Saturday, July 18, 2009

Censorship Rears its Ugly Head

I nearly resigned from my unpaid job as editor of the resident newsletter at The Clare. Why? That old bugaboo, censorship. I finallly decided that it was just the nature of the place I live, or Catholic tradition, or narrow-mindedness, so after I cooled down, I changed my mind. I guess my initial reaction was dictated not by the minor incident itself, but by the fact that the changes (which I didn't make myself) destroyed the spacing of the whole newsletter, leaving some confusing juxtapositions in a few articles.

So what happened? A resident submitted a little short-short story involving a seedy character who used two "bad" words. I don't use or recommend profanity, but I've always thought that it sometimes deserves a place in fiction, within moderation. Seedy characters don't talk like college professors. As a matter of fact, Illinois' former governor illustrated on wiretaps that even public officials--and their wives--sometimes use filthy language, far worse that what was involved here. I've always been against censorship in fiction, ever since I read about the Huckleberry Finn case. I couldn't believe that a book I consider one of the best was taken from library shelves.

Anyway, the present case involved only two words, used one time each. One was indeed offensive, although I think it has lost its original meaning to become just a very negative insult. The other word was so common that I never suspected it would offend anyone. It was just a common word for excrement. Would a killer call anyone a "piece of excrement"? I doubt that he would.

I argued a bit with the building staff (responsible for printing the newsletter), but to no avail. It wasn't a great story anyway, but I believe in residents' right to free speech. What are those in charge trying to protect us from, anyway? I'd never print a profanity-filled story, but two words used in an appropriate fictional context? Come on! Lighten up! We may be old, but we're still able to think for ourselves.


Pat's Place said...

Oh that is so funny! And have they scrubbed your building library clean of every book that has profanity in it?? Have they torn out the pages in the newspaper that might have profanity? Do they expect a pristine clean environment that reflects none of the "seedy" side of life probably seen on the sidewalk outside your building. That is just too funny! "Censorship at the Retirement Center." Perhaps that might make a good novel/murder mystery, etc. I think that you, as editor, have a right to be upset!

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Pat. I have begun to see the humor in this. I think most of the other residents would agree with me, but I haven't made a public fuss about it.


Anonymous said...

Oh sh*t...feel bad for the resident who wrote the censored story. Hope that writer keeps at it -- well, writing anyhow -- despite the censorship! And you too...
Frances L.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies, Marlys. I guess this is what drives editors to become publishers. I'm glad you stayed in the editor's role with this, though. Your clear and steady views obviously are sorely needed!
-- Pat (Ann Arbor)

Alice said...

I can't imagine why, but I continue to be surprised by the narrow mindedness I see around me all the time. But the story made an interesting post, and in a way you got even! The best revenge after all.