Monday, November 30, 2009

Personal Statement- Cursing

Remember the first time you used a swear word?  I do.  I was in the fifth grade—embarrassingly late in the game, especially by today’s standards.  My best friends were a set of identical twins whose parents were very permissive in their viewing standards, buying them graphically violent video games and R-rated scary movies.  I credit these twins fully for the expansion of my obscene vocabulary.  Sleepover parties at their house generally made me feel an odd combination of devilish excitement, fright and guilt.  My own parents’ media restrictions were much more in line with the Classification and Rating Administration’s guidelines—they drew a hard line for PG-13 movies at my first teenage birthday. When my little sister spilled the beans about my viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, our parents promptly set a two-month ban on overnight stays at the twins’ house. This ban naturally served to intensify my craving for their corrupting company and, therein, my craving for explicit, forbidden materials.  Fortunately for my parents (and, admittedly, for me) separate high schools set me firmly back along the straight and narrow.  

I have often wondered, in hindsight, what would have happened if my parents had not levied such exacting restrictions on my media exposure. (MTV and VH1 were off-limits, too—even in high school.) True, the insecurity of adolescence makes one very vulnerable to the lure of ‘cool’ explicit materials.  But the line of demarcation seems most effective, to me, when it its parameters are gauged by the individual in question, rather than set hard and fast for a collective group.  The Classification and Rating Administration guidelines are called ‘guidelines’ for a reason.  In my experience, unyielding strictness has the subversive potential to seem arbitrary and unfair, encouraging exposure to profanity by heightening desire for it.  

I think it is important for the Media Bureau of the FCC to be sensitive to its potential to exacerbate the problem of profanity by enforcing limiting legislation.  Although I do not find it particularly pleasant to be confronted with the F-bomb while viewing an awards ceremony, I would rather hear it than hear about it being restricted by the government.  I agree with the FCC’s decision to forgive Bono’s comment, but think that they are operating by a double standard in restricting the context to use as a modifier only, not a verb.  To me, taboo words in all their forms and contexts should fall under individual discretion anywhere they are used, because the incendiary, emotionally troubling nature of these words does not change their classification as words.  I see the potential consequences of their effect being dulled by overuse as similar to the effects of eating PB&J for lunch every day.  Some individuals would tire of it quickly and switch to a different sandwich, whereas others’ taste for them is more resistant, allowing them to continue this indulgence unremittingly.  Others are allergic to peanut butter, just like some people take extreme offense to hearing prolific language. The degree of sensitivity to others’ allergies we operate by when eating a PB&J in public, just like the degree to which we restrict the use of colorful language in our own speech, is up to us.  In the grander scheme of things, consequential backlash by society to government restrictions on individual speech seem to blight concerns of prevented social ‘dangers’ that could come of that individual’s language, in a society that prides itself on free speech. 

On a related note, the most interesting thing I learned this semester is the extent of the heated reactions that can come from the act of banning, and its potential this act has to exacerbate the problems it attempts to subvert. 

Freedom to and freedom from

The question of banning is always, in this country, controversial. As Margaret Atwood points out in one of my favorite books, The Handmaid's Tale, there are two types of freedom: freedom to and freedom from. Supposedly we are guaranteed both in this country, but where does one person's freedom to interfere with another's freedom from? I think that's the question our class has sort of been getting at and many of the readings for today are getting at. The smoking in public places ban is a sort of compromise; it doesn't ban smoking, it only bans smoking in places where non-smokers are directly affected, and the health benefits have been seen after not very long, according to the article we've read.

Cursing on television or radio is sort of the middle ground between smoking, which directly affects others, and clothing, which doesn't actually affect anyone else. Pinker's essay and article are so interesting because they challenge the basis of our language. What do words really mean anyway? Why are we so scared of sex and poop? He points out that curse words aren't actually cursed- contrary to what South Park's "It Hits the Fan" might portray- and he points out that in and of themselves, there is nothing morally corrupting about a curse word. He also acknowledges the power of language though. I feel as if this debate is nowhere near over. I do think that there should be more freedom as far as cursing goes on the radio or on tv, because it just seems silly to me. There are parental locks on tvs if a parents doesn't want their child(ren) to watch a certain channel, and the chances are that whatever they aren't exposed to on tv will be exposed to them somehow in their daily lives.

The articles on the clothing were interesting to me because I wasn't aware of the origins of the baggy jean phenomenon. It reminded me of a documentary I watched recently called "Tough Guise: Violence, Media, & the Crisis in Masculinity" which is about the state of masculinity in this country in many different ways (it's really interesting- you should watch it). He talk about out at one point something similar to what these articles talk about- the origins of these trends. He says that young white or suburban men dressed in this manner to copy the black or poor men who dressed this way- but these young men got it from movies, and he cites The Godfather as one of them, and the circle it goes around. He points out, though, as one article does, that the real problem isn't the way these young men are dressing but rather, as a quote highlighted in the New York Times article we read, "The focus should be on cleaning up social conditions that the sagging pants comes out of." I think that part of this whole problem is that people are trying to cover up the consequences of a flawed society rather than dealing with the real roots of the problems.

This class has been by far my favorite English class I've taken at Loyola. It has challenged me to think for myself. I tend to read things written by people smarter than me and just get excited and agree wholeheartedly- this class set me up to agree with something in theory and then point out to me that I might not agree with it in practice. This class has compelled me to ask myself what my morals are, who I am, and what I'm made of. I have never contributed to in-class discussion as much as I have this semester. This class coincided with a sudden and passionate concern for social issues in this country and has asked me what I'm going to do about it, because at this point I can't see myself spending my life living only for myself. Beginning with the Kolvenbach speech, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, which simultaneously makes me feel incapable but also strong. It reminds me of a quote from Gandhi: "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." Now, seeing all the ways in which people try to limit each other, I finally feel like I'm headed in a vague direction towards my vocation. I probably won't know what it is by May, but I finally feel like I will at some point in my life... and this is encouraging.

Troubling Last Thoughts

Reading these contemporary articles on the banning of saggy jeans, cursing, and etc. has really opened my eyes—and made me look upon banning even more critically than I had before. On the whole, I was disturbed by what I read—how are bans like these allowed in a country which prides itself so heavily on personal liberties?

There were three sentences/phrases that I came across in my reading that particularly struck me as off-putting:

From Pinker’s “What the Fuck – Why We Curse”:
“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) […] is charged with monitoring the nation’s airwaves for indecency […]”
“The ideal of sex as a sacred communion between a monogamous couple may be old-fashioned and even unrealistic, but it sure is convenient for the elders of a family and a society.”

And from the article “Are Your Jeans Sagging? Go Directly to Jail.”:
Debbie Seagraves, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Georgia said, “I don’t see any way that something constitutional could be crafted when the intention is to single out and label one style of dress that originated with the black youth culture, as an unacceptable form of expression.”


I think that these three phrases essentially sum up what is bad about and at stake in banning of any kind. The first, describing the duties of the FCC, sounds like something ripped out of the pages of Orwell’s 1984. A bureau checking our airwaves for undesirable content makes me uneasy, though I will fully acknowledge that the FCC can be useful—particularly in helping keep kids’ shows kid friendly, for example. And while I could certainly see having, perhaps, a rating system for books like the one we have for movies and television shows, I just can’t say that I agree with the total removal of any book for any reason. Yet, it seems that the potential for censorship is in the FCC, looming ominously overhead, threatening to remove the perceived indecency from every corner of our lives.

The second two sentences, beyond giving me the “watching-my-liberties-go-down-the-drain” creeps, really speak to the heart of why we ban books: they either aren’t convenient for us, or they represent undesirable lifestyles labeled unacceptable for mainstream children. This is the idea I’ve just mentioned—the idea of removing what the majority sees as indecent from all of our lives. What troubles me most about this idea is the removal of personal choice. If I personal find a book disturbing, I don’t have to read it, and I can certainly advise my own children, friends, and family to avoid it. But no over-arching system should be in place to determine what is generally disturbing and remove it from our hands.

Nearly everything we’ve read this semester has fallen into one or both of the two categories mentioned above, though one book sticks out in my mind: The Color Purple. The lifestyles and people presented in this book, as well as the ideas and even the way the book is written itself (i.e., in the epistolary form), are immediately pegged as incendiary and kept as far out of reach as Constitutionally possible. Yet, the Color Purple is lauded as a classic, and there are valuable things to be gained from reading it. How can a school district, a church diocese, or the government declare at what point the “bad” in a book outweighs the potential “good” you get from reading said book?

I think what has surprised me most this semester is reading the reasons that people give for banning books—sexual themes, racism, foul language—because I don’t think those are the real reasons they're out banning books. As we’ve mentioned in class, these things, as objectionable as they may be, are not present in books without good cause (for example, the use of the “n word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), and are easily found without having to give a book more than a passing glance. We’re so quick to diagnose a thing as malignant that we’re losing touch. We can’t be like the citizens of L’Engle’s Camazotz, lazily willing to give up all decision-making powers for ourselves to some higher being(s); we’ve got to stop allowing outsiders to skim books and use those brief findings to declare what is, and what is not, indecent.

Final Post

I began this class believing that I would find it absolutely unacceptable to ban any book from any middle school or high school, and I thought that reading the books from this course would only strengthen that conviction. I was also interested to see how I felt about the course because many of the novels I had already read. What I found to be most interesting about this course was my reactions to it. Reading Huck Finn was probably the most interesting experience, as it was my fourth or fifth time reading the novel. I found it hard to believe that I would be able to gain new insight from the book, yet looking at it with the lens of a banned book I was able to learn more about the novel and myself, despite my previous reads. Reading these books made me realize how important it is to have a guide. The way that the book is taught can drastically change what you learn from it and how you interpret it.

One of the most interesting articles was one challenging Huck Finn for not more strongly stating the negative side of racism. It made me question what I thought was right when discussing a problem. Should it be blatantly stated? Or more subtle? Which is more effective? I still do not know the answer to this question. Perhaps the only book that I found myself understanding why it should be banned at certain age levels was The Color Purple. I’m not sure that I would want my child in middle school to be exposed to the evils of rape, incest, and abuse that is described in the novel. Yet, is it right because I personally feel that way, that no other child should be exposed to it?

This course made me realize that more than reading the books itself, the discussion of the books is what draws me to English classes, and makes me love English Literature. It was said in class that many of these books do not provide answers, but rather provide questions. Without the class discussion of these questions I do not think I would have gotten nearly as much out of the text. Many times in class opinions are different from each other, and it is through this discussion that you either learn more about your convictions in your own personal opinion, or your opinion begins to change as you are exposed to a different way of looking at things. In the beginning of the year we were asked why we read. I responded that I read to find out something new about myself or the world I live in, and this class did just that. I was forced to read about uncomfortable situations, be exposed to worlds and problems that I have little or no experience with, and I learned how I felt about those situations, worlds, and problems in my responses to the text.

As I reflect on all I have learned in the process of this course, I find myself coming to the answer to my own question about banning. Should books be banned? And with the exception of age appropriateness, the answer is no. All of these banned books ask the reader questions, and it is only with questions that there can be change and growth. As I read over the articles on other situations of banning, I found myself once again debating within myself whether or not I agreed with the banning. On the one hand, I can see many of the valid points for banning things such as curse words, but then find myself baffled that personal expression such as tattoos can be banned. Where is the line drawn between the freedom of expression and disrespectful? I do not have the answer, but I am hoping that through the discussions in class, I will have a stronger idea of what the answer is.

harmful versus nit picky

            After reading the articles I was somewhat shocked.  I like to think that our society puts laws in place to better us as a whole however; some of the restrictions were absolutely ridiculous.

            First of all, language.  Personally, I don’t like excessive swearing, I think there are much better ways to articulate your emotions.  I think swearing can be somewhat offensive and first and foremost without some restrictions on the choice words, our children will grow up learning to express themselves in a less than acceptable way.  Further, it is no secret that the use of some words makes the use of others either more acceptable or easier to say.  For example, towards the closing pages of Huck Finn the “n” word no longer stood out on the page, it was no longer a shock to see or even read; the same will happen with the use of other words, we will familiarize ourselves with them and they will become common place in our vocabulary.  What’s worse is the risk of already controversial terms becoming more offensive, for example, the “b” word becoming the “c” word (which I might add is already frequenting our language).

            Television is obviously a place where we see these words used frequently. Lets be honest though, is the use of these words truly necessary or would the same effect be there if say actors replaced “crap” for “shit”.  It seems to me there are better ways to express emotions than the use of these words.  Likewise with words we don’t think of immediately as being swear words but many consider equally offensive and just as controversial.  Words such as “gay”, “fag”, and “retard(ed)” really have no business being associated with negative connotations.

            It seems to me with our society facing problems such as these there would not be uprisings about baggy pants or tattoos.  The fact of the matter is that excessively baggy pants are not hurting anyone and at some point the people who choose to wear them will most likely be forced to wear more professional attire.  Tattoos are equally as trivial, personally, I have a tattoo and I love it, it is an art form that I am very proud to wear.  Most people who sport tattoos feel the same way and pick things to put on their bodies that mean something to them.  Telling someone they are not able to have a tattoo on their skin is along the lines of people they can’t wear makeup or provocative clothing but obviously this is not regulated. 

            Baggy pants and tattoos really have no affect on others.  They are trivial things that people wish to ban.  Language and smoking can have very negative effects on others.  It is well known that second hand smoke can be just as harmful to a nonsmoker as smoking is to a smoker.  Similarly, the use and acceptance of certain words can have negative effects and risks as well.  At the end of the day our society needs to be more concerned with harmful issues rather than fashion or art.  

Final Blog: The discomfort of going against the convention

The most surprising element of the course was seeing the discomfort found within the different audiences. I would agree with L ‘Engle and say that the books on the banned lists are those worth reading. I feel that these banned works really engage readers to press at controversial issues. I also found that our seminar’s conversations were very insightful and leaving me wanting more. Many of the issues found within the classroom traveled back into my personal life and became a hot topic within my family and friends. This class not only demonstrated the discomfort of going against the convention, but it allowed me to see not just both sides, but all sides.

I find it fitting that we read the shorter articles on banning baggy pants, cursing, smoking and tattoos on the last day. These articles help us see the constant act of banning in today’s society and the fact that it’s not just books that are being banned. I also found it kind of ironic, because this seminar has inspired me to look to banned books for my next read. I found that most of the books we read would classify as the “great” books and I think the next time I’m on a hunt for a “great” book that I am going to look up a list of banned books. The irony found within this class lies with the fact that the people banning these books only bring attention to the novel they wish to remove.

I also find it paradoxical that most of the time; those who are banning the books are those who really need to re-read the book. I feel that if you are really passionate about a book that you want it banned, just demonstrates the effect of the author on your perspective. Maybe people ban books only to hide their discomfort and unwillingness to change?

Just like in A Wrinkle in Time L‘Engle “asks some version of the same question ‘What does it mean to be human and to be a child of God’” (4). What I took from L ‘Engle’s novel was that our free will is what makes us human. That by removing free will, you take away what makes us different. To me this just exemplifies my point which I made earlier, that the ones who are banning the books are the ones who really need to sit down and read them. These banishers could learn a lot if they could just sit down with an open mind.

Hettinga also states the novel as, “troubling” because “the values and authority structures established by the author…have vanished” (3). I find his reasoning to fit right in with what I stated before, that those who wish things to be banned are those who really need to listen to the message.

This class has allowed me to see that society is tricky, and the convention isn’t always ‘right’. Most of our readings covered the issue of conforming to the ‘norms’ of society and the dangers that come with following blindly. I felt that this course was a sort of wake up call, and it really let me that the society we live in is filled with these blind followers. One major lesson learned from reading these banned books, is to not let people restrict my free will.

I also would like to tie in my service-learning, and just state that Govans was a great school to do service at, and the kids probably taught me more then I taught them. Many of my experiences at Govans have travelled into this course and my Race and Ethnicity course with Dr. Norman. I find that service and direct experience not only help teach me solidarity, but it allows me to put direct contact to what is learned in the classroom. I can only hope that the students at Govans get their hands on some banned books, especially AWrinkle in Time.

Final Blog :-(, "Work in Progress"

In mostly all of my classes I’m not what you would classify as an active participant. I usually shy away from sharing my opinions out of fear that they aren’t enlightening enough or that I may be repeating something that was implicit in another student’s analysis. Throughout this semester this class has not only made me want to participate, but I have enjoyed it. I think this is because of the no holds barred conversations that emerge. This class has taught me to become a lot more open minded about social, political, and emotional issues. There are some classes where I have read a text that I have completely despised, but in this class I have enjoyed everything we’ve read. I truly feel like I can say how I feel and not be judged, but rather understood and appreciated.
For me, our class is much like the “Penguins’ Situation” that Hettinga talks about in “A wrinkle in Faith.” Our class, like the Penguin’s situation, creates true intimacy over time (the course of a semester), a safe environment (small class, like Mary Rose O’Reilly’s “Peaceable Classroom”), and the willingness of the participants to hazard risks (reading banned books). Home this weekend I was on the train with my family and we got to talking to another family. They had two young daughters and one young son. Out of nowhere one of the young girls looks over to me and says “Daddy is the laziest man I know and I love him!” I immediately burst out laughing and so did everyone else. The young girl felt no embarrassment for blurting out whatever she felt. I envied her, and it reminded me of the freedom I feel from the conversations in our class. The emancipatory model that Gailbrath is presenting is a strong tactic in understanding children. By reentering and reevaluating their own childhood I agree that it would be easier to support and negotiate with your child without breaking their innocent spirit, like the one I encountered this weekend. This innocent spirit is something that L’Engle has touched upon. Using Meg as her main character in A Wrinkle of Time she is able to solve the problems in her novel with the simple conclusion that Love conquers hate.
As an author, L’Engle is just giving readers a taste of what she feels life is like for her, and she is not afraid to say how it. The ability to say how you feel is not something that should be taken for granted, because today in polite society sometimes we feel it is smarter to keep our mouths shut. I have realized, like Alex has previously mentioned, that many people are afraid. They are afraid of speaking their minds, standing up for what they believe in, and mostly afraid of disturbing the “status quo.” Because of our class I have learned that its better not to be afraid, but to delight in the fear and press forward with issues that excite you.
I prepared my presentation for today’s class and focused mainly on tattoo banning. During my research I came across a quite colorful character (literally and metaphorically speaking). Lucky Diamond Rich, known as the most tattooed man in history, has covered his body with 8 layers of ink, claims he only has one tattoo, and believes that his work of art will not be finished until the day he dies as it continues to be a "work in progress". He believes that people tend to think that tattoos restrict you from life but that it is the complete opposite. In an interview I found on youtube he was asked about his tattoo “it still isn’t finished?”, and he responded “never will be…” Rich’s tattoos free him from the confines of social normality and this freedom allows him to grow and progress with every tattoo he gets. I was immediately intrigued and amazed by his devotion to this art and completely agreed with his philosophy.