Carolyn Decries Our Willing Surrender of Free Speech Rights
I was reminded of how much power we, the country who “believes”
in free speech with all our might and main, have been willing to
turn over to others.
example was a movie review in the “Reel Critics” column
of my hometown press. Gary Moskowitz, the paper’s education
reporter, reviewed the teen flick, Thirteen. I found it interesting
because, rather than synopse the plot line, or critique the style,
he criticized the fact that many young viewers will not benefit
from seeing it because of its “R” rating. A movie like
this that is frank about the temptations and trials of a couple
of thirteen-year-old girls, he argued, is a fine lesson for youngsters
in this age range. He has it right.
friend of mine who once had a drug problem and now lives in sobriety
told me that the drug education program in the schools (at least
back when she was attending) tended to glorify drugs by explaining
in great detail the exciting hallucinatory and other affects of
drugs. He argues that movies like 28 Days
(gratefully tagged only with a PG-13) rating, would have been a
far more realistic education on the subject of what drugs can do
to one’s life.
young viewers will not benefit from seeing Thirteen
because their parents won’t let them. Those who do will be
in the company of parents who choose to “openly deal with
issues like sex, drugs and stealing,” as Moskowitz notes.
With parents like these, these lucky young people would most probably
be the teens least likely to need it. Further, if parents of wayward
children (those they think must be kept under their thumb) really
think that an enforced rating of “R” will keep their
children out of the auditorium where this film is playing, they
are mistaken. Those children will have fake IDs or friends who work
at the theater. The ratings tend to be arbitrary, cannot be enforced
and only erode our notions of what free speech is. Once whittled
upon, it becomes ever easier for those in power to eat away at those
rights one bit at a time.
As a former teacher, sometime contributor
to the News-Press’ “Reel Critics” and author of
This is the Place, a coming-of-age novel
about a young woman who must overcome suppression, the movie rating
system has bothered me for some time. Admittedly, I have never been
one to condone censorship, not since I took a civics class in the
eighth grade and learned that our founding fathers forgot to put
it into the Constitution and how this grievous oversight was rectified
by the First Amendment.
The connection between the concepts
of free speech and censorship are diametrically opposed to one another.
There is a strain of journalism in me that goes back to the dark
ages; I see very little advantage to encouraging our government
or any other authority to make decisions better made for ourselves
because they will ultimately infringe on one or more of our freedoms.
If, as an open society, we must risk exposure rather than give up
our most precious rights, so be it. An opinion like mine would have
once been considered conservative. Something has happened over the
decades and now it is the political right that seems so eager to
give up their rights to just about anybody who wants to “protect”
others from anything that they find personally immoral and, dare
I say it, from those who don’t agree with them.
trouble with this, of course, is that by protecting others--by deciding
for them--we are teaching them not only that they don’t have
to think for themselves, but not to think for themselves. Thirteen-year-olds
are not only capable of forming their own opinions but will actually
turn into better citizens if we teach them to do so. If we think
that we are protecting our young teens from the world at large with
rules that keep them from choosing their own viewing material we
are living in denial. We need to be putting our efforts toward guiding
young people to understand better what they will see and experience
in this ever changing society. Hiding reality behind a rating will
not help us to do that.
the Jurassic, sometime in the 70s, my daughter was attending junior
high school in our home town. She chose to read William Golding’s
Lord of the Flies. She was told it wasn’t appropriate.
To be sure, that made her selection all the more enticing to her
so she enlisted my help. A compromise was worked out with the school
after some difficulty. They allowed her to read the book and submit
a written report--not an oral one as required by the other students--
and only if I would visit the teacher to give my permission. I complied.
My daughter learned more about the corrosive quality of intolerance
from that book (and from the entire experience surrounding her choice)
than from all the other guidance I had tried to give her in that
subject up to that point. Later (1983) Golding won the Nobel Prize
for Literature for his novels which “illuminate the human
condition.” I felt exonerated, as if my crusade against misguided
censorship (as, in my opinion, censorship usually--if not certainly--is)
had been worthwhile.
The other problem with “protecting”
others is that when we censor or proselytize, we send our audience
the unspoken message that their opinions—nay even their ability
to form those opinions—is somehow inferior to ours. Offering
an opinion for consideration is not the same thing as presenting
it as the only rational option or, worse still, forcing it upon
others with rules or laws that impede their choices.
amazed that in a society where literacy is high, that we not only
put up with enforced censorship like the “R” rating,
but that we encourage it. How much better if an adult who knew someone
aged “Thirteen” actually invited her to see the movie,
then took her for a Coke and discussed self-destructive behavior—how
it affects both those who do it and those around them.
Perhaps that would be expecting too
much in terms of time and love. Perhaps that is why we seem so willing
to turn over our freedoms to The Motion Picture Association’s
Code and Rating Office whose members may or may not share your family
values or mine and, even if they did, couldn’t communicate
them with a couple of capital letters as well as any parent could
over a piece of pizza and a lemonade.
are some books and movies (other than those in bold face mentioned
above) that call out for a big, chatty chocolate fudge sundae experience:
You can get the video in English or Spanish as well as the original
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger,
an old standby.
Less than Zero: Get it on video.
Traffic: Also available on video.
The Fort of Solitude: This is
a new novel you may want to explore before you share with it with
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: A lesson
on censorship in general can also be good for communications.
Tips and Tidbits
Each month in this box, Carolyn
lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors
and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected
books or a sapphire among the newly-published.
Streetfighting: Low Cost Advertising/Promotions
for Your Business by Jeff Slutsky is not written
for writers per se but it covers cross promotions, free mentions,
discount cards, contests, and more—all subjects that
writers, whether they are published by a big press or small,
will find edifying. It is published by Prentice Hall, Inc.
Readers' Tip: When I
attended the Book Expo America in Los Angeles this year I
ran into a gentleman who loves books, particularly classics.
He pressed upon me a copy of his new CD, Library of Classics:
Your own personal library of over a thousand classic books—All
on One CD. The back says that “with the click of
a mouse, you can be reading hundreds of classics” from
War and Peace to War of the Worlds. Published
by Amerisearch, Inc., find them at www.Amerisearch.net
or at 1 –888-USA-World. The ISBN for this item is 0965355772.
MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.