On Banning Gone With the Wind

As most of us know by now, HBO MAX pulled Gone With the Wind from streaming video. I don’t blame them. This is a movie that makes the Confederate South seem like a place where the slaves loved being slaves, and where the way of life was all fine and dandy until those pesky Northerners butted in.

Here are the opening credits, according to IMDB:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”

Make no mistake: This movie glorifies a system that should be shown as the ugly, racist, deadly and ignorant thing that it was. Slavery and everything that came with it is not pretty or gallant. It isn’t a dream remembered. It’s a nightmare for which this country should be truly ashamed.

But this movie is also a work of art. The cinematography is stunning, and the costumes are even more so. In the 1940 Academy Awards, it won an Oscar for best actress, best actress in a supporting role, best director, best writing, best cinematography, best art direction, best film editing, and best picture. Whether we like it or not in modern times, it’s a classic.

I do not believe in censoring works of art. What I believe in is providing context for those works that are offensive. This movie should be forever linked with a disclaimer/explanation/warning label. It should discuss how these views and opinions seemed acceptable in 1940, but we have come to realize how unacceptable they really are in modern times. It should come with links to other movies, books and articles that more accurately portray American slavery. It should warn that this film’s racism and misogyny will be offensive to many. It should also warn us not to fall victim to the false nostalgia that is Gone With the Wind.

I think everyone should see this movie and learn from it. It is a gorgeous work of art. I hope will never be created again, but it’s there, a huge boulder in the center of our cinematic culture, and we should acknowledge that. We also should celebrate that so many of us now find this movie inappropriate at best. You might say that we should all give a damn.

(Oh, and it’s rumored that Clarke Gable had really bad breath, so think of that during all the kissing scenes. Poor Vivien!)

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“Oh, Rhett, please take a breath mint!”

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Censorship?

I am on the horns of a moral dilemma. I believe very strongly in free speech and freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Nothing angers me more than a book burning, or a school board that requires teachers to avoid teaching things that are science-based. I am usually the first to read a book if it gets banned.

Because of all the above, it kind of makes me squirm that, ever since I started my Little Free Library, I have been actively participating in censorship. It’s true. I have. And I will probably continue to do so.

Ugh! I’m going to hell in a handbasket.

The way a Little Free Library works is that people can take books and keep them as long as they want. They can return them, too, or they can bring other books. Most things are welcome. But some things I have to remove.

I look at myself as the curator of my library. Just as museums have curators who determine what exhibits they will display and what image their museums shall project to the world, I, too, am in control of the types of messages I put out there in my library. Being a steward is a service that I’ve voluntarily provided, and it is, after all, located on my private property.

But this censorship thing is kind of a slippery slope, and one that I never thought I’d be sliding down. It all started with the pizza flyers that someone stuffed in my library. I’m not here to advertise for local businesses. Those flyers went into the recycle bin, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.

I also know I wouldn’t feel bad about pitching any pornography, were it to appear. My little library is often used by children. Can you imagine if little Johnny came home with a Penthouse magazine and Mom found out he got it from my box? No. Not appropriate at all.

I also get rid of books that are in poor condition. If the spines are torn off, for example, they get sent to Goodwill. I don’t want to be the dumping ground for everyone’s garbage books. That, and no one will want to take a disintegrating book to read, so it’s just taking up much-needed space. I also get rid of moldy books and ones that reek of cigarette smoke. I don’t want to trigger someone’s asthma. Again, these are situations that don’t feel morally ambiguous to me.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky. I’ve also donated religious books to Goodwill. I’m all for seeking your own spiritual path, but there are other sources for this information. I don’t want to proselytize, either purposely or by accident. It’s just not in my nature. I also know that the people in my neighborhood participate in a wide variety of religions. I don’t want anyone to feel alienated. Maybe I’d include a book on comparative religion, if it wasn’t promoting one philosophy over another. I don’t know.

I’ve also been avoiding putting blatantly political books out there. Mostly the books I’ve come across have been in alignment with my point of view, but if I put those out there, then I’ll have to put out ones I actively disagree with, and that would make me cringe. So, further down the censorship slope I slide.

Since I started my Little Free Library, I’ve met a lot of LFL stewards online. They’ve shared a multitude of moral dilemmas that have made me realize what a complicated task I’ve taken on.

For example, one steward received a children’s book which said, “For Boys Only” on the cover. I don’t think I would include this book in my library. I don’t want to participate in making girls feel as though there are things they cannot do or read.

Another steward discovered a bunch of anti-vax literature in her library. No. No. A thousand times no. I will not actively participate in spreading false information that could potentially lead to death. I refuse. This information has been debunked by the scientific community, so I’m not spreading it. I could not share literature that denies climate change for the very same reason.

Another steward received a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In a world that is experiencing a shocking escalation in hate crimes, would I want to put that lunatic’s poorly written, hateful ramblings out there? Hell to the no. While I think this is an important book, for researchers and historians and people wanting to learn about hate without being sucked into it themselves, it requires context. I am unable to provide that context, and so it wouldn’t be included in my library.

I’ve had my library for less than two months, and I’ve already come a long way from simply tossing out pizza advertisements. Rest assured, there are plenty of amazing books in there. I get excited every time I look. Reading enlivens me. It’s an adventure.

But here’s what is making me lose sleep: Where do I draw the line? Who am I to sit in judgment? Do I have the right?

What do you think?

Censorship

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Being on Their List

I don’t consider myself a journalist. Nor do I consider myself an influencer. My humble blog is small potatoes, so I’m probably safe, for now. Move along. Nothin’ to read, here. But I must admit, this article in Forbes, entitled Department Of Homeland Security Compiling Database Of Journalists And ‘Media Influencers’ has me clutching my pearls.

Rest assured that when your government starts compiling lists, it generally does not end well for the people therein. Just ask the Jews in Nazi Germany, or the Muslims in Trump America. Lists are to identify people you plan to treat differently.

This could be bad for writers in general. Especially when the current administration hates the media so intensely that it openly encourages violence toward them. Not good. No bueno.

One particularly chilling part of this database is that they plan to indicate one’s “sentiment.” That’s kind of arbitrary and subjective, isn’t it? If I criticize the government in any way, do I get a black mark? If anything, I should get a gold star for exercising my right to free speech like any American has the right to do. But I’m not going to be the one compiling the list, and I suspect I won’t see eye to eye with whomever they choose to do so.

It’s not in my nature to censor myself. I’m not even sure I have the capacity. That’s one of the many reasons I’m not a journalist. I can’t just state the facts. My opinions are a big part of my writing. That means some people will agree, and others will not. But it never occurred to me that my government had to agree in order for me to keep blogging. If it truly gets to that point, I don’t suspect I will fare well.

First, they came for the bloggers…

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Fascism: The Warning Signs

Very often, I hear people confuse Communism and Socialism and Fascism. They use the terms interchangeably, which makes me realize they really haven’t a clue as to each system’s basic tenets. They have just been taught that they mean “bad” and feel that’s all they need to know. I find this very disheartening, and potentially dangerous. Knowledge is power.

At this moment in history, I am particularly concerned about Fascism. What follows is a basic primer, Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, by Dr. Lawrence Britt. I will leave it to you to decide if these characteristics seem eerily familiar. Heaven help us all.

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Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each: 

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are wide spread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

From Liberty Forum

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Seattle Speaks

So many of us are in a state of shock, trying to adjust to this new world we’re living in. We are wondering how we’ll fit in now if we’re women, minorities, immigrants, or part of the LGBT community. I know I’ve really been struggling with this.

Fortunately, there’s a place that I have been going once a month to tell stories, and I thought that this month, in particular, this group, full of so many people that I love so much, would be a source of solace for me. I expected it to be a sort of life raft in a storm-tossed sea. Surely in this place, if no place else on earth, my voice would be heard. And I planned to tell an amazing story, one that I thought would be healing for many people.

But to my shock, I was not allowed to tell my story. Politics were declared to be off limits. The moderator doesn’t seem to have caught on to this new world of ours, where we will need a place where all of us can be heard and still accepted. This wasn’t your grandmother’s election. This was more like a political 9/11, whether the person you voted for won or not, and people need a chance to process that.

Instead, the restrictions mount in this group with each passing month, but they’re unequally applied. It’s kind of like our new country in microcosm, and because of that, more and more people are discontented. In his desperate attempt to please everyone, he’s pleasing no one. He doesn’t trust us enough to loosen his grip. Boundaries are required, yes, but they should be equal and not so heavy handed. It breaks my heart.

So I had to leave. I couldn’t stand the thought that I could only speak there if I fit within an ever-narrowing set of criteria. This was the one place in this city that I didn’t feel like an outsider, but my foothold is increasingly precarious.

I now have to decide whether I can take that feeling. There are a lot of people I would miss. But I can feel like a freak and an outsider just about anywhere, without having to lose a day of work and drive in rush hour traffic.

Did I overreact? Yeah, probably. But in this political climate, it feels like all the nerves are on the surface of my skin. I need embracing, not restricting. So instead of having my monthly invigorating dive into my pool of friends, I came home and felt sorry for myself and may as well have applied the pint of gelato I consumed directly to my waistline. Only time and a cooler head will tell if I’ll be back.

Who knows. I may not be welcome. I may not be generic enough. It’s nearly impossible to avoid stepping on toes in a room that is that tightly packed with people. Perhaps the moderator needs to have faith in people’s resilience. Just a thought.

So, without further ado, here’s the story I intended to tell last night. I ask you, is it so controversial that a group of people, who have always struck me as being extremely supportive, would have found it intolerable? You decide.

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Yesterday I was at work, trying to figure out how to live in this new world of ours. Everything looked the same, but everything felt different. I was afraid and confused. I was in despair. I couldn’t even figure out how to write my daily blog, in a place where my voice suddenly feels like it’s being discounted by society at large. So I just sort of sat there, stunned.

My shift was going by really slowly. Not a single boat asked for an opening of my drawbridge for several hours. It kind of felt like everyone was hunkering down, trying not to draw attention to themselves until they figured things out. It was eerily quiet.

Then the radio crackled to life, and it was the Boeing corporate yacht requesting passage. I opened the bridge for him, and he passed through. But something surreal happened as I closed the bridge. When I opened it, the street had been deserted, but upon closing three minutes later, I saw that the street was now filled with dozens of flashing red and blue police strobes. And behind them was a massive crowd of hundreds of people. It was like they had appeared out of nowhere.

I finished closing the bridge and then climbed out on the catwalk that is suspended over the street to get a better view. As the crowd drew near, I could hear them shouting, “Bridge! Bridge!” My heart settled into my throat. What was going on? Were they going to occupy the bridge? It happened once before when the occupy movement was in full force. Suddenly I was feeling very isolated and vulnerable. And they were getting closer.

But as they approached I began to hear more of their chants. “Build a bridge, not a wall!” “This is what democracy looks like!” “Refugees are welcome here!”

Voices of inclusion. Voices of unity. Students reaching out and speaking their truth in a non-violent way. The true essence of America at its best. Freedom of speech.

And there were so many of them. The procession lasted a long time and I got to witness it all from my perch. I was gazing down at hope for the future.

And just like that, the ice melted around my heart and I got tears in my eyes. We still have voices, every one of us. We don’t necessarily have to agree, but we all can speak in this country. And the majority of us aren’t going anywhere. We’re here. Together. And somehow we’ll all work this out. These students reminded me of that.

Speaking your truth is a little gift of kindness you give to those who are worried that they may not be able to speak their own. And when your truth is combined with the truths of others, it is very powerful.

Witnessing this piece of history inspired me. Yes, I can live in this world. There’s room for all of us. There’s just a lot of work to be done. I have to say I’m really proud to be a part of Seattle right now.

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Little Brother is Watching You

While social media may be sucking the life force out of us in many ways, it also has its advantages. I am convinced the holocaust could never have happened in 2016. Those of us who legitimately didn’t know what was going on back then would know now, and those of us who were pretending not to know would have no excuse. And holocaust deniers would look even more idiotic than they already look, if that’s possible.

Everyone who has a cell phone or any internet device is now a potential reporter. That’s why the bad cops among the good ones are getting so much attention. Like cockroaches, they don’t do well in the light.

The Arab Spring would not have spread to so many countries a half century ago. There was no easy way to pass the word. There was no way to let others know that you felt the same way about things as they did.

Before police jurisdictions could share information about unsolved cases, it was easier to be a serial criminal. And while the rich and powerful still seem to be able to do their dirty deeds with impunity, the power of public opinion gets stronger with time. Little Brother is watching you.

The thing that countries that like to censor their citizens don’t seem to realize is that sharing information is always a good idea. Unless, of course, your motives aren’t pure. But censorship is a lot harder when the number of avenues of communication are increasing by the day.

I genuinely believe that the reason we as a society seem more cynical and dissatisfied and put upon than ever isn’t that things have gotten worse. It’s that it’s more obvious now. Even if it has been forever thus, one of the things we’re more readily able to share these days is that we’re pissed off.

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[Image credit: swtnlaw.com]

Bone Records

I heard an amazing story on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day. Apparently in the 1950’s in Russia, censorship was so fully in effect that you couldn’t get Western rock n’ roll music. Even being in possession of such music could send you to prison.

Censorship in all its forms tends to backfire. When you tell people they cannot have something, it makes them want that thing very, very badly. (Just ask anyone who ever bought a Cuban cigar in the US.)

The Russians were very innovative in coming up with a way around this censorship. They learned how to etch music onto used x-ray film. These bootleg records were therefore called “Bone Records” and were sold in back alleys in the dead of night. They can still occasionally be found in flea markets and garage sales.

The quality of the music on these x-rays was not high. It kind of sounds scratchy, and like it’s coming from the inside of a tin can. But such was their thirst for music that they were willing to put up with this and even risk their freedom for it. That really impresses me. That tells you all you need to know about the human craving for art in all its forms.

A guy named Stephen Coates has written a book on the subject called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone. This is definitely on my “to read” list. The NPR story was an interview with Mr. Coates. Listen to the story, read the book, and tell me what you think.

At the very least, take a minute to appreciate your ready access to music as the luxury that it is.

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[Image credit: boston.com]

We Focus on the Tempest

On my bookshelf sits the book “Droll Stories”, a collection of 30 stories by Honore de Balzac. I’ve never read it all the way through. I really ought to. The stories within are mildly ribald by today’s standards. But in the 1800’s they caused quite a sensation, I’m sure. The only reason I have this book is that in the 70’s my mother worked at Heritage Press, the publishers of this particular edition, and when she asked for a copy she was told that as the mother of a small child it would be inappropriate to have it.

Oh, but that’s not something you told my mother. She disapproved of censorship in any form. After that she moved heaven and earth to get a copy of this book. It was the principle of the thing, you see. She gave it to me when I was in college. Not because she thought it was a particularly good read, but because someone had the gall to try to decide what would or would not corrupt me. If not for that I’m certain I’d never have heard of this book.

That’s the thing about censorship. It often has the opposite effect. It draws attention to something that otherwise would very likely sink into obscurity all on its own. For example, I would never have attempted to read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie if it weren’t for the fatwa that was issued calling for his death for having written it. I found the book hard to follow and lost patience with it partway through. I suspect a lot of people read this book who wouldn’t have, simply because of the media furor.

I also strongly suspect that the movie The Interview would barely have caused a blip on the cultural radar if it weren’t for the fact that North Korea protested it so rigorously. Described as a gross-out comedy about the fictional assassination of their insane leader, this movie isn’t going to win an Oscar, let me assure you. Normally I’d give it a miss, but now I suppose I’ll have to get around to seeing it one of these days. It’s the principle, you see.

And how many of us in the world would have even heard of the paper Charlie Hebdo if some lunatics in Paris hadn’t tried to cover up their tasteless and extreme cartoons with the blood of their staff members? Honestly, I couldn’t have been less interested until that fateful day. Now it’s all about freedom of speech and the senseless murder of writers, so it matters to me greatly.

Extremists need to learn that if they don’t want people to see something, then the last thing on earth they should do is create a media storm. Everyone will focus on a tempest. Even one that’s merely in a teapot.

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[Image credit: theclaystudioofmissoula.org]

Time out of Mind

I’ve been watching this great series on the TLC channel called “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which celebrities trace their family trees. In one episode, supermodel Cindy Crawford discovers she’s a direct descendent of Charlemagne. No one in her family knew this.

The question is, how on earth is that possible? I mean, if there were one tidbit of information you’d think would get passed down from generation to generation, wouldn’t it be that? As in, “Oh, by the way, your great great great great great great (however many) grandfather was the man who they call “the Father of Europe”. Just thought you might like to know that.”

But really, it doesn’t take much to break this chain of information. Someone along the line might have been orphaned, and therefore never knew the family history. Or someone could have had dementia, or didn’t really care about the family, or was estranged, or was told the history and assumed it was outlandish and therefore dismissed it. Any number of things could have happened.

Being a second generation American, I know how muddied the information stream can become. I don’t even speak the same language that my grandparents spoke. And for the vast majority of my life, I assumed that I was of German descent because of my German last name, when in fact my father’s family is French. The Alsace Loraine region of France has bounced back and forth so many times in history that a lot of French families have German appellations.

But it makes you wonder what other valuable information has been lost to us. I mean, we’re not even sure about the exact ingredients used in the mummification process. We can only speculate about the purpose of Stonehenge. And whenever I think about the wisdom lost when the library in Alexandria burned, I feel like weeping. What was lost during the sack of Rome (any one of them)? Are we sure nothing important is rotting away in Aunt Mabel’s basement or Uncle Arturo’s attic? What knowledge has been suppressed for political reasons by the various governments that have come and gone throughout the world?

Can we ever really know what is true about ourselves and the world around us?

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How the Great Library of Alexandria may have looked.

[Image credit: discovery-enterprise.com]

Ignorance

It’s what causes women in backward villages to be stoned to death. It justifies the withholding of the truth. It encourages people to demonize scientific proof. It suggests that if children are not taught sex education, there will be no teen pregnancies. It allows us all to focus on one group and make them the scapegoats for all evil. It permits women to vote for the very politicians who are hell-bent on undermining their human rights. It advocates female genital mutilation despite documented health threats. It’s the reason there’s a spike in domestic violence during the Super Bowl. It asserts that two people who love each other should not be allowed to marry if they are not members of the mainstream. It convinces people that others will go to hell if their beliefs do not align with their own. It advocates violent solutions, and claims that most rape victims are asking for it. It allows people to believe that background checks for gun purchases is a bad thing, and that this opinion is not motivated by politics and greed. Does your very life depend on a certain diet? Ignorance will allow you to remain in denial about that until you’ve thrown away the very gift that should never be returned. It advocates censorship, because God knows we shouldn’t be allowed to form our own opinions or draw our own conclusions. It supports changing the facts of history in order to alter belief systems.

And most of all, ignorance promotes a hatred of knowledge and turns intellectualism into a dirty word, because in the presence of intelligence and insight, ignorance cannot survive.

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