Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Zoot Suit Riot" Isn't Just the Name of a Song...

*Note: I have no idea to go about cursing on this blog, so I'm going to be discretionary enough to not offend anyone. On the other hand, I'm going to also try to be as explicit (as in 'clear') as possible.*

Our class had sort of a mixed bag of readings for this Monday's class, some of which were about L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, others articles about different bans on cursing, baggy pants, tattoos, and more. I'm going to try and fit them all together the best I can.

All of our readings focused on the ethical, and what dilemmas can arise out of these debates. In the L'Engle articles, the "problem" was mainly in the writings themselves; L'Engle's books have been banned for being too religiously-minded, and at the same time banned for being not specifically religious enough. Either way, when any books are banned, including hers, it takes away from the fantastical element of fiction by forcing some real-world truth onto the reader. I thought this quote from Hettinga's article A Wrinkle In Faith was spot on: "When fiction is not read as fiction
but as philosophy or aphorism, the reader, however well intentioned,does the writer a significant injustice."

Now, philosophy is all well and good, but sometimes it's dangerous to over-think certain works of art (fiction, painting, music, etc.). I was a little confused and disenchanted by the article by Galbraith on "Emancipatory Children's Studies." Her discussion of psychology and (her interpretation of) philosophy was very dry and didn't convince me in any way that Children's literature is something to be analyzed or studied. This is a very tricky subject, understanding Children's literature from an adult point of view, but as I said earlier, it's something that is sometimes seriously over-scrutinized. Let's be honest-- all the hints, underlying themes, etc. that reveal something about the world in children's literature usually remain unseen by children reading these books. A child's outlook on the world is often one of "blissful ignorance," and if not blissful, at least ignorant. Galbraith's article seemed more concerned with an adult's view of children's literature, and I am on the side of Rotpeter the Ape on this one: Once you cross over from ignorance, there's no going back.

This idea of ignorance is key I think to the defense of cursing and baggy pants. Tattoos and smoking I think are in a different ballpark, simply because the banning of Tattoos on a universal level is a ban on free expression, aka free speech in its artistic representation. Smoking is also a totally different thing, because smoking in public places affects the physical health of other people, sometimes against their will.

The articles about banning cursing and banning baggy pants gave historical background info on how these two "trends," I guess you could say, came to be. What was most interesting to me about the cursing articles was that most non-religious "swears" today originated probably to replace the blasphemous curses that used the name of God or other holy divinities. I also thought the articles were spot on in their discussion of how cursing bends the rules of grammar by not fitting in neatly in one grammatical category, such as verb, adverb, or noun. As a potty mouth myself, I also think it's important to note that not all curse words are meant literally. The defense that all people automatically think of sex when one mentions the word "f***" is ridiculous. If so, with my mouth I'd be thinking about sex 23 hours of the day, and I'm not.

I don't agree that people should be ignorant of what words mean or how trends came to be, but I think it's unfair to condemn people who are ignorant of "crimes" that they have yet to commit. For example, the trend of baggy pants apparently started in prisons so that those incarcerated could not conceal weapons, and were not provided with belts. The trend exploded in the 90s when hip-hop music became popular. People banning the trend claim that baggy pants are a representation of this prison lifestyle and a glorification of "defying authority." First of all, young men who wear these baggy pants probably have no idea where the trend originated, and second of all, condemning the trend would be partially condemning a crucial part of hip-hop culture. I guess you could fight for the claim of "indecent exposure," but until I see somebody's ass, I don't think that showing underwear itself should be a crime. A crime of fashion definitely, but not one that someone should be sent to jail for.

The ethical standpoint I have come to is one I already knew I believed in: the ignorant should not be punished for their ignorance. If people have a problem with the way the "ignorant" are acting, they should do something themselves and educate them. On the other hand, in the case of children's literature, by all means, keep them ignorant as long as you possibly can. Our society's greatest minds are probably at risk, but there's another dilemma there as well. The final question is: What's the greater risk, educating the ignorant, or ignoring the educated?

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