It seems like every day that you watch the news or skim through the internet you come across some sort of debate related to banning or allowing a particular activity, item or process. Whenever there is a high profile shooting, inevitably we discuss banning and controlling guns. Recent terrorist attacks in Paris prompted a discussion of whether or not to ban depictions of religious figures. On a more daily basis, we deal with debates over banning types of foods, certain exotic pets or dangerous sports – everyone remember playing dodge ball in school?
Every so often, the government steps in and decides, whether we agree or not, what is the best for the people. All around the world this process is repeated as new items and activities are banned, while others are allowed or have their bans lifted. More often than not, these bans are pretty standard or not that strange at all. Bans on weapons, ‘hard’ drugs or harmful chemicals are common and have been enforced to varying degrees throughout the world. However, every now and then a strange one slips through which can leave you scratching your head.
The following looks at 20 of the strangest bans enforced by governments around the world. Most are currently in place, although a few have been lifted but remain strange enough to include here. Some of these bans resulted from legitimate concerns while others are nothing more than the result of paranoia. From aspects of religion and free speech to consumer products and recreational activities, there’s a wide range of bizarre, funny and interesting things governments around the world have banned over the years.
20. Walking Around Naked in Your Home (Singapore)
In terms of laws and bans, Singapore has some of the most infamous. Perhaps one of the strangest regulations is the ban on walking around your home naked. All of this ties in with the country’s ban on pornography which, according to the government, is linked with any kind of nudity. Like wandering around naked after a shower? If you’re in Singapore, it’s a good idea to make sure the blinds are shut tight, or better yet, put something on right after getting out of the shower. That said, it isn’t really clear how this law is actually enforced effectively. After all, it would either take a person who was very exhibitionist or a policeman/neighbor who was very ‘observant.’
19. Scrabble (Romania)
Nicolae Ceausescu was the leader of Romania from 1965 to 1989. He is considered one of the most brutal dictators of the Soviet-era thanks to his strict controls over everything from the media and speech to the secret police and economic policies. Before being overthrown and executed by the Romanian people in 1989, one of the dictator’s strangest political decisions was to ban the game Scrabble. What were his reasons for doing this? Apparently, Scrabble was a game which the leader thought was “too intellectual” and represented a “subversive evil.” One wonders what he thought about Monopoly… In any event, Romanians everywhere were spared, for a short while at least, the fighting which inevitably happens when someone tries to claim points for a word which makes no sense.
18. Haggis (USA)
With the possibility that Cuban cigars may soon be allowed into the United States, the king of famously banned American imports could fall to haggis. For those of you who don’t know, haggis is sheep’s stomach stuffed with liver, lungs, heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning – yum. While haggis itself isn’t actually banned, a number of its key ingredients are. In 1971 the US government banned the use of sheep lungs in food. Then in 1989, Scottish lamb was banned for import. There have been recent efforts by Scotland to get the bans lifted and if things work out, Americans could soon be allowed to dine on haggis.
17. Pornography with ‘Smaller’ Women (Australia)
The Land Down Under is definitely an interesting place. Strange animals aside, Australia also has some interesting laws and bans in effect. One of these has to do with pornography. That may not seem so strange because, after all, many countries have bans related to pornography. However, Australia bans pornography involving women with smaller breasts. Well, sort of. You see, in order to combat the exploitation of people under 18 years of age and pedophilia, the government bans any images where the woman appears to be under 18. The government has come out and stated that the person’s overall appearance is used, but many are left believing that breast size is the biggest (or smallest) measure of whether a movie or image gets banned.
16. The Power Rangers (New Zealand)
If you grew up in 1990s or even watched television on a regular basis, chances are you saw at least a bit of the live action show featuring the Power Rangers. They were several teenagers who ‘morphed’ into spandex-wearing super heroes, each distinguished by their color. Together they fought an array of intergalactic enemies which are just as bizarre. The show was, and remains, popular among kids and the ever growing cosplay community. Nonetheless, because it was developed in the ultra-liberal 1990s, it had to go up against overly protective parents who felt it was too violent for their kids to watch. Complaints and concerns reached such a level that New Zealand even banned the show until 2011 – this despite allowing the Power Rangers to shoot in the country on more than one occasion.
15. Blue Jeans (North Korea)
During the Cold War there was the well-known story that blue jeans were worth their weight in gold in Eastern European countries and the USSR. Turns out, today jeans (specifically blue ones) remain a symbol of democracy-capitalism vs totalitarianism, especially with respect to North Korea. In a country still shrouded in much secrecy, the North Korean leadership isn’t known to be the most liberally-minded government. Nonetheless, Pyongyang isn’t totally anti-jean. They recently agreed to a deal with a Swedish firm to produce and export designer jeans that cost two years’ wages for the average North Korean. These jeans, however, only come in black because blue denim is considered a symbol of American Imperialism.
14. Chewing Gum (Singapore)
Unsurprisingly we come across Singapore, yet again. The tiny country has some pretty strict laws and bans. Perhaps the best known of all the bans imposed by the government is the total ban on gum. You can’t bring it into the country and you can’t chew it. The law was enforced in 1992 because of the reported widespread vandalism and removal costs associated with used gum. Vandalism of Singapore’s then newest subway system, where gum was placed on door sensors, was the final straw. The only loophole for those desperate to chew? A doctor can prescribe you gum for therapeutic reasons and gums related to ‘dental health’ are allowed. All of it must be controlled by healthcare professionals and your name must be recorded as well.
13. Time Travel (China)
Yes, in 2011 China banned time travel. To be specific, the country banned the depiction of time travel in film and television. No, this doesn’t mean that films like Back to the Future and Looper are banned. It’s mainly aimed at films and shows which depict people going back in time to some point in China’s history. The government argues that such shows – which are apparently popular in China – treat the country’s history in a frivolous way and make a mockery of it. On the other hand, some have argued that the Chinese government is acting this way because it feels threatened by the notion that its people are drawn to a past which is void of the current authoritarian structures and modern government regulations. In this sense, time travel shows are an escape to a world which the government wants to shut down permanently.
12. Dancing (Japan)
In 1948, Japan passed a law that banned dancing at public venues and allowed it only until midnight at properly licensed clubs. Originally, the ban was put in place as a way to get rid of prostitution, something linked with dancing establishments. In recent years, police raids have been reported as authorities work to break up illegal dancing, even posting ‘no dancing’ signs in establishments across the country. With the 2020 Olympics scheduled to be held in Tokyo, lawmakers have been making a big push to remove the ban for obvious reasons.
11. Bear Wrestling (USA)
Do you remember when your dad would take you into town on Friday night, pay a man outside a tent a few dollars and then proceed to wrestle with a bear inside while onlookers cheered? No? Me neither, but there are more than a few people who probably do. In the mid to late 19th century bear wrestling was popular in France and quickly spread to the United States. Strange as it may seem, this sport is not extinct with cases of bear wrestling being reported in the 2000s. That said, the governments of 20 US states have banned the sport. Don’t get too upset, to replace that bear-wrestling shaped hole in your heart you could always take up professional hotdog eating versus a bear. Hotdog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi did in 2003 – I kid you not.
10. Being Emo (Russia)
In 2008, Russia was under attack from all sorts of outside enemies. Chechen rebels, international reporters, My Chemical Romance. Ok, maybe the music group wasn’t actually attacking Russia, but groups like My Chemical Romance and Dashboard Confessional introduced emo culture into Russian society. Plagued by a high teen suicide rate (among other problems) the Russian government acted to label emo culture as a threat to the future of the country. There was a push to regulate all things emo, including the banning of websites and the wearing of anything considered emo in a school or government building. We don’t see a problem with this at all. After all, history has shown that whenever an authoritarian figure tells a teenager not to do something, they always listen- right?
9. Claire Danes (Philippines)
Claire Danes is an actress probably best known for her roles on My So-Called Life and Homeland. In 1998 she shot scenes for the film Brokedown Palace in Manila. Afterwards, in an interview with Vogue magazine, the now-35-year-old described the city as “ghastly” and “weird.” She went on to say the city “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over…” Needless to say, the government of the Philippines and Manila did not take kindly to her assessment. Danes was declared a ‘persona non grata’ and all her films were banned from the city.
8. Game Consoles (China)
When in doubt, blame video games. This leisure activity has been blamed for everything from obesity to teen violence. Many of us have, no doubt, spent a good portion of a day here or there glued in front of the television to play the latest Call of Duty, Gran Turismo or some other famous title. For most of us, too much playing time resulted in our parents bursting into the room to tell us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. In China, while fresh air may be in short supply in some areas, the government felt mental health and productivity were worthwhile causes. Therefore, in 2000, China banned the sale of gaming consoles for fear they would negatively affect the youth. The move was ironic given China is one of the biggest makers of gaming consoles in the world. In 2014, the ban was lifted although the Chinese government said it was only temporary.
7. Ketchup (France)
It’s not uncommon to hear of schools and their cafeterias banning certain foods. For instance, peanuts, certain fats and ‘junk’ food have all made the news over the past several years as people look to cut out potentially harmful foods. In 2011, the French took action in their school cafeterias. The culprit in this instance was ketchup. The government said it banned ketchup use to once a week in an effort to promote healthier living – although many think limiting the use of the American condiment is, in fact, to protect French culture and cuisine. In addition to being available only once a week, the ketchup is reportedly only to be used on French fries. Vive la liberté.
6. Puns (China)
Yet again, we find ourselves back in China. Puns, plays on words, double meanings – they are all part of everyday culture no matter where you live. Chinese language is so ripe with puns because it has so many homophones, or words that sound similar but have very different meanings. In 2014, the Chinese government put in place a wordplay ban which extended to all forms of media and advertising. Officials say it’s to protect the sanctity of the language and prevent “cultural and linguistic chaos.” Critics have argued that wordplay is integral to Chinese heritage and that the government’s move is more likely aimed at people who use the pun and double entendre to get around censorship laws.
5. Jogging (Burundi)
Have you ever seen large groups of people running together, usually on weekends or early in the morning? Don’t worry, no one is chasing them, they are actually out jogging as part of a running group. It turns out that in the African nation of Burundi such a practice is actually banned. In and around the capital, jogging groups are banned because the government says opposition parties use them to promote and organize uprisings. Large group events are now only allowed in stadiums which are designated for mass events.
4. ‘Western’ Style Haircuts (Iran)
To most people in the United States, Iran and its culture can often make no sense. Furthermore, given the media’s long time focus on aspects of Iran, it seems like all Iranians are bent on developing nuclear weapons and blowing up the world. It’s not all like that, in fact. Turns out Iran has a ban on what it defines as certain ‘western’ hair styles. In addition to overly spiked or gelled hair, the Islamic Republic has banned the pony tail and the mullet. Sure, we can go on about freedom of choice and all that, but to be honest, I think a lot of us would have no trouble getting on board with the whole pony tail and mullet ban.
3. Reincarnation Without Permission (China)
From this list you probably get the idea that the Chinese government likes to maintain control over many aspects of the peoples’ lives. Here’s another we can add to the list. In China, all living Buddhas, senior religious figures of Buddhism and even the next Dalai Lama must all receive state permission when it comes to reincarnation. Any type of reincarnation without state permission is banned. This potentially means that when the current Dalia Lama dies, there could be two replacements – one appointed by the Chinese government and the other chosen by Buddhists. Given the Chinese government’s track record of choosing their own high ranking religious figures, as witnessed by the 1995 house arrest of the Panchen Lama and the appointment of a state approved replacement, it is likely traditional Buddhist practices will not be adhered to.
2. Valentine’s Day (Saudi Arabia)
Many people would love to see Valentine’s Day abolished because of the massively overpriced flowers and chocolates we are all expected to buy. Before the Rose and Chocolate lobbyists track me down, let me just say that there is one country where the day has been banned altogether. Saudi Arabia has made Valentine’s Day illegal because of its conflict with Islamic teaching. In addition to being a non-Muslim ‘holiday,’ Valentine’s Day is seen as promoting what could be considered immoral relations between men and women. The ban hasn’t totally rid the country of Valentine’s Day, however. Reportedly, there exists a flourishing black market where Saudi men can still obtain overpriced roses and chocolates for their loved ones.
1. Driver’s License for People with “Sexual Disorders” (Russia)
There’s been much in the press over the last couple years concerning Russia’s new anti-gay laws which look to ban what the Russian government calls ‘homosexual propaganda’ that promotes ‘non-traditional’ lifestyles. This past January, things got taken up a notch. Papers around the world reported that if you were identified as transgender or trans-sexual, you suffered from a recognized disorder and were, therefore, banned from getting a driver’s license. Anyone linked to other sexual ‘disorders,’ including fetishism, voyeurism and exhibitionism were all included in the ban. By banning people with sexual disorders from driving, the Russian government claimed the number of road accidents would be decreased. Some rights groups suggest it’s a way for the government to hinder and limit the capabilities of gay-rights activists and their supporters.