October 1, 2009

I don't want to weigh in on popular media things that are, categorically, none of my damn business and that couldn't possibly have involved me even I'd (insanely) wanted them to. I don't want to be one of those commentators with a nugget or two of information and an otherwise wildly ill-informed opinion based totally on emotional response and general assumption. I don't want to comment on this. I don't want to get into the proverbial fray. I don't want to say things I'll be taken to task for or, alternatively, take people to task for things that have been said. I don't want to stick my nose in. I don't want to assume I know better. I don't want to overtly judge. I'm beginning to feel like Lloyd Dobler: "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." I really have tried to avoid it, you know? I mean here, in The Crypt. I've worked hard to avoid it even though a Crypt favorite keeps on getting name-dropped into the middle of the mess and so on and so forth. I don't want to throw my hat into the ring.

But there are three things that must be said for the record, on the record, speaking now before forever holding my peace, to get them off my chest, to be heard, etc. So I'll just say them. And then we can all go back to just, you know, living without this in our lives because really, honestly, it affects so few of us on an actual reality-based daily basis that it seems just silly to have to say out loud that it should be left to the law at this point. Begin.

1. Thirteen is still, legally, psychologically, and within the structure of western society, a child's age. You can't drive yourself around at thirteen, you can't legally buy alcohol at thirteen, you can't legally buy drugs at thirteen, you can't vote at thirteen, and you can't legally have sex at thirteen. So even if you claim a thirteen year old looks twenty-five and voluntarily gave you a lap-dance while talking up her favorite tried-and-true kama sutra positions, you, as an adult, can not legally (I'm speaking strictly legally to avoid rants) have sex with her. If you do then legally it is rape. Which means you would be a rapist. A child rapist. Period.

2. It is entirely possible to separate the personal from the professional. It is possible, for example, to live comfortably in a house built by a paroled murderer without specifically condoning murder. It's a complicated thing to know what a person does in their private life because it does tend to flow over and taint their professional lives which doesn't need to be the case. Justice needs to be served, the law upheld, moral obligations met, ethical concerns considered but when push comes to shove it is still possible to separate man from myth, art from artist, person from preference, do you see what I'm saying? You can, if you wish, still enjoy a painting by a pedophile if said painting is not on the subject of pedophilia. You can read books written by misogynists. It is possible to separate the product from the person. You don't have to but you can. Don't misread me: I'm not saying to be deliberately blind to all things involved in a product nor am I saying nothing matters if you like something enough. I am merely pointing out that if the thing in the private life of the artist that offends is not present in the public art, you are capable of choosing to separate the two.

3. The law is an entity unto itself that must be served. At some point crimes duly prosecuted must be paid for in the manner decreed by the justice system in play. On crimes for which there is no statute of limitations, "it was so long ago" is not a defense. The act was done, the law enforced, and if the sentence was not handed over in a timely fashion it must still be honored when it finally is. That's the point of a statute of limitations and that's the point of upholding any sort of legal system. To honor it. To work within it. And to not assume that personal character claims and individual specialties will matter an iota to the grinding wheel of whatever justice is due to be doled out.

And that is the sum total of what thoughts I have on all counts. Points one and three speak to the criminal and crime committed. Point two speaks to the masses who seek to assuage their own guilt over having enjoyed the criminal's art by removing due legal retribution from the criminal.

I don't want to comment further. I think we should all step back and simply let what is coming come and the matter resolve itself legally so the parties involved can each move on in whatever way is open to them. In this case, opinion does not play. There are facts that can not, must not, be ignored and a legal proceeding that is long overdue. So let come what may.

September 27, 2009

September 26 to October 3 is Banned Books Week in America.

From the American Library Association website:
"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

Does book banning still happen in today's society? The answer, surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly but sadly), is yes. Here is a photo, courtesy of the ALA website, of a handful of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books since 1990:

You'll notice such titles as 1984 by George Orwell, The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, Uncle Tom's Cabin by by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury are in that stack. It's notably ironic that a book like Fahrenheit 451 would be challenged or banned since the novel concerns itself with the story of a future in which "anyone caught reading or possessing books is, at the minimum, confined to a mental hospital while the books are burned by the firemen" and the 'firemen' in this case are 'bookburners'. (The quote is pulled from Wikipedia.) As with George Orwell's 1984, books concerned with the subject of censorship seem to be favorite targets of those who challenge books for their suitability. But it may surprise you to learn that five of Judy Blume's books are also on the list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: Forever, Blubber, Deenie, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, and Tiger Eyes.

Classics are certainly not exempt. Book banning is something that has been plaguing society for nearly as long as books themselves have been important. Here are the first 25 on a list of Banned and Challenged Classics:
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
23. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Winnie-the-Pooh? Really? What reasons could modern society have for wanting to remove books from library shelves? Why is there still a motion towards censorship? The reasons, as collected by the American Library Association, tend to follow like lines of thinking. In fact, the top three reasons offered were that
1. the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
2. the material contained "offensive language"
3. the materials was "unsuited to any age group"

Here is a sample of some of the reasons cited against Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (taken from the ALA website):

1984, George Orwell
Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell's novel is "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter." Source: 2004 Banned Books Resource Guide by Robert P. Doyle.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Banned in Ireland (1932). Removed from classroom in Miller, MO (1980), because it made promiscuous sex "look like fun" and challenged frequently throughout the U.S. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, Oklahoma High School (1988) because of "the book's language and moral content."

The Lord of the Rings
, JRR Tolkien
Burned in Alamagordo, N. Mex. (2001) outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic. Source: Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, Mar. 2002, p. 61.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Challenged in Eden Valley, Minn. (1977) and temporarily banned due to words "damn" and "whore lady" used in the novel. Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District (1980) as a "filthy, trashy novel:" Challenged at the Warren, Ind.Township schools (1981) because the book does "psychological damage to the positive integration process " and "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature:"

There are arguments on either side of every debate and the challenging and banning of books is no exception. There is a diverse cross-section of people and/or groups who challenge books and in many cases their intent does not seem to be suppression but rather protection - protection of children from amoral or frightening ideas, protection of children from negative language, or the removal of ideas which are perceived to have been outgrown and that might cause us as a society to regress. But it is my belief that no matter how 'pure' the intent, the answer to true freedom of thought and individual growth is the access to all ideas, no matter how challenging or even negative, so that by exposure to many schools of thought we may choose what is best from the vast collection of what we know. Literature at its best only reflects what is already in a society. Banning a book cannot eradicate the ideas that birthed the book in the first place. And it is in our ability, as a human race, to arm ourselves with knowledge of all kinds, on all things, and to use that knowledge not as a weapon but as a springboard for growth that is part of what sets us apart from animals and automatons. Should the ability to choose our own reading material be taken from us by a small group of well-intentioned but narrow-minded individuals? I think not. So to celebrate freedom of thought and the beauty of all works, negative or not, laced with profanity or not, Christian or not, magical or not, read through the ALA website to learn a little more about banned books and then choose one from the many lists to read this week.

For my part, I'll be revisiting Fahrenheit 451 and may follow it up with The Witches by Roald Dahl.