Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment to the United State’s Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Although, it starts with the world Congress the First Amendment also applies to the states as a result of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

The right to free speech of one of the fundamental rights that all authors should embrace especially in light of the recent situation in the middle-east. Apparently someone made a silly movie disrespecting Islam that may have resulted in some very real deaths. This is tragic. At the same time making a stupid or even offensive movie concerning a religion is clearly protected by the constitution. 

Most countries do not have the same rights of freedom of speech we have in America. This includes other Western and European nations. In Germany it is illegal to make hateful comments about religious groups. In various other European countries speech that could cause religous riots can be barred.

Not all speech is protected in America. The most often used example is shouting fire in a crowded building. This type of speech is clearly not protected. Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919). Certainly the dissemination of obscene materials is not protected. There are also limitations related to times and places. These might limit speech at school events or in quite neighborhoods at two in the morning. Although there are “hate crime” laws they usually involve some other crime and the hate crime aspect of it is used to enhance the penalties of the existing crime. As an example if you hit a person based on the color of their skin that crime could result in a higher potential sentence.

I don’t believe as Americans we have the right to avoid being offended. Many of the books that have taken me out of my comfort zone were trans-formative in my life. I am saddened each year when they put out a list of banned books for schools that include many classic works of literature.

There is an old saying among lawyers that, “Hard cases make bad law”. We must not limit our free speech because people in the middle-east use it as an excuse to riot. We should certainly tell anyone who will listen that making derogatory statements or movies about a person’s religion is rude, crass and unacceptable. Yet, at the same time our government needn’t do so.

As an author it is a slippery slope to limit speech that is offensive. Many books I have enjoyed my grandmother would find rude. I find many of the books children are reading to be disturbing. Hunger Games a must read for the elementary and middle school set involves having children fight to the death for entertainment. Yet, any down side to free speech is vastly outweighed by the alternative.

Sex and Suicide

I was at a school event and people were talking about the eighth grade reading list. There was some discussion about a book on the reading list that made reference to sex and suicide. This of course started me on the path to thinking about what is or is not appropriate for eighth graders to read. I will admit, before going further, that Cocaine Zombies is not for young children.

The class is an eighth grade honors reading class. I suspect that most of the students read at an adult level. Thus, there may be some practical problem of finding books at that reading level that don’t reference to sex. I can think of books that would work. There are many books written in Victorian times that don’t have sex in them. Dracula, although sexually suggestive, does not have sex in it. Wuthering Heights is a love story but doesn’t have sex in it. These books may be classics but are probably not going to get most eighth graders excited about reading. I assume the object of an eighth grade reading class is to  encourage children to become life long readers. Not an easy task given the hundreds of television channels, the internet and so many choices in video-games. I don’t know if this is an indication of lack of success but the Borders in our town is now a liquor store.

Maybe I gave up around the same time a gave my son an X-Box but I am not sure we can reasonably shield our children from sex and violence. Sex is a huge motivator in life and in literature. A character in a book is often motivated by sex even if she never engages in sex. A character may be conflicted about sexual feelings even if he does not engage in sex.

An eighth grader is hopefully not engaging in a sexual relationship. That being said that does not stop them from being motivated by sexual feelings. Certainly it does not stop an eighth grader from thinking about sex. After all we are surrounded by sexual images in our movies, advertisements and literature. Not to mention, they are teenagers, it is what they think about. It would be like yelling at a fish for thinking about night crawlers. So as far as sex is concerned I don’t see the benefit of banning books that make reference to it in school.

In addition it might be a good way for students to be reminded of and to reenforce what they have learned in their sex education class. It is also a good time for parents to reenforce what their values are concerning sexual activity. Children grow up too fast. Yet, unless we intend to follow them twenty-four hours a day the best we can hope for is to teach them what is right. Sadly it seems there are sometimes pregnant eighth graders in our schools. Yet, I suspect most are not in honors reading. I also suspect that they didn’t decide to engage in sexual activity after reading a book on the eighth grade reading list.

As for suicide tragically it does happen even when children are young. Sometimes, a child who feels unpopular or different sees no end to these feelings. That child may feel sad, unloved and even suicidal. Yet, if they held on until high school or college they would discover they have a lot to live for. A teacher or parent would have that insight. A child might simply need an adult to assure them things get better. I think that this might be an appropriate topic to talk about in reading class. Isn’t that the lesson in Romeo and Juliet? Isn’t the moral of that play that suicide is a tragic waste. Would I bar a child from Shakespeare?

I am not an expert on the subject matter. I am neither a psychologist or a teacher. Take my ramblings for what they are. If  you disagree feel free to post a comment. I have always taken the position if you love your children they will turn out alright. Maybe that is just wishful thinking.



The Possession

Over the labor day weekend I took in  the movie The Possession. I learned in doing research for Ruler of Demons that one thing old religions have in common is the supernatural. Yet, after The Exorcist Catholicism took the lead on the subject matter. Although the Possession is not on par with The Exorcist it was not a bad movie and had its fair share of frights without having to resort to buckets of blood and over the top special effects. I should also note that The Exorcist was originally rated X and received an R rating later on. The Possession is rated PG-13.

The villain in this move was a “dybbuk” an evil spirit trapped in a box based on the Jewish tradition (I do make reference to the term in Ruler of Demons). In the movie a girl finds a box at a garage sale with Hebrew writing on the side. When the girl, who I believe was ten, opens the box all heck breaks loose. I don’t want to give away too much about the movie (since it is still in theaters) but a little girl possessed by an evil spirit is a bit unsettling.

One easy way to manipulate an audience is to use an innocent child. Let’s face it everyone has a soft spot for children. Pointing out that this little girl was a vegetarian and loved animals was kind of manipulative but it worked to some degree. The main character is the husband. His two children were not developed very much in the movie. Despite the lack of character development I still cared about the family enough to cheer them on when facing the “dybbuk”.

The movie The Unborn that came out in 2009 also used a dybbuk as the antagonist. It is nice to see that Hollywood is starting to look at other evil beings to provide frights. Lately. It seems harder and harder to find original movies anymore. Although, the Possession is not completely original and steals from other movies such as The Exorcist it does provide a new take on things. The scene with the MRI and when she is looking in the mirror were both new and scary. I would say spoiler alert but the mirror scene was used in the commercial.

One common technique used in this movie, that is often over used, is the idea that one person comes to grips with the problem while those around them remain oblivious. In the Possession after the father figures out that his daughter is possessed the mother, sister and her new boyfriend refuse to acknowledge it. The idea that the child is acting out because of the parents divorce is a bit much when the child goes from a sweetheart to pure evil. Sure whose child doesn’t turn pure evil on occasion. Yet, this child looked the part.

As the summer blockbuster season turns to the darker fare of fall I will try and throw in a couple of movie reviews. I should note that ParaNorman deserves a Cocaine Zombies high five. It shows that the undead are not all about eating brains. There is good and bad in everyone. That is true even if they are dead or undead.