Today is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, the Jewish Festival of Booths. In keeping with the more lenient final days of the holiday, my family has been trekking all over Southern California on outings. Today, I’m cooking, so between the challah baking and the vegetable roasting, I’d like to share a few thoughts with my readers.
A Writer’s Quandry
Yesterday, we visited El Pueblo de los Angeles, the original non-Indian settlement here in L.A. Last year, the Pueblo welcomed a new addition to its site on Olvera Street — an interpretive center for the América Tropical mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros that appears near the roof of what’s known as “the Italian Building.”
When the mural was unveiled in 1932, it immediately fell victim to controversy because of its anti-imperialist sensibilities. The most “offensive” images on the right half of the mural were quite literally whitewashed not long after it’s first exhibition, with the remainder of the mural being painted over four years later.
I was aghast as I listened to and read the details of the story. A white socialite pushed to remove an artist’s genuine expression of the Latino experience because it offended her political and social sensibilities.
Now, here’s the seemingly ironic part of the situation. I have a web page devoted to a “kosher reading list” and elsewhere have confessed to censoring my kids’ reading materials. My husband and I have effectively banned TV, Disney movies & Romeo and Juliet from our home because we don’t like their effects on children (see my comment in this link to the excellent post by Pop Chassid).
Yes, I am a self-described censor.
A lot of artists and writers are pretty disgusted with those of us who wield sharpies and scissors when we see naked people, dirty words, and such. They probably hate it when I phone billboard owners to complain about billboards I deem inappropriate because they contain images of naked people and are placed on the same block as my kids’ schools or over a synagogue.
I’ve recently seen a spate of Fear No Art T-shirts and bumper stickers. The people displaying these T-shirts and bumper stickers want to protect others from people like me.
Feel free to throw some rotten tomatoes at me now.
In short, my brain is housing two very contradictory ideas:
In one corner, you have the parent-&-teacher me, wielding my scissors and silver sharpie (two layers in silver more effectively covers print in most magazines than the black kind, I’ve learned from experience doctoring my kids’ National Geographics).
In the other corner, you’ll find the other me, the artist so adamantly advocating self-expression.
Here’s the resolution to the seeming contradiction in my behavior. It is a long-held belief, but heretofore, unexpressed by me in public.
I don’t believe that governments should prevent books from being written and published, short of extreme examples that are already illegal to publish and distribute in the U.S. Artistic production should not be controlled. That’s how totalitarian governments control their enemies, after all, and that’s why the Founding Fathers created the First Amendment.
However, I think that parents and teachers should use their best judgment, consumer power, and reasonable application of office supplies to guide the viewing and reading of their children and students. In my eyes, artists (and people who call themselves artists) have the right to express themselves, but not to foist their work on my children.
Okay, I can hear the objections of some readers out there:
What about that public mural? The one I described at the top of this post? The one that’s there for every child in L.A. to see?
While political self-expression is generally over the heads of kids (even after our visit to America Tropical, I doubt my two younger kids understand the political context that sparked the fuss over the mural), violent or sexually-charged images and profanity have a way of rubbing off on children. Those images and words cannot be erased, nor can they be argued with in a balanced way, as can political opinions or other forms of intellectual expression.