Sunday, November 29, 2009

Higher Standards

Of all the different non-literary bans represented in the articles for this week, the one I was most interested in reading were the ones involving tattoo bans, especially after having returned from a country where tattoos hold a special significance in the culture of the native people, and having picked up a tattoo of my own symbolizing the significance my time there. Not to say the other bans were not as interesting, but surely some of them had at least more reasonable grounds. As much as the “seven dirty words” brings up important issues of freedom of speech, one can at least recognize the power of words to injure and hurt, as especially evidenced in the article from The Atlantic, recognizing especially the painful associations many Americans carry with the word “nigger.” This isn’t to say that words should ever be banned, but at least there is hurtful power of words is recognized. This is the same with smoking, where the awful effects of cigarettes and of second hand smoke have been realized. However, with the issue of tattooing, and also of baggy, sagging jeans, even these arguments don’t exist. The reasons for such bans are feebly given answers related to issues of “public decency,” something that is hard to argue when saggy pants don’t actually expose private parts and tattoos are only indecent if the content of the tattoo is something objectionable. Would any really argue that a tattoo of a bunny rabbit or a butterfly is indecent? Sergeant Major Carlton Kent, from the article in Time, even has the audacity to say that this tattoo ban within the Marine Corps is because "Marines hold themselves to a higher standard than everyone else.” I have so many objections to this blanket statement it’s hard to know where to start. What standards might you be speaking of, Sergeant Major Kent? If you’re speaking of a moral standard, then it is certainly hard to believe that an outright ban on anything would ever constitute a higher standard, especially when you have many cultures where tattoos are a symbol of pride and the more tattoos one have may actually signify their higher standing in the community. Do the Marines then assume they are at a higher level of moral reasoning than these cultures? Now to be fair, the legislation is certainly not aimed at these cultures, but rather on the average Joe Marine who gets whatever meaningless bullshit tattoo he sees in the tattoo shop every other weekend. However, should Marines who view tattooing as a serious and symbolic body art be punished because a couple of guys getting tattoos of flaming skulls and naked girls on motorcycles lower the “standards” of the Marines? Besides, don’t you think simply saying that the Marines have a higher standard than everyone else seems just a bit pretentious doesn’t it? Using that “higher standard” phrase seems like a cop-out to me, like a way to use feeble moral grounds to justifying banning something that the greater powers simply don’t like.
This seems to be the one thing that surprised me the most about this course: seeing the truly feeble reasons people find to ban literature. Often it seems that such literature is the most important and vital to keep around for it changes the way people may think about the world and the way they interpret literature. For people to ban such literature on moral grounds is highly questionable, and shows that perhaps the real reason things are banned are because of people who are afraid of different world views, people who don’t want to see the world any differently, perhaps out of a sense of tradition or elitism, or as a method of though control, out of fear that others reading a “questionable” text may end up disagreeing with authority figures. However, it seems to me anyone who doesn’t constant question authority and the world around them doesn’t really understand the world at all, and thus keeping these books in circulation should be a high priority for lovers of knowledge everywhere. This is the true "higher standard:" not refusing to read literature because of the moral uncertainties contained within, but constantly reading and questioning one's morality to effectively have a better understanding of what that morality means.

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