Friday, July 20, 2012

Yes, I Digress: Censored

I listen to Radio West in the car sometimes, when my toddler will let me. I can’t say I love every featured story, but there’ve been more than one that I’ve found interesting as well as entertaining. So, when I heard they’d be discussing a local high school theater controversy, I tuned in. And I have to say, I was yet again disappointed.  It wasn’t a new controversy; it was the same old one. 

Dead Man Walking, 1995
In a nutshell, the high school put on a production of Dead Man Walking.  I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I’m familiar with the story. It deals with the death penalty (a given) and religion. Fabrizio interviewed a woman representing the conservative group that has taken issue with the play, a professor from the University of Utah, and the head of the Dead Man Walking Project. And, as always, the woman representing the dissenters came off as an unprepared, rambling idiot, who couldn’t even answer simple questions in a straight-forward manner.  All she could do was spout phrases like “family values” and “community standards” and “political/social agendas.” Blah, blah, blah.

But, it’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened. No, more like the 100 gazillionth, right? And the argument is always the same, featuring that pesky word “inappropriate.”  What does that even mean anyway?  Appropriateness is a sliding scale that stuffed shirts use to illustrate some sort of superior “morality” crap. I’m so sick of that, I could die. (Melodramatic, me?)

I’ve got no loyalties to Dead Man Walking. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know, I can’t say.  What I can say is that censorship of this kind frustrates me. The point of putting on this sort of production is to help teens explore difficult issues--to make them think, to discuss, to find out what they believe in. That’s what being a teenager is about: learning what it means to be an adult, to experience the world, and to think for yourself. And I truly believe that teenagers do have the ability to accomplish all those things and with success, especially when faced with difficult topics. Impressionable? Yes. Drones? Not so much.

I can’t understand why people tend to get so worked up when teens are exposed to anything resembling real life problems and issues that they ought to be thinking about and puzzling over and figuring out.  And honestly, I think it’s good for them to take an issue like the death penalty, which has no easy answer like so many things in life, and think about it--really think about it.  There’s no better way to fulfill that need than through art.

What those people who make such a fuss will never understand is that by censoring, they simply label that work/piece of art with a big, fat "READ ME!" sign. Any of that student body who didn’t participate in or go see that play when it was performed are all going to rent the movie, or better yet, read the book. Immediately. Because that’s how it works. It’s part of that whole reverse psychology thing. So, why do they never feel the need to take care of their concerns privately? Why does it have to be a witch hunt? The thing that really gets me down is that teachers get fired over this sort of thing, and then those who are left behind get handcuffed and gagged. They get hit with so many new regulations that they can never teach anything again, except for unicorns and rainbows and little girls in pigtails.

But I also understand that there’s got to be censorship when it comes to kids, and even for adults, in my estimation. I censor material for myself sometimes--I take opinions of people I trust for what I think will be “appropriate” for me in my life. Certainly there does exist the passing off of rubbish in the name of art. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t things in my life I would like to change if it were possible: something I saw or heard too early or just shouldn’t have seen or heard at all. And some of those experiences were a bit scarring, though I consider myself a well-adjusted person (Ha!). We all get that to a degree though, don’t we? No matter how much we bubble wrap ourselves or our children.

In the end, I have to go easy on the naysayers though, because what I think it really boils down to is that some people have artistic brains and some don’t. I’ve written before about how my mom fits in the latter category. And I love my mom, and it’s her prerogative. But it’s just so difficult to know where to draw the line. And before that is definitively determined (if that’s even possible), what will be the book-burning expense we have to pay?

That’s life, I guess. We continue to face questions that have no easy answers.

1 comment:

Fowie said...

Totally agree. Things like this always remind me of that scene from Field of Dreams where they want to ban books. Really, what does banning a book achieve except for ignorance? At some point young adults have to learn to choose things for themselves, otherwise they never become adults, and why would you want to discourage that in a controlled, supervised setting like a school play?