April 01, 2007

It's a Fine Life...

Art. It’s such a small word in print. Yet those three little letters combined encompass something so much bigger than any of us could ever fully explain in person or on paper. But as an opinionated writer, you know I’ll try. My personal take is that art can be anything creative that provokes and engages thought, conversation, and feeling. Of course, art and what qualifies it as such is subject to interpretation. Because we live in a world with billions of different people with billions of different points of view, such interpretation often creates conflict.

Earlier this year, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks had a thing or two to say about the goings on at the Rochester Central Library in regards to the library’s Internet policy. For the three of you who may have been vacationing in a warmer climate, it seems a WHEC Channel 10 special investigation “uncovered” that at the library anyone over the age of 17 has open access to any materials they choose to view via the internet on the public computers, which are in full view for all to see, including children. In one instance, explicit materials were being viewed by a probationer previously arrested for child endangerment on computers near the children’s section. Consequently, an alarmed Ms. Brooks took immediate action writing a letter to the library’s director sharing her dissatisfaction with the whole scenario and insisting changes be made.

“I am demanding that our Central Library take immediate action to halt the public viewing of pornography and other graphic materials,” Ms. Brooks wrote. “Should the library choose to ignore this reasonable demand to protect our community’s children, I am prepared to exit the annual agreement with the City of Rochester, and defund library operations at the earliest possible date under the terms of the agreement. Simply put, I refuse to allow any further County tax dollars to flow to a facility that has failed to protect our children.” (Ms. Brooks’ letter, in its entirety, is available to the public online at www.monroecounty.gov.)

I have so many things to say about this predicament.

On one hand, I’m in total agreement that something should be done to discourage public displays of things that one would consider private behavior. I can’t even comprehend why anyone would walk into a public library, plunk down on a public computer and look up adult oriented material. Talk about a red flag on questionable choice in venue. I mean, doesn’t common sense mean anything anymore? Besides…HELLO! We have stores where you can buy and rent such material to enjoy in the PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME! Trust me. I think I know a thing or two about this (wink, wink).

On the other hand, my rights as an individual are jumping up and down and screaming foul.

Every time something morally or socially questionable comes up, it’s always “what about the children”? With all due respect to the parents of the world, why is it that I should be compelled to govern my habits, interests and lifestyle because other people choose to be fertile? In Ms. Brooks letter, she refers to these children I’m supposed to be considering with every waking breath eleven times. Eleven doesn’t really fit with the number of people I’m actually responsible for in life, which is one. Myself. I’m not saying it’s not my responsibility to make sure my action do not harm or infringe on others (again with the common sense thing), but likewise, someone having kids shouldn’t infringe on my rights.

But my biggest concern in this brouhaha is the effect it could possibly have on how society views the various things people call “art” and how their views can sometimes censor and shape it. Before you look at me with raised eyebrows, don’t worry. I’m not going to go into a lecture defending the merits of adult material and I’m not going to call it art. I will say I personally detest the word “porn” and its variations because by definition they imply that the things it describes are “offensive” and “indecent”, neither of which I think materials designed and geared towards consenting adults are. When people start throwing around words like graphic, inappropriate, indecent, obscene, offensive, and pornographic, one question always pops into my head. By whose standards? Don’t all of those words, like art itself, fall clearly into the classification of personal interpretation? Do I really need someone making these distinctions for me? With her words, Ms. Brooks’ has. Now she has demanded the library follow suit. So now we have more people applying labels and judgments. Hmmm. Today: “No more to adult materials that may be objectionable to some adults and not suitable for children”. Tomorrow: “I just don’t know about this Robby character. He used the word fuck in his last column. He’s always saying inappropriate things. I think he may be too gay for people to handle! THE CHILDREN! THE CHILDREN!” I know what you’re thinking. “Now, Robby. Even for you, don’t you think that’s being a bit extreme?” No. I don’t. It could potentially be the end result of arbitrary choices being made my arbitrary people about not so arbitrary things. I’ve seen American Idol.

I don’t trust or need society, God bless them, to judge or interpret things for me. Do you?

In a perfect world, artists and other creative people will continue to provoke and engage, the general public will use more common sense in how they behave beyond the comforts of their own private domain, librarians will not be substitute Mommies, and political figures who mean well won’t be forced to make potentially misinterpreted judgments regarding important causes and issues based on a few ignorant people’s actions.

And, if I’m lucky, I’ll always be here to tell you about them in my own special way.

Essential Download: "It's a Fine Life"
Artisit: Georgia Brown & Cast
Available On: Oliver!

Originally published in the April 2007 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.