Does art imitate life? Does life imitate art? Do we copy the violence and sexuality that we see and read in our media and literature, or does it copy us?
We knew it would happen.
When it comes to security (or, rather, what we perceive as security), America has this nasty way of overcompensating and (dare I use the word in the blogosphere??) shooting itself in the proverbial foot.
A high school student in Chicago was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct when his creative writing teacher became concerned about an essay he had written. The Chicago Tribune described the essay as “violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.” Originally, the student was not suspended, but later was arrested.
So, after disturbing screenplays were discovered to have preceded the recent Virginia Tech bloodbath, now we’re going to sweep up anyone who writes something even remotely violent, arrest them, force them into counseling, lock them away from the rest of society in fear? That, after all, is what this comes down to: fear. Fear that creates witch-hunts. Fear that creates the book burning ceremonies of the Qin Dynasty and Nazi regimes. Fear that causes us to throw our liberties to the wind in the name of safety and security.
Look at the story carefully. Notice that the assignment, according to the Tribune, was for the “students to express their emotions through writing.” Any poet that has done the same will tell you that sometimes the result is ugly, because sometimes our emotions are ugly. Granted, these are usually venting exercises for the writer and not published works. But this was a free-writing exercise. The students were told, in essence, to vent their feelings, to write whatever was on their mind. And so, after completing the work as assigned, this poor kid gets arrested for it.
Ever have a thought go through your head that is out of character for you? One that you have absolutely no intention whatsoever of acting on? A passing thought that doesn’t stay? If you haven’t, be careful not to write it down when you do. There’s the moral to this mess.
Here’s an interesting twist on the story, as well. A blogger for Wired notes that the school system in question offers an anonymous online tip form for students to use to report safety concerns to the administration. The source code for the link includes a tracker for the initiator’s IP address. So much for anonymity.
We get angry when the Bush Administration taps phones and monitors email communications without legal authorization, yet we forget that we can only blame ourselves for throwing our privacy and free speech rights out the window the first time we get spooked. Hmmm…
Permit me to point out that the writing of “disturbing” material can be a sign of depression, or bipolar disorder, or any other of a host of psychiatric concerns. As a counselor, I have felt in the past that this has merited my attention in certain cases. However, there is a difference between a threat and a story with disturbing or violent content. Scripture tells stories with graphically violent content. There is also a difference between violent and disturbing content or language that is necessary for the story or artwork, and content that is gratuitous (the screenplays penned by the Tech killer were gratuitous). Permit me to also point out that all of us will suffer from diagnosable depression at some point in our lives. Artists experience this more because we are far more in touch with those emotions. It is our blessing as well as our curse. What we feel, we express in our work. Soon, we will not be permitted to do so, because everything we write or paint or compose or sculpt will require approval to make certain that it is “safe” enough. Soon, the books will be burned. Soon, the hunts will begin.
Because after all, we have to be “safe.”
Is it ironic that we have more to fear than ever from those we expect to keep us that way?