What Is Indecent

Every year, the Toronto Sun has a great contest open to the public.  They invite readers to submit their own opinion columns and they give you a word limit of 650 words to get your points across.
 
I’ve entered the contest 3 times since it was established in 1996.  What follows is my most recent entry from last year’s contest.  Entitled What Is Indecent, it’s still very timely considering things haven’t changed since I wrote it.
 
After losing the contest (and not even getting an honourable mention), I passed it on to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times who turned it down by giving me the silent treatment.  This 636-word essay has remained unpublished until now.
 
The one good thing about the experience with the Sun occurred shortly after I tried faxing my column to their offices.  I got a call from a nice woman named Sherry Johnston who was responsible for rounding up all the entries but sadly, wasn’t a judge.  She left me a message saying that she, too, was a Howard Stern fan and liked what I wrote but it was very hard to read so she requested I re-send it.  So I faxed it again and received a nice email reply where, once again, she praised my piece, told me she tapes Stern on her VCR every morning “when I don’t screw up the buttons” and burns each day’s show on a CD so she can listen in her car.  I wrote her a thank you email and told her about this site, MarksFriggin.com, where a written rundown of the show is posted shortly after every broadcast.  It’s an invaluable site for anyone who misses even just one Howard Stern radio show.  The best part is the 10 years worth of archives plus links to many Stern-related online articles and much more.
 
Here’s my 2005 Toronto Sun Column Writing Contest entry:
 
WHAT IS INDECENT?
By Dennis Earl
 
It is the question that haunts our time. It is the question we cannot answer. It is the reason why we are divided.

What is indecent?

On one side of the debate you have the Puritans, the people who think we’re all going to hell in a hand basket because the rest of us like to have fun and they’re against that. Their beliefs are so stiflingly rigid that either you’re with them all the way or you’re the enemy.

They’re the ones who decry adult entertainment, sex education and evolution. They write books about legislating morality and organize campaigns to shut down broadcasters, writers and everybody else in the media they feel have steered from the path of righteousness and all that is decent and good. They’re the reason Howard Stern, CBS and Fox receive ridiculously large fines for equally ridiculous reasons. They support censorship of opposing views except their own. They think everything can be solved with more Jesus talk. They’re so annoying they even turn off people who agree with their views on abortion and gay marriage.

On the other side, you have everybody else. Or, as I like to call them, people with lives. They’re not nearly as obsessed with our pop culture as the Puritans. They simply don’t have the time. They choose what they want to read, see and hear and are more offended by restrictions of choice than anything else. Sadly, they’re not nearly as vocal as the self-appointed arbiters of “good taste”, which has led to the current cultural ice age.

Howard Stern is right. He can’t be the only one who speaks out against this. It’s not just his right to free speech that is threatened now.

Again, I ask the question: what is indecent? Surely, we can agree that child pornography is morally offensive. But what about when the media tries to explore the dark impulses of pedophiles, particularly during high-profile court cases? Is the treatment of the subject of pedophilia and rape literature as offensive as the subject itself?

As I write this, I am reminded of Roger Ebert’s mantra about the movies: “It’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it.” Far too often, the critics of sex and violence in entertainment merely complain about those subjects and not the filmmakers’ treatment of them. To the Puritans, it’s all about protecting the children from anything violent or sexual. But what they’re really trying to do is control the marketplace and the choices of legal adults. It’s called reality and they can’t handle it.

But they always make an exception for religious-based entertainment, such as The Passion Of The Christ. At the time of its release, Ebert said it was the most violent film he ever saw and he was shocked that its US rating was an R and not an NC-17. (It was 18A here.) If it was anybody else but Christ getting pummeled, kids would not have been allowed to see it, religious groups would’ve organized protests and we would’ve seen the usual, pointless, televised hearings about the lack of morality in our films.

There’s a disturbing hypocrisy here. The Puritans want to be the Supernannies of our pop culture and yet, at the same time, they want to showcase on the Internet every single thing that offends their sensibilities and which anybody, including kids, can download. I just don’t understand their thinking here.

As an entertainment fan, my blood boils frequently when the subject of indecency rears its perpetually ugly head. There is no reasoning with a Puritan when it comes to freedom of choice and most especially, freedom from religion. It’s one thing to advocate family films, social conservatism and religious devotion. It’s quite another to denounce anyone who finds morality in opposing beliefs.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2006
5:00 p.m.

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Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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