Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Censorship can take many forms

Following a link from the Banned Books Week page on Facebook to a parody news story in "The Onion," I learned that "U.S. teens are reacting with disappointment" to many banned books:

"'Desensitized to sex and violence from an early age, today's teens simply expect more out of their banned books than previous generations,' said Naomi Gould, director of the D.C.-based National Education Consortium  'For the teens of yesteryear, access to novels like Tropic Of Cancer, Portnoy's Complaint, and Lady Chatterley's Lover was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime thrill. But for teens raised on Cinemax and Def Comedy Jam, it just doesn't cut it.'"

Censorship histories for many of the books that were challenged during previous decades have been compiled in "100 Banned Books -- Censorship Histories of World Literature" by Nicholas J, Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova (Checkmark Books, 1999). Having read these censorship histories, as well as several banned books, I believe "The Onion's" satire is right-on. Much of the material that routinely airs on television is much more violent than these books. Many of the romance novels sold today are as -- or even more -- explicit.

Each year, Banned Books Week draws attention to threats against free speech -- specifically the threat that is posed by attempts to remove books from library shelves.

I recently encountered two books, however, that broadened my understanding of what "censorship" can consist of.

"Moving Over the Edge: Artists with Disabilities Take the Leap" by Pamela Kay Walker (MH Media, 2005) explores the parallel development of the disability rights movement within U.S. society and the pioneering efforts of artists with disabilities to practice and thrive at their craft by tearing down barriers to doing so that existed at the time.

I got a small taste of physical barriers during two theater-going experiences, one in and one out-of-county. The theater lighting hurt my eyes to such a degree that it severely debilitated my ability to enjoy the two performances. I would like to appreciatively say that I felt validated by the fact that people associated with these performances took my discomfort very seriously.

These experiences helped me to appreciate the very real barriers that stood in the way of the artists who are profiled in Walker's book. In the cases depicted by Walker, there was an institutional censorship through limitation in design combined with social prejudice that prevented many people from taking their places onstage.

Finance or economics can also form the basis for another type of censorship: one of several identified in "Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression" (The New Press, 2006). The premise of this anthology of essays -- which is edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva -- is that censorship is not just a bureaucratic challenge to art that's considered offensive. Censorship is just as likely to be the result of market forces, bandwidth monopoly and can even manifest as a decision by the artist to censor him- or herself.

One of the essays, by Ruby Lerner, asks how many privately-donated dollars actually benefit the artists themselves -- particularly up-and-coming artists who are not already well established?

Reading about economic barriers made me appreciate anew our local "Art in Public Places," which is administered through the Lake County Arts Council. For only a $1 hanging fee plus a percentage-of-sale commission -- 20 percent for members and 30 percent for non-members -- you can bring your art, ready-to-hang, for display at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport. The LCAC recently accepted work for its current show and will next accept entries on Jan. 15, 2009.

I've also seen an "Art in Public Places" down at Clearlake City Hall.

Both venues have been the setting for some incredible works of art -- and think of how affordable it is to be able to show your work through "Art in Public Places."

One time I entered some macrame necklaces in an earlier show at the courthouse. Long-time arts council supporter Floyd Surber was encouraging and supportive in helping me set up my work. He was a steadfast presence who will be dearly missed by the Lake County Arts Council.

For more information about "Art in Public Places," you can call the Lake County Arts Council at 263-6658.

Published Sept. 30, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

‘Creative Expressions’ is ideal outlet

For about half a year now, the Lake County Record-Bee has published “Creative Expressions” in some of our Saturday editions. This is a project organized by local writers Mary McMillan, our Lake County poet laureate; Sandra Wade, our immediate past poet laureate; and local writer Lourdes Thuesen. They solicit original works of poetry and prose, they make the final selections and then send them to me to lay out on the page.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

‘Talk like a pirate’ at Toastmasters meeting

Cynthia Parkhill in pirate blouse and headscarf
Cynthia Parkhill raises a tankard to ‘Talk like a Pirate Day.’
LAKEPORT — “Arrrr!” Toastmasters club No. 8731, Tenacious Talkers, is holding a talk-like-a-pirate themed meeting at 6:15 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 18, at Sutton Associates Wealth Management, 290 N. Main St. in Lakeport.

Cynthia Parkhill, toastmaster for the evening, will be at the helm. She invites her fellow Toastmasters to try thinking, for fun, of how the staples of holding a meeting can be rendered in pirate or sea-faring terms.

An Internet search under “Pirate glossary” brings up several resources. Costumes are also encouraged. The public, as always, is welcome.

While crafting your pirate character for Thursday’s Toastmasters meeting, consider additionally marking your calendar for the Black Irish Band, appearing Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Soper-Reese Community Theatre.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that provides its members with training in public speaking and leadership. For more information about the local club, call 707-263-5350 or visit http://tenacioustalkers.freetoasthost.net/.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Library collections shouldn’t be based on political ideology

An e-mail campaign is circulating a list of books supposedly targeted for removal from the Wasilla public library by Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin during her tenure as mayor.

The list, as it turns out, is false -- no specific books were ever targeted -- and Snopes.com does an especially able job of dissecting the myth’s origin and logically defusing it (www.snopes.com/politics/palin/bannedbooks.asp).

Snopes points out that many of the books on the list had not even been published yet during the time in 1996 that Palin was supposed to have issued these challenges. But I believe the factual elements are cause for genuine concern: that although no specific titles were mentioned, Palin did initiate rhetorical discussions with the city’s librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, about the possibility of removing objectionable books from the city library.

As recounted by Anne Kilkenny, a frequent city council attendee, “Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?’ … Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the lines of ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.’”

Palin also tried to fire Emmons because Palin didn’t feel she had the librarian’s “full support.” Again quoted by Snopes, newspaper reports stated that Emmons was reinstated the next day after public outcry.

So even though the list of books appears merely to be a standard “hit parade for book burners,” I believe that book lovers could have legitimate cause for concern. As vice president, Palin could wield considerable influence upon federal funding for libraries.

In the same way that the Clinton Administration made federal funding contingent upon libraries installing filters on the Internet, Palin could advocate legislation that placed restrictions upon the selection of books. No more individual challenges against individual libraries -- barring any Supreme Court challenges, any library that accepted federal funding would have to accept the government’s book collection requirements.

But I believe that a library best serves our communities when materials in its collection are not subject to influence by any one person or faction that could rise to power and then lose it. Library collections under these conditions would be in constant states of flux during costly overhauls to reflect the prevailing ideology.

Emmons’ response to Palin cites national selection criteria -- and not individual preference -- as the governing factor behind building a collection.

And Emmons, of course, would be honor-bound to challenge all attempts at censorship under the Library Bill of Rights, adopted in 1948 by the American Library Association (www.ala.org). It affirms that libraries are forums for information and ideas and its accompanying “basic policies” state that libraries should provide materials presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Speaking as someone who has enjoyed access to a public library at nearly every stage in my life, I know from first-hand experience how vital this resource is. There is just no way that I could afford to purchase every single book that I want to read. Not to mention the access it gives me to newspapers, magazines, sound recordings and videos.

The library card in my wallet grants me access to collections in three Northern California counties -- Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake. Additional resources can be supplied through a cooperative exchange with library systems throughout the North Bay.

And so, regardless of how you plan to vote in the upcoming election, every single one of you who relies upon your local library needs to be ready to advocate that library collections continue to be guided not by personal ideologies but by objective national standards.

Published Sept. 16, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vineyard Run brings attention to literacy

The 19th annual Vineyard Run for Literacy takes place Sunday, Oct. 12, at Steele Wines near Finley. Flyers are now on display at the Lake County Library.