and more of a violent burlesque show," he said. "It represents the darker side of the American way of life, violent, chauvinistic, and grossly commercial." But Rasmussen did admit that Swedish hockey "isn't as racist as its American equivalent."

If Superman can't beat that sort of forbudsmentalitet,m we may all be doomed.

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