Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What If Orwell Wasn't Wrong, Just Premature? 

Though Postmanites like myself know that Orwellian worldviews needn't come true in order for intellect, diversity and tolerance to dissipate under the weight of censorship -- because, as Huxley reminds us, the masses reject such stuff voluntarily -- it seems some governments can't wait for the masses to fool themselves.

Case in point: Over-broad language in a recently introduced Alabama bill would not only ban gay authors and books with gay characters as the bill intends, but would cause the censorship of pretty much any text which made even the most oblique reference to behavioral practices currently illegal in Alabama.

Potentially "lost" content, according to law-and-politics blog Legal Fiction, would include all historical reference to McCarthyism (Roy Cohn was a homosexual), "all articles and magazine stories about the Abu Ghraib torture," and every issue of the Congressional Record (because congressman Barney Frank outed himself years ago). Not to mention every Elton John album ever recorded.

Not sure how to recognize cases like this when they pass your radar? Here's a hint: if you ever hear some adult claim to be passing laws "for the protection of children," run screaming in the other direction as fast as you possibly can. The moment the law tries to pre-empt parental choice, we all lose.

There's a class issue here, too. Law can't easily take books from my home, but they have a clearer mandate when we're talking about publically funded cultural information access points, like libraries. [Yes, the author of the bill has exepted public libraries, though only under pressure. But some of the poorest small towns in this world only have school libraries, which means school libraries must function as public libraries.] If this law passes, only rich folks in Alabama will be able to have access to some of the most important texts in Western culture, from Sappho to Tennessee Williams.

How horrifying to realize that Orwell may have been right after all. How much more terrifying to realize that it might happen in my own lifetime.

[UPDATE 10:25 pm: Thanks to advisee and all-around genius boy Jeremy who found the editor's note appended to the original article, to wit: "When the time for the vote in the legislature came there were not enough state legislators present for the vote, so the measure died automatically." In other words: this "bill" may have merely been one legislator's personal ratings grab. Doesn't mitigate my concern completely, though. Not as long as there remain legislator out there who believes this tripe is worth bringing up, even if its just to bring in the votes.]

posted by boyhowdy | 4:17 PM |

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