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Scrotums and Hoo-Hahs

February 20th, 2007 No comments

There is always debate in libraries regarding the role that the librarian plays in society. Is the librarian a filter between the information need of a patron and the collection: that is, does the librarian help narrow the scope and focus the search; is the librarian a tool or instrument to aid a patron in navigating the complexities of the library? After all, not everyone knows how to search a database or use an index or a catalog; the organization of information in libraries, which has been happening for thousands of years, is more complex than can be served by Google’s algorithms. What role does the librarian have? If a man comes to the reference desk asking for information about the value of his 1972 Pontiac, the librarian points the way and even shows the person how to find the information. But what if it’s a 15-year-old girl looking for information on abortion clinics? Or a man with a long beard looking for information on making a bomb? Or children reading a book that mentions the word "scrotum?"

My opinion on the matter has always been that a librarian is a passive tool. I will help the person find the information they desire. I will not judge the request nor will I interpret the information for them. I find it equally important in matters of collection development. Collection development is the process of selecting the material that will be included in a library collection. There are policies on this that state, usually, we will collect all books that meet this criteria: X Y Z. Policies are usually in place to ensure the orderly and unbiased purchasing of materials that represent a variety of viewpoints on a subject: after all, a library is purchasing material for more than one person: more than a hundred people; and in some cases, more than one thousand. So, who is to say what is right and wrong? My view on income taxes may be entirely different than yours. My view of alcohol consumption and smoking is likely different as well. No one person can posture his or her view as being the final view or the only view on a subject. This is why it is awful to see librarians willfully refusing to purchase a children’s book (a Newberry Award winner) because it mentions the word “scrotum.” The euphemistic pattern in our country, especially with regard to bodily functions and bodily parts, is really quite comic and sad. Pathetic. Another recent example has to do with the The Vagina Monologues. Apparently there was some woman who complained of having to see the word "vagina" on the marquee of a theatre running the Vagina Monologues. Frankly, the fear of the body is the fear of the self and the denial of more than half of one’s existence. The people who fear the body will be greatly pleased in some distant future when the body is removed and our minds, brains, consciousnesses float around disembodied in some plastic manufactured container. Body experience will be relegated to the trash heap of history and will be re-phrased as inputs and outputs. The brain will live forever in Tupperware, but what will living be like? The fear of the body says as much about the person, who longs for a plastic body: hairless, odorless, neutered, removed of all reality, meaning, and vitality. These people feel the same about their children and their children’s minds: plastic, neutered, inoffensive. They are the same people who promote fairy tales stripped of the lightning flashes of mythic meaning; the unconscious depravity that makes life potent and worthwhile. The sisters of Cinderella don’t cut off their toes to fit the shoe; instead they struggle make it fit, or worse, just give over to apathy and don’t really care at all.

The librarians who refuse to purchase this book and place themselves in the Godly position of doing what the parents should do: decide what their own children will see, read, and know, are violating one of the most sanctified ideals of the library profession.

They are accountants who embezzle. They are judges who take bribes. They are priests who molest. They are guilty of a great betrayal and are sad, sad representatives of their profession.

Each human should have the right to select the forms of human expression to which he or she will subscribe. For children, this is the role of the parent. If a parent doesn’t want his or her child exposed the word "scrotum," that is their right. But parents all too often revoke this right, expecting society to do what they should in fact be doing: and then become outraged when it isn’t done to their taste: parents who use libraries as daycare centers; require televisions with vchips rather than actively engaging their children and paying attention to what they do and what they are exposed to; require schools to teach their children about sex, provide showers, feed them, baby-sit them: but not discipline them€¦in short, parents who dispose of their responsibilities.

Secret parts was the word in Medieval times. Unmentionables. Bathroom. Restroom. Behind. Hoo Hah. Peepee. Tinkle. It’s all enough to make one want to throw-up.

Holding Our Tongues: Censorship in the Theatre

October 6th, 2010 No comments

I attended a fantastic Dramatist’s Guild symposium on Saturday, September 20th, at Cleveland Public Theatre.  The symposium was about Censorship in the Theatre and was arranged and coordinated by Faye Sholiton who deserves a tremendous amount of recognition and thanks for her effort in coordinating this event.  The staff of Cleveland Public Theatre are also to be much, much thanked and congratulated for this event which was not only well-attended but of significant importance.

The “headline” guest was Ozen Yula.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ozen Yula, he is a playwright from Turkey whose play was not only shut down in Istanbul; but it is entirely likely that he will be the unfortunate recipient of a death threat in his home country.  For clarification, a death threat in Yula’s part of the world is not the same as the run-of-the-mill death threat one might receive in the United States.  In the US you receive a few phone calls, voicemail messages, etc., from some impotent rage-filled couch potatoes who have nothing better to do but stew around in the mess they call their life while attempting to control other people.  In Turkey, on the other hand, your photograph appears in a fundamentalist newspaper where you are listed as being a very bad person and then a few weeks later you turn up dead and your killer is never caught.

Now, Ozen Yula did conceive of and create a fairly provocative play–by some people’s standards: Lick But Don’t Swallow.  The premise is sort of like a distorted It’s a Wonderful Life or perhaps Two of a Kind if you like John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, and screwball comedies; but I digress: an angel is sent back to Earth for 24 hours during which she must save one person.  The catch? The angel is sent back as a porn star.  (Well, no one said it would be easy…)  So, the whole of the play is a male and female porn star, a camera man, and a director.  As the porn stars fuck in various positions, she blathers on about a host of issues: from famine and hunger to violence, etc.  It is clear that Yula has a droll sense of humor and is not a little irreverent.  It is quite ironic in that, given the subject matter and the handling of the content, I don’t know that this play would have a particularly great staying power in the marketplace, funny as it is.  However, now that someone want to ban the play and possibly kill the playwright (Assassination is the extreme form of censorship–George Bernard Shaw), the play will take on a degree of interest and value that it may never have had.  Like so many things, as soon as someone wants to cover it everyone in the world wants to see what is going to be covered.

So, the play was set to go up in Istanbul, Turkey (at the Kumbaraci 50 theater in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul according to Tony Brown) and due to threats, etc., the theater notified the police and asked for some protection.  At this point, the theater was shut down (even though it had just been built) due to concerns about its compliance with fire codes.  As Yula explained, this may have been coded language to remind everyone of the Sivas Massacre in 1993: where 37 intellectuals, artists, and hotel employees were burned to death by a similar breed of fundamentalist nits that continue to infest the globe in 2010.  Yula is scheduled to return to Turkey later this month and God bless him and keep him from the deranged mob that he’s bound eventually to encounter.  This is censorship in its most overt form.

Yula was surprisingly philosophic and calm about the whole thing, saying that his intent is to “hold up a mirror” to his society/culture and hopes to “help through literature” so that the poor (economically) and brainwashed masses in Istanbul can “see their lives”.  This is now his ethic of playwriting.  Yula is clearly intent on doing the same thing here as his play Don’t Call Me Fat is up at Cleveland Public Theatre right now, and addresses the American obsession with eating, obesity, weight loss, and fame–themes that Yula identified in our society by watching television!

There are all sorts of forms of censorship, but the most disturbing sort follows on the heels of the sort described above–the violent type that Yula faces–and this most disturbing type is Self-Censorship.  This form received a great amount of attention during the day as it is the kind that most people face: for a variety of reasons.  The violence that accompanies some sorts of censorship are aimed squarely at the notion of making people shut their mouths and not to say anything in the first place.  As some of us playwrights went off to lunch we joked with each other saying things like, “I want you to just shut your mouth, as my having to censor you requires too much effort” and “the sooner you learn to censor yourself the easier it will be for me.”  Ha ha ha.  But that, of course, is the idea.  The whole of censorship and control aims at ensuring that thinking is controlled and regulated.  Once thoughts get outside of the head, then there is great effort involved in stomping out the ideas that have escaped.  Other forms of censorship include indirect means.  For instance, in 1996 in Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) the Charlotte Repertory Theater was assaulted for putting up a production of Angels in America.  A local religious nit there (we have them in America too, they just kill less frequently now than they used to) objected to the gay themes and no doubt the overtly liberal bias evinced by Kushner’s politics. Because there was no method of overtly closing the production due to these themes, the nit and the Republican mayor decided to go after the production for having nudity in it.  They were unsuccessful at stopping the production, however the Mecklenburg County Commissioners later retaliated by stripping all arts funding from arts organizations in the county ($2.5 million) and continued to retaliate until summarily voted out of office in 1996. Local playwright Eric Coble wrote a play about the events surrounding this insanity entitled Southern Rapture. Other silly forms (but no less frightening in their implications) include such things as changing the advertising for the Vagina Monolgues to the “Hoo-Haa Monologues” as clearly some American’s have no capacity to think about human sexuality or the human body in any manner beyond the level of a second grader.

Other items of note.  During the opening discussion with Ozen Yula, Tony Brown moderated the interview and later a panel, which included Michael Mauldin, Head of the Dramatic Arts Program at Cleveland State University.  Gary Garrison, Executive Director of Creative Affairs for the Dramatists Guild of America talked a bit about how the DGA handles censorship issues.  Later in the afternoon, Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director for Cleveland Public Theatre gave an update on the Gordon Square Arts District planning/activities.  Later, later in the afternoon there was a panel discussion which included David Faux, Director of Business Affairs at the Dramatists Guild; Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J; and Betty Shamieh, a playwright whose plays have been highly successful in Europe and translated into many languages, but have not been staged in the US, as she sees it, because of their representation of Palestinian families and issues of concern to Arab-Americans.

On the whole, this was an invigorating and exhausting day, and much glory and honor is due to those who arranged for it to happen.

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