I’m sure you’ve seen the news that some countries, like Germany, are refusing to air reruns of The Simpsons that feature problems at Mr. Burns’s nuclear power plant. This is supposed to be a sensitive response to what’s happening in Japan.
The Simpsons people have said that this decision is fine with them. I’m fine with it if they are, but I can’t really see the need for it.
Might someone watching The Simpsons be reminded of the sadness of Japan? Yes. But viewers of The Simpsons know where Homer works already. And The Simpsons isn’t making light of the potential for disaster. In fact, The Simpsons has long been one of the few reminders in popular media about the dangers that this type of power pose, especially when combined with corporate greed. Many of the problems with Mr. Burns’s plant occur because he won’t spend the money to ensure safety (an emergency exit is merely painted on the wall, for example). The company that owns the plant in Japan has been hesistant to use seawater to cool down the plant for one simple reason–it means more money in repair costs afterwards (if I’m remembering correctly, that company is American).
So what are we supposed to do? Wait until this crisis is over, when we’ve all gone back to being complacent about the inherent problems that arise when safety and profit butt heads to see a cartoon satire of nuclear power?
Fine, but I’m still bothered by the censorship for two reasons.
One, the focus is narrowed in a strange way. When I watch The Simpsons, I am likely to see alcoholism, car accidents, and other common traumas. Am I so fragile that I expect the government or television stations should make sure that I don’t have to see these things? After all, in any given day, my life is likely to be ruined by a car accident. The legacy of many people’s alcoholism is ever present in my life–must I be protected from reminders about reality?
Second, if we censor for a certain amount of time, the implication is that there will be a time when we are over the crisis. After 9/11, many stations refused to show “Homer vs. The City of New York” because the twin towers are visible in the episode. The episode wasn’t about terrorism or death, but some felt that the factual depiction of what had been in that space at that time was something people couldn’t/shouldn’t be expected to deal with. It’s ten years later. I still think of 9/11 when I see that episode. I still like that episode.
While the wound isn’t as new and raw, it’s still there.
When the twin towers were referenced in a recent episode of The Simpsons, “Homer the Father,” there probably wasn’t a single viewer who didn’t think about 9/11, who didn’t gasp a little bit at the towers being mentioned (in a moment that reminded us they were gone now), and who didn’t wonder, “too soon?”
If it wasn’t okay to air depictions of the towers ten years ago, it’s not now, which is why I think it’s okay at all times, especially in comedy.
I know that I tend to be over-protective of free speech issues in comedy, but it’s because I know that comedy is what saves us, what keeps us whole, what allows us to get through the bad times. I don’t want the bad times to be what ruins comedy.
A prominent critic of the “theory” of climate change wants Margaret Atwood to be removed from her position on PEN. (article here: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/mediaocracy/2010/11/11/climate-skeptic-wants-margaret-atwood-off-pen-board/).
PEN is an organization Atwood has been at the forefront of for years–it fights for the free speech of authors around the world (it’s akin to Amnesty International, but has a specific focus).
The critic seems not to like Atwood because of their differing views on climate and the environment, but is using a petition Atwood signed as the main evidence that Atwood should be removed. You see, Atwood signed a petition against a FOX News-like channel coming to Canada.
(There are many reasons why someone might sign such a petition. Perhaps you think the channel won’t be clear about news versus entertainment–Bill O’Reilly was on Bill Maher last week and when Maher asked him about a fact that FOX had reported, O’Reilly’s response to the completely wrong fact was that FOX wasn’t “reporting” it because it was on one of the entertainment/opinion shows. If you’ve seen the show, you know that the distinction is not at all clear. Perhaps they should change their tag to “we give you the facts (well, on the following shows, which don’t air when most viewers are watching–on the popular shows, we’re saying whatever comes into someone’s head); you decide).”
Or perhaps you might object because FOX news breaks up families. All 24 hour news makes my head hurt and the crawl seems only to have been invented to make me want to cut myself, but FOX makes me especially wary about going home, because it is impossible to avoid there.)
To recap: Atwood signed a petition. This critic says her signing the petition means she’s anti-free speech & thus should lose her position.
Petitions are free speech, though. I believe in free speech. I believe that I have to fight for your free speech, even when I think you’re wrong (unless that speech is an incitement of violence). However, I get to say that you’re wrong. I get to say that you shouldn’t say x, because x is a lie or because x is irresponsible. (Shouldn’t is different from can’t–one is censure and one is censor.) Signing a petition is exercising free speech & this critic doesn’t have to like it & this critic can say Atwood shouldn’t have, etc., but you shouldn’t say someone hates free speech because they said something you didn’t agree with.
I know I haven’t posted in a long, long time. Fall quarters are always really hard and this may be the hardest. If I stopped to list all the reasons why, I’d be late to class. Let’s just say that I was hanging on by my fingernails & then I got the stomach flu and it broke my nails.
Okay–it’s been awhile since I’ve written. First, I had to get the blog to stay up–let us all thank my faithful friend and reader, Ken, who donated his time and money to enable me to do so. Then, it was finals, and then I headed off to Canada for ten days.
Today I wanted to share my impressions on seeing Margaret Atwood at the 11th Short Fiction Conference in Toronto. I’ll talk about meeting Margaret Atwood the next time I log in.
Last Friday, Margaret Atwood had a talk with a former colleague and fellow writer at the short fiction conference. He, unfortunately, did not prepare questions–I think he was counting on knowing her for 40 years and on the audience’s interest in knowing that both of them started writing at the same time. I’m sure that I, as well as any of the other Atwoodians in the room, could have led a better discussion. At one point, even Atwood cut him off to say that she thought they should be talking about short fiction–he got a bit defensive and said he was trying to cover her entire body of work, although three of his questions were designed to get her to talk about her depiction of Toronto in her novels.
There were some highlights, though. Apparently, she and I pronounce Penelopiad the same way (there are three ways). She mentioned Colin Firth’s shirtless scene in Pride and Prejudice (we watch the same movies!). She also said that a friend had observed of The Handmaid’s Tale that it was surprising that no one had noticed that it was a veiled depiction of Harvard’s English Department from when Atwood was in graduate school there. Also, apparently, there was supposed to be a voice-over in the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale–she said that Richardson was playing against the voice over (so we could see what she was repressing), which added a lot to the role, but that the director cut it.
One woman asked a common question about Atwood not calling her work science-fiction. She managed to make the question sound hostile. Atwood’s answer was perfect. First, she explained that in terms of lineage and her own definitions, there was no debate. She sees Wells’s work as science-fiction–aliens and technology we don’t have, etc. She sees Verne’s work as speculative fiction–technology and ideas that are in development currently. She clearly falls into the latter category. She also noted that she doesn’t see one as better than the other, but that she was only good at the latter. Then she mentioned fantasy and how she simply can’t write dragons, though she loves to read about them (and said Le Guin’s Earthsea dragons were the best). She then talked about her overall enjoyment with the whole sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic spectrum and said that she was the person who knows which orc wears a watch in Lord of the Rings and wonders too long about how Gandolf gets his staff back.
Later than night, Atwood did a short reading at the Toronto Public Library–she opened with “Our Cat Goes to Heaven” from The Tent. She then read the first part of “The Headless Horseman” from Moral Disorder. Those aren’t necessarily the works I would have picked, but the audience found them endearing and very funny. Atwood kept laughing herself at “The Headless Horseman”–I think it was the laughter of remembering the moment, as she’s mentioned that that particular story is completely autobiographical.
More to come–but do check out my new column on Katharine Hepburn at www.matchflick.com
Today, as we were standing in line to see Iron Man 2, Courtney noticed that the box office sign had crossed out two letters on the name of another film.
That’s right–they were showing KICK A**.
We sent the boy over to check out the large poster hanging on the side of the building. The solution there? The name of the film didn’t appear anywhere on the poster.
If your kids can’t see the word “ass,” you haven’t done a very good job preparing them for the world.
The matchflick column is here: http://www.matchflick.com/column/1882
I reported a little while ago on Atwood not attending a conference in Dubai because the conference censored an author whose book had a gay muslim character. Atwood (and the rest of us) have since learned that the conference says they didn’t censor the book or author, but that they did not choose the book for inclusion in the festival. The author seems to have exaggerated. Atwood is going to appear at the conference via satellite for a panel on censorship.
I think there’s going to be a lot to talk about. Her own book, The Handmaid’s Tale, is still under review by a school system after a challenge. Part of that book was inspired by Atwood’s visit to Islamic countries and her experimentation with a burka.
Also, while the conference says it didn’t censor the other author’s book, one interview I read did say that a conference organizer felt the text was “too controversial.” As we asked in book group last night, what’s the line between “I censor your book!” and “Sorry, due to its content, we won’t work with this book–it’s too controversial/thought-provoking”?
Atwood has pulled out of an appearance at the International Festival in Dubai after a British author was banned from the conference due to homosexual content in her work. Dubai is supposed to be the Vegas of the Arab world, but as many countries’ leaders have told us (I’m looking at you, Iran), there are apparently no gay people in the Arab world. This is especially funny since the Arab world seems fond enough of Michael Jackson (maybe they have it mixed up and think he likes little girls?)
In other news, the school board in Canada who heard a complaint about The Handmaid’s Tale has decided that the book is still recommended and has value to students. The newspaper story I read about it quoted the father who complained about the book as saying he wasn’t sure what his son was supposed to be learning from the text. Maybe he’d like to come to book group and we could help him out with that?
First lesson–the book teaches you that the freedom to read is more important than the freedom from having books out there you don’t like.
A parent in Canada has asked a school board to take The Handmaid’s Tale off the reading list for seventeen year olds. He doesn’t like the bad language, the brutality (esp against women), and its anti-Christian-ness.
Never mind that the book won The Governor’s General Award (Canada’s Pulitzer) or the fact that it remains one of the most taught books in the world. Let’s think through the three objections.
Bad language: if we took books with “bad” language out of the curriculum, we’d have to lose most of the curriculum. Even Shakespeare makes “cunt” jokes. (P.S.–you’d have to take the Bible out of Sunday School curriculum, too–it also contains “bad” words.) And if this guy thinks his kid hasn’t heard or said the word “fuck” before, he’s a moron.
Brutality: This guy can try to pass himself off as a sympathizer to women all he wants, but there is brutality against women in the world. This book talks about some of that. I’ve had students get upset at Oryx and Crake for similar reasons. One student said that because Atwood had a character who’d been victimized by being forced into prostitution as a child, Atwood was a pornographer. There is a difference between kiddie porn and a work that criticizes those who perpetuate it. (Unless reading about that poor girl gets you hard–and in that case, you shouldn’t be mad at the book, you should be thinking about yourself.) When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school (an event I consider one of the most important in my life), I remember a girl coming in and saying she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing. The teacher said it was supposed to be. There are bad things out there. How are we going to stop them and prevent them if we don’t know about them?
Anti-Christian: I am so sick of this argument. First, the rulers of Gilead are not Christian. Though they quote (and intentionally misquote) the Bible, there is no Jesus here. Salvation in this society comes not through Christ, but through accepting the new status quo of the theocracy. The “brutality” against women here all comes from the Old Testament (and is, by the way, sanctioned through a literal reading of that text–Old Testament “family values” leave much to be desired). Even if you view the rulers as Christian, none of the rulers actually follow the rules–this is a critique of hypocrisy as much as anything else. Finally, it should not escape notice that all of the “good guys” in the book who are fighting this regime are Christian–they are Catholics and Quakers and Baptists–they are Christians.
Oh, and book banning is wrong, even if this guy’s claims were true.