Monday, June 21, 2010

Censorship and Delusional Thought

Maybe I should call this one “Revolutionary Voices Part 4.” I wonder how many parts there will be!

My May 23rd post on a challenge to a book called Revolutionary Voices recently generated a revealing exchange of comments with an “anonymous” correspondent. The correspondent supports the decision of the Rancocas Valley (NJ) school board to ban the book. At least in part, the correspondent takes this position because, he claims, the artwork in page 103 of the book shows “two adult men engaging in anal sex,” which is how the image is captioned in a blog post he cites, but not in the book itself (a clearer mage of the artwork can be seen HERE).

As with any art, much of the interpretation and meaning is in the mind of the viewer, and this image is, perhaps deliberately, fuzzy and ambiguous. Nonetheless, my correspondent’s interpretation is not merely wrong but delusional.

I wouldn’t ordinarily say “I’m right and you’re wrong,” about an interpretation of art.  I wouldn’t ordinarily call someone who disagreed with me “crazy,” and to be clear, I’m not calling this correspondent crazy merely because he disagrees me. I’m calling him crazy because his comments give evidence of cognitive dysfunction.

Exactly how is the correspondent delusional?

First, he asserts that he can interpret, with a clarity and certainty that other people lack, exactly what is going on in a grainy, indistinct drawing that simply does not contain sufficient detail to make the claim that he makes.

Second, he ignores the simple reality of what detail the image does contain, since a careful observer can plainly see that the participants are clothed.

Third, he claims to know better than the book’s editor what the image depicts. The editor, Amy Sonnie, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “the drawing was actually a stock image of one man hiking a football to another.”

Fourth, he claims that my position in opposition to banning this book amounts to “anything goes in high school libraries.” To draw such a conclusion from my defense of this book is no more and no less than irrational, since the contents of this book are far, far from “anything goes.” In fact, I wouldn’t argue at all about removing from a school library any book that could be shown to meet the legal definition of obscenity, but Revolutionary Voices comes nowhere close to that.

While not all book challenges are so cut and dried, this example is not at all unusual. The plain facts are that Revolutionary Voices is a serious work of literature of great value to queer and questioning youth, but some adults don’t approve. Their disapproval is based in their social and political agendas, perhaps even a religious agenda, but they know they won’t be able to ban the book if they’re honest about that. So they have to exaggerate obscenity claims and hope nobody bothers to check their claims by actually opening the book.  None of that is crazy; it’s just devious, dishonest and treacherous.

But when one refuses to take personal responsibility for the meaning one gives to art, when one claims an ability to see what others cannot see, when one contradicts the plainly observable facts, that’s just plain nuts.

The good news is that the Revolutionary Readings project I mentioned in my May 26th post is proceeding as planned, and has even expanded its scope. In an effort to demonstrate the serious value of Revolutionary Voices, the contents of the book will be performed in Montclair, NJ, on June 27th, Metuchen on July 8th, East Rutherford on the 28th, and back at Montclair on August 19th.  They’ve even got a performance in New York City on July 12th.  See for details.

Following the lead of this enterprising and creative group, I’m going to ask that readings from Revolutionary Voices be included in the Banned Books Week observances we’ll be having in my area from 25 Sep through 02 Oct, 2010.