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

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