Monday, March 16, 2009

Electric City makes a porno

I have largely stayed out of the exhaustive discussion at Electric City Weblog over the Kaimin's sex column (numerous links; just check my blogroll, where my longstanding broken link to that site has now been fixed). I jumped in only to ask Rob Natelson whether the sex column was truly pornographic. He assured me that it was; I was dubious but didn't want to make the argument without having read the columns, and I didn't want to read the columns.

Now I have read a few, and I don't see any pornography there. What I read doesn't go much further than the sex column that appears in the refurbished MSU Billings Retort, and that doesn't go very far. But that's not my point. I'm more interested in the larger issue, which is the professor's complaint that taxpayers are being forced to pay for content they may not like.

I'm not insensitive to the argument, but that's the breaks. We all have to pay for government we don't want, including the occasional war. Democracies tend to be self-correcting on those sorts of issues, but they aren't perfect.

I even agree that the Hazelwood case, however little I may like it, was correctly decided. Somebody has to take final responsibility for what appears in print; as long as schools have to pay the libel judgments, they are entitled to some control. So, sure, taxpayers have a lot of power to dictate what student papers can print. It is interesting to hear the argument coming from a professor who might easily have the most to lose if Montana taxpayers were to begin seriously clamping down on people who draw state paychecks while expressing unpopular views.

But there is a big difference between the legal obligations of taxpayer-funded entities and what works best. I'd rather have student newspapers left in the hands of students, with some faculty guidance, than placed under the thumb of hyper-sensitive taxpayers. Students need a place where they can screw up pretty freely without ruining their careers; giving student publications the longest possible leash helps ensure that will happen. So what if they make mistakes? Small price to pay. They get a lesson in what works for readers, and they acquire a couple of layers of shellac on their hides.

The same argument applies to such controversies as federal funding of, for instance, an exhibition of Mapplethorpe photographs back in 1989. Some conservatives saw that as final proof that the federal government should not be funding art. The way I see it, such errors are the natural consequence of a robust and uninhibited arts-funding process. If we don't have a process broad enough to tolerate a few stupid mistakes, then we have no process at all.

UPDATE: Worth mentioning, perhaps, that one of my German students brought to class a book about sex that is used for required sex education classes in Germany for about third or fourth grade. It is far more graphic, in language, content and illustration, than anything I read in the Kaimin's sex column for young adults.

We are a bunch of Puritans, aren't we?

6 comments:

Steve T. said...

You figure stuff like that would have "bequeathed barbarism" by now. Maybe the Professor exaggerates a bit much.

Wulfgar said...

Maybe the Professor exaggerates a bit much.

Please, understatement is often as bad as overstatement. The Professor exaggerates a lot much.

Chuck Rightmire said...

As i said on another website, it's Natelson and cohorts again trying to stir up trouble and stupidity. And where were they when the Montana Law Review devoted a whole issue to calling the Dover judgment on creationism wrong? Seems to me that was a real waste of taxpayer money.

Mark T said...

Victorian. We're Victorian. Puritans were actually quite earthy.

problembear said...

what is wrong with barbarism? plunder, booty, all the wine you can drink....damn lawyers trying to spoil all my fun!

one does wonder why rob is so fascinated though...methinks he doth protest too much over pretty tame stuff...by today's standards.

Jason said...

And as duly elected members of previous Legislatures, the likes of Rick Jore, Ed Butcher and Roger Koopman received pay and benefits funded by my tax dollars.

So, you know, we all end up paying for somebody's speech we don't like.