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Censor Decoy
On the left was what they couldn't show on TV. On the right was their "Backup Plan."

"We purposely left in stuff that you don't even want in the scene. Because you have to give them something to cut so they feel like they've pissed on it, somewhat. So we left the sex scene, just... basically, we put in every second of footage we could. A four minute sex scene, it's just ridiculous. It is not the way it should have been cut, you know, it was bad, it was not even good for the movie, and we ended up shooting, like, extra shots, that we didn't even want to put in there, that we just put in there. You push the line way back so maybe they only cut to here...."

Censors generally feel an obligation to do their job. When they see something that they know they should be screening for indecent content, they're liable to toss something out, just so that everyone knows they're on the lookout. An overly permissive censor board would sort of defeat the whole purpose. Anything that's the least bit edgy need to be shaved down at least a little.

Some wily filmmakers realize this and make a simple deduction. If we assume that the censors are going to cut out X amount of scenes no matter what's in the product, then the censors can be distracted by Crossing the Line Twice, heck, maybe three times. Because that Double Entendre about pencils looks pretty darn innocent compared to a ten-minute action-sequence involving a demon made of crap.

That's how the Censor Decoy should work in theory — it's something so offensive that it's the only thing the censors are supposed to pay attention to. If the gamble succeeds, we have to take the word of the creators that this is actually going on. The entire point of the decoy is so that we never have to see it.

Of course, sometimes the censors somehow inexplicably miss a gag which is quite clearly about masturbation and, well, guys? It's going in the final product. Other times, they catch both the decoy and the naughty bits it was supposed to conceal, resulting in business as usual. (Well, at least the creators made them work a little harder.)

A form of Getting Crap Past the Radar (especially if the over-the-top scene is chosen over the toned-down scene, or if the writers often use the Censor Decoy to get whatever they want past the censors and the censors keep falling for it).

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • An unintentional version of this occurred early in the comic strip Baby Blues. The creators had thought of a joke in which dad Daryl asks for milk in his coffee and mom Wanda provides it (offscreen) by squirting her breast milk directly into the cup, accompanied with a shout of "Bullseye!", prompting Daryl to remark he was really going to miss it when she stopped breastfeeding. The comic's creators knew this wouldn't be allowed, but sent it to their editor anyway to give her a laugh. What they didn't realize until it was too late was that their editor wasn't in the office that week and her substitute merely waved the strip on through.
    • Rather predictably, it's one of the most popular strips from the comic.
  • Garfield had this happen unintentionally as well. Jim Davis submitted a strip where Garfield takes catnip and wakes up the next morning in Atlantic City with a Barbie doll and his editor approved it.
  • Dilbert creator Scott Adams once submitted a strip featuring a cop firing his gun at some suspects. It didn't pass muster. So he submitted a new version where the panel of the gun actually firing just contained the text "BANG BANG BANG". Still too violent, as the strip still showed a cop holding a gun. So as a joke he did a version that was the same as the first one except the cop fired actual bullets from a donut. He did this to point out that it was the firing, not the gun itself that was violent, and that therefore the second one should be acceptable. Joke's on him, it was published donut and all.
    • An in universe example had Wally intentionally turn in a document in the wrong font. The idea being that the boss always finds something stupid to change, so he made something that was obvious but easy to change.
  • Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows website basically only shows the strips that were deemed unfit to print (and thus are unavailable for sale) many of which push this trope (and a few even Lamp Shade it by Cho's Author Avatar showing up in the last panel and lamenting that his editor will never let this get published.)
  • Don Rosa filled his comics with tiny Hidden Mickeys and other extra things like that to distract the censors from cutting D.U.C.K.s and actual plot points.
  • Foxtrot in-universe example: Jason and Marcus ask for money to rent "Big Slashing Mommas with Chainsaw Daughters", which is shot down immediately. Jason then says they'll just rent Scarface, which works.

    Film 
  • In the film Citizen Kane, Orson Welles originally had his "There Is A Man" musical sequence take place inside a whorehouse, but it was cut due to The Hays Code's rules against anything remotely sexual in film. He was hoping that it would distract from the many disparaging references to William Randolph Hearst.
  • In Casino, the infamous "head in a vice" scene was added to draw the censor's attention away from the record breaking use of profanity and the other scenes of violence. Apparently, this didn't work, as both the vice scene and the other questionable scenes were left intact.
    • Scorcese tried a similar tactic in The Wolf of Wall Street. This time, only an hour's worth of footage got the ax, though that may have been because of time constraints, not content.
  • In Animal House, the writers figured that the ratings board would object to implying sex with a 17-year-old, so they did the scene with her claiming to be 13, expecting to have to go back and "correct" the scene. They were surprised when the scene was not considered objectionable.
  • The 1954 biopic Deep In My Heart includes a pas de deux between Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell, set to the song "One Alone", that is obviously a sex scene (it features extremely suggestive partnering moves and concludes with the man in a state of postcoital exhaustion). Charisse, Mitchell, and director Stanley Donen all later admitted to being shocked that the censors failed to realize what was happening; Charisse speculated that they were all too hung up on the high cut of her skirt to notice the actual steps.
  • It's how Mae West's bawdy one-liners got past The Hays Code in the first place.
  • Trey Parker and Matt Stone have said that their original cut of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was rated NC-17, then they retooled it by taking out the "offensive" stuff and putting in things that "were five times worse". The new cut was rated R. Here is a memo written by Matt Stone detailing what he thinks should replace the scenes the Censor Board noted as too far.
  • Another Trey Parker and Matt Stone example: they included explicit puppet sex in Team America: World Police as a more traditional attempt at this. It worked perfectly - the original cut got the NC-17 for just this scene. With the alterations, they resubmitted it for an R. As a bonus, the "uncut" version gained more notoriety than it ever would have otherwise. Parker and Stone confirmed that this was a deliberate Censor Decoy on-camera in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated . The final version was less than half of the originally filmed sex scene. Reportedly, the original was so filthy that some of the puppeteers refused to show up for work that day.
  • In Spain, during Franco's oppresive fascist regime, one trick that filmmakers used to get crap past the radar is they would write the script they wanted to make, then submit a different script for approval, knowing it would get marked for change. When they submitted the original script, the censors would see that everything marked for change had been and approve the script, letting the filmmakers do almost whatever they wanted.
  • When famous Soviet comedy director Leonid Gaidai presented his new film, The Diamond Arm, to the censors, he added a nuclear explosion footage into the epilogue - and argued furiously to keep it. This allowed him to sneak in some "controversial" (by that time's standards) material such as striptease, drunken debauchery and references to prostitution.
  • Alfred Hitchcock famously put a shot of Marion Crane's buttocks in his original cut of Psycho so the censors would let him keep a plot-important scene of a flushed toilet, which at the time would not have been allowed to be shown on film.
  • Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg admitted that they attempted this for apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, including sexually-explicit material they assumed would get an NC-17 rating, allowing them to cut it down to an R. They were surprised when the MPAA gave the uncut movie an R.

    Literature 
  • Dashiell Hammett was so annoyed with editors cutting innocent but dodgy-sounding slang terms from his stories that he made a test of their obliviousness using the word "gunsel". The editors, assuming it meant "gun-toting hitman", let it through. The actual meaning is an old slang term for "prison bitch" or, more specifically, "passive partner in a male homosexual relationship." It made it into the magazine. (Read more here).
    • In short, the term became adopted by mystery writers, to the point that what the censors thought it meant is now what it does mean (though the original meaning is still also correct, it has been supplanted in the public consciousness by the new definition).
  • Lampshaded in Randy Alcorn's Dominion, in which columnist Clarence Abernathy puts several Censor Decoys in his column for his politically correct editor.
  • In-Universe example in the Xanth novel Heaven Cent. Prince Dolph wants to go on a quest with his friend Grundy Golem, but Grundy is a known trouble maker, and he doesn't think his parents will approve. So he comes up with a list of companions he thinks they will find even more objectionable, so they will acquiesce to Grundy. It backfires, they approve his first suggestion, and he ends up traveling with an animated skeleton.
  • In the Starcraft novel Liberty's Crusade, protagonist Michael Liberty, a reporter, does this to mollify the Confederate censors his news bureau reports to. For instance, he runs a report about a colonial Command Center that had been overrun and infested by the then-recently-discovered Zerg Swarm. In order to get his frank descriptions of the aliens and their methods to air, he put in both a pro-Confederate slant (with shots of colonial soldiers bravely mowing down zerglings) and a censor decoy in the form of a mention that the colony post wasn't on any Confederate maps, which he was sure would be cut. While suspicious-sounded at first, this is really a meaningless detail, since Command Centers can lift off and fly.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Gong Show regularly offered acts they knew would outrage the censors, so as to get other stuff through. The trick infamously backfired when The Popsicle Twins — two cute girls who sat on stage sucking on popsicles in the most blatantly suggestive way imaginable — actually made it onto the air. (See it here.) The two girls' performance made the live Eastern/Central broadcast, but higher-ups wised up before the Mountain/Pacific showing was due to go on, cutting it from the tape. The incident later made the Gong Show Movie.
  • The Wild Wild West: Due to a particularly virulent Media Watchdog situation concerning TV Violence, the creators admitted to staging two versions of a number of fight scenes, one unnecessarily brutal, and the one they actually wanted to show on air, submitting the first one to network censors so they would accept the "compromise" of the second one.
  • The Weird Al Show would occasionally try this to get past the insane Executive Meddling the show was put under, only to find that the censors would usually not have any problems with them. This included a clip from Al's "Jurassic Park" music video where Barney the Dinosaur is gruesomely decapitated, and Harvey the hamster crawling out of Al's mouth.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series.
    • In "A Private Little War" Captain Kirk comes across native girl Nona bathing naked in the river, and we see a brief glimpse of the side of her body as she wraps a robe about herself. The creators included a breast shot knowing the censors would cut it down to the tantalising glimpse they actually wanted.
    • A variant was done for the filming of Plato's Stepchildren. The script called for Uhura and Kirk to kiss (the first scripted, onscreen, interracial kiss on TV at the time), but the network called for the scene to be filmed with and without the kiss, to decide later which to use. William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols deliberately screwed up every take of the non-kiss scene, making the version with the kiss the best option.
  • Supernatural writer Sera Gamble outright admitted they over-do the gore and violence in order to get their desired scenes in instead.
  • Growing Pains: Ever wondered how Boner got his name? This trope is to blame.
  • In Say Yes To The Dress, one bride tried to enact this trope (she wanted 'sexy,' her parents wanted 'modest') by asking for a VERY revealing dress first so that the dresses she actually liked would seem tamer. It sort of worked, though the parents realized fairly quickly that the first dress was a deliberate distraction.
  • Brass Eye was made with a lot of censor bait. One of many examples (#3 here): a spoof news report about a male U.S. senator who, during a press conference, gets an overwhelming urge to masturbate in full public view. The actor is seen 'ejaculating' from a prosthetic rubber penis, and his fake semen shoots into the audience. Channel 4's request to the program makers: "blur out the penis". That was all that had to be changed.

    Music 
  • The Police's first single "Roxanne" was banned by the BBC for being about prostitution, so they tried to publicise that to sell "Can't Stand Losing You". The BBC sidestepped them by banning it due to its cover (Stewart Copeland standing on a block of ice with a noose around his neck), not even bothering to look at the lyrics.

    Pinball 
  • In a case of Feature Decoy, veteran pinball designer Greg Kmiec would always put in two new features in every game that he designed for Bally, one that he wanted along with a more expensive decoy. During review, Bally's design executives would inevitably insist on removing the expensive feature, allowing Kmiec's preferred toy to remain.

    Radio 
  • An unintentional example from the series I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again. One script featured a reference to a 'cowpoke' which the writers included thinking only of it as an alternative name for a cowboy...but the BBC objected violently to the word. The arguments over this completely overlooked the fact that the script also featured a character called 'Martha Farquar'

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • The episode "Bendin' in the Wind" featured the crew checking out a 1,000-years-old VW hippie van expected to have all kinds of 30th century technology. Farnsworth asks, "Where is the device to speed up or slow down time?" Fry holds up a bong. The commentary track reveals that the script referred to the bong as a "weird bottle" and that they couldn't believe Fox allowed it to stay in.
    • The Futurama writers also use the scene of Fry, Leela, and Amy naked in the same steam room from "Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love" as an example of how the censors let them get away with that scene in comparison to what's being put on the chopping block. Usually, this argument will result in whatever scene the censors want removed to be left in.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • Harley Quinn asking Mr. J if he wanted to "rev up his Harley". Though this apparently was the censored version! (As opposed to "Ride On".) The "ride your Harley" joke appears in the "Mad Love" Comic Book that the episode was adapted from.
      • The original version also had her in a more explicit pose; leaning back, knees apart, as if straddling an old fashioned motorcycle.
    • In one episode, Joker said to Harley and Ivy, "haven't you been busy little beavers"; this actually made it in, but the team chickened out at the last second and changed the word to "bees."
    • In the commentary for one of the episodes, Timm and Dini are chatting and one outright admits that they routinely planted Censor Decoys in their show, only for the other to shush him and tell him not to reveal trade secrets.
  • The original swimsuits worn by Azula and Ty Lee in Avatar: The Last Airbender were a lot more revealing. When the censors shot down the original designs, the new designs, which were still risque, but not by much, were chosen instead.
  • Shown in the page image, one episode of Adventure Time had Finn, Jake, and two old men are caught in an explosion that burns their clothing off. Originally, they were going to have Finn and the old men walking around with a beaver censoring their crotches. This was too offensive and got censored — to wooden logs.
  • Animaniacs got away with many of their adult jokes by using this tactic, according to the creators in The Nostalgia Critic's Animanics Trbute.
  • In Yin Yang Yo, co-writer Steve Marmel has stated that in one instance where Yang get's a wedgie, the original quote was, "Oww! My boy parts!" That was turned down by Disney and was then replaced by "Oww! My undercarriage!

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