“Human devastation as mass entertainment” – Ani DiFranco

It’s almost noon, I’m watching the local news, and they keep running a teaser for a story on a controversial art exhibit at a public library in Texas.  I’m not sure if it’s the ALA Annual buzz running through my Facebook minifeed, or that I’ve been really using my public library a lot since graduation, but I’ve been feeling extra library-y lately. 

I have been waiting about a half hour for this story, and finally decided to consult the Internet.  I just read an article on CNN.com Sculptures reflect violent life on the border — and death that presented the case in a completely different tone than my local news. The news story was about 2 -3 minutes long, and was in the last “newsy” slot of the broadcast. In the teasers they didn’t ever mention or hint at context, it was just images of disembodied heads peppered with bullet holes and brilliant splatters of red paint. I understand that they wanted to keep us watching, and it’s more enticing and inflammatory to let our imaginations figure out the meaning behind these images on our own. I know my imagination went to the worst possible option for me.

I think that all library people have these locations where the personal clashes with the policy. I think at times most of us caveat our stance on intellectual freedom. Yes, you should be able to access any information you want, and I will help you and won’t judge, but I’m a feminist, and I’m a subset of feminists that finds pornography troubling. What do I do with that when I’m working at the reference desk?

Also, I’m a person whose life has been altered by suicide, and I see images of heads with bullet holes, and my stomach lurches and I want to grab all the children and “wrap them in a blue cloud cloth away from the too rough fingers of the world” (shout out to L. Hughes). So I was prepared. My stomach was steeled. I was ready to become indignant. But, when I read the article, and finally saw the entire news piece, my opinion immediately changed. “Oh,” I thought, “that’s about Juarez. So, it’s poignant.”

Other people’s tragedy is apparently ok. I do understand that talking about things that aren’t talked about, or expressing one’s feelings through art are incredibly important. I have a gender studies degree, a field born out of consciousness-raising sessions, I understand the power of thinking, feeling, sharing, and speaking.

I can’t help but think about a show I heard on public radio – I think it was This American Life, but I’m not sure. There was a woman whose family had been devastated by murder, talking about all of the cop/crime shows – Law and Order, CSI, Homicide, The Wire, The Shield – and how we as a culture seem to find murder one of our favorite forms of entertainment. For her, these shows made light of the tragedy her family went through. I don’t think she expected everyone to watch their words around her for the rest of their lives, or for all pop culture to change to reflect her tragedy, but she was just sickened by how common, accepted, and routine murder was.

I get this. When my stressed out friends and colleagues put their fake finger gun to their head my stomach bubbles with acid, and I feel the lurch from my intestines to my throat. “You just don’t know,” I think, “if you knew. You couldn’t do that. You would never be able to do that, say that, or make light of that if you knew.”

We all have our tragedies, we all have those “button issues” that chip away at our hearts. Who are we to think that ours should be the only protected category? And what would happen to us if we were unable to discuss ANY button issues? I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that I steer clear of Law and Order: Rape as Entertainment (aka SVU), don’t like things that are inflammatory for inflammatory’s sake, and will always always always be keenly aware of any reference to my personal list of tragedies.

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