Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Hiding Behind the First Amendment"

I'm coming to this story a little late, but check out "Too Close to Home," from The Hartford Advocate, which traces the history of a book by Brian McDonald called, In the Middle of the Night.  While the novel is not the kind of thing I normally read (it's a true crime novel which "revisits the morning of July 23, 2007, when Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes allegedly invaded the home of Dr. William Petit, beating him with a baseball bat and raping, torturing and murdering his wife and two daughters" in Cheshire, CT), the hoopla surrounding the book's introduction to the Cheshire Public Library is fascinating in an stomach-upsetting kind of way.

After library director Ramona Harten decided to add two copies of In the Middle of the Night to the stacks at the CPL, residents of Cheshire gathered to demand removal of the book for being offensive while others called for Harten to be fired.  It's a typical small-town knee-jerk book banning fiasco, but I have a hard time understanding why Harten was metaphorically strung up by protestors while McDonald is simply getting (tons and tons) of free press: "In the Middle of the Night had an initial print run of 65,000 — McDonald said that's "middle-of-the-road for this kind of book" — but, at local bookstores, it sold out almost immediately. All over Connecticut, libraries had to start wait-lists — including in Cheshire, where more than a dozen people requested the book."

To my mind, there are two distinct issues in question here. The first is the legality and morality associated with "true crime" novels which, in general, seek to sensationalize atrocities in order to make a quick buck.  According to the article, McDonald was approached only days after the murders about writing the book, a period of time which, if not unethical, is at the very least callous.  (In addition, though some have suggested that McDonald may have violated a court gag order by interviewing Komisarjevsky, the gag order does not apply to people who are merely writing about the case in a fictionalized setting.)

The second issue is the role that libraries have in determining what is appropriate reading.  While many of the protestors seem to believe that Harten was merely trying to rock the boat by bringing in a book that would offend the masses, "She'd never heard of McDonald's book until a TV reporter called to ask for the library's stance on it. Harten conferred with her staff and learned there were several requests for the book; at that point, she decided to order it based on its 'evident popularity and relevance to Cheshire.'" 

Librarians do not serve as our society's moral compasses.  They do not determine was is "appropriate" reading for children--parents are responsible for that, so reading the following quotations is enough to make my blood boil:
  • "[Cheshire residents] threatened to stop patronizing the library, called for Harten to be disciplined or fired, and said things like: 'I think the librarian is too full of herself' and, 'She wanted to show that she's got all the power. It's all about her.'"
  • "'The only person who has benefited from this is Ramona Harten,' [board member Marilyn] Bartoli seethed. 'There's thousands of other books that the library doesn't have, but apparently those two books will get her a national library award.'"
  • "Bartoli never articulated a coherent position on free speech, generally just prefacing her comments with, 'While I in no way support censorship ... .' (This was even more perplexing in reverse, as when Bartoli accused her opponents of 'hiding behind the First Amendment.')"
First of all, how the hell does someone hide behind one of the Amendments of the Constitution? That would be like me saying that all gun owners "hide behind the Second Amendment."  It's one of the rights of this country.  Whether or not it should be a right is an entirely different question entirely.  The fact that these protestors immediately turned to ad hominem attacks reveals the pedestrian workings of their minds to the point that I should be able to dismiss them as unworthy of attention, but they still irritate the shit out of me.  In addition, Bartoli's election to "Cheshire's Republican Town Committee, which, thanks to a big win in the most recent election cycle, will be able to replace four Democrat members on the library board next month" chaps my ass.

There are several things that make the whole situation a little more bearable: the relatively low numbers of protestors compared to the population of Cheshire, the fact that Bartoli's political scheming is so pathetically obvious, and the fact that Harten has, for the most part, been vindicated.  Rather than calling for books to be banned from libraries, I wish protestors would get it through their heads that bannings are not the same thing as boycotts

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails