Tag Archives: censorship

Bigot of the Week Award, December 6: IKEA’s Russian Censorship

6 Dec
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

This week Sweden’s famous build-it-yourself furniture company went from big box to bigot box. The international company actually has a long history of LGBT inclusion, offering same-sex partner benefits regardless of the country where a store is located. They have included images of gay and lesbian couples in their advertising and promotional materials for years — including an ad in the US in the 90s that was very cutting edge for its day, up to this point, I say Bravo, IKEA.

Sadly, IKEA’s leadership has decided to take a giant step backwards. The current issue of IKEA Family Living, the promotional magazine given out in the stores, includes this feature about a lesbian couple in England and their son. Well, it includes that feature in every country except one.

Surrendering to Russia’s draconian new “gay propaganda” law, the furniture giant created a separate version of the magazine for its Russian stores. This is a blatant act of censorship and cowardice. Talking out of both sides of her charming salad bowl speakers, IKEA spokesperson Ylva Magnusson contorts like someone trying to assemble a folding bookshelf. Regarding Russia’s law, she says:

Our business is of course focused on home furnishings and we’ll be neutral.

In the words of the lovely and amazing Howard Zinn: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” What a sad dismissal of years of progressive business practices! Of course Magnusson tries to focus on that aspect, saying:

By being an inclusive employer, it provides both a better working environment and allows us to make better decisions.

But that, of course, is also a violation of Russian law, at least implicitly. The hypocrisy is palpable.

IKEA had a choice. They could have stood firm, running the very small risk that the Russian government would pursue legal action against a major international corporation. They didn’t. They could have made a point by depriving Russian shoppers of the magazine altogether, putting a “banned as gay propaganda” sign in the dispensers. They didn’t. Instead they made a callow, callous business decision, reinforcing a tragic law that damages millions of lives.

Badly done IKEA. No meatball for you!  I would encourage people to boycott IKEA at this point.

The Butler: The Personal is Political

23 Aug

OPRAH WINFREY and FOREST WHITAKER star in THE BUTLER My husband and I went to movie night on $5 Tuesdays here in Portland. We finally got to see the much acclaimed The Butler.  Of course, I would probably see anything with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave.   This all-star cast did not let anyone down.  While all of them give fantastic performances, I have to say that Whitaker and Winfrey give nothing less than Academy Award winning performances.   Some may remember that Whitaker earned an Academy  Award for his stellar performance in the Last King of Scotland. However, sadly Winfrey was robbed of an academy award for her stellar performance as Sofia in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Color Purple. 

The Butler does a marvelous job of weaving threads of fiction and non-fiction to create a compelling story of one man’s awakening to the realization that the personal is political against a backdrop of our nations’ ugly history around race.  If only race relations could be relegated to the past, but they cannot be yet — we still have so far to go.   Everything we do and in every way we live our lives, we are making a political statement.

The movie does a phenomenal job capturing the series of presidents under which Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) serves.  While LBJ was not someone I would want to my house for dinner, he was a great president and one of his greatest legacies was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has now been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sadly, the movie also exposes the great flaws of the Reagans and how Reagan’s stand on apartheid put him on the wrong side of history.  Fonda does an amazing job of portraying Nancy Reagan.

I loved that the movie delved into the Freedom Riders and the need for the Black Panther movement.  However, I was sad that Bayard Rustin was not mentioned at all.  I am glad to see that both Rustin and Winfrey will be receiving awards later this year.

Winfrey is just as amazing in The Butler as she was in The Color Purple.  Her character, Gloria, is a complex alcoholic grappling with a husband working as a subversive — albeit he does not know his job is in and of itself subversive — and losing a son to the Vietnam War. (Another waste of human lives for a war that should never have been.)

Just to prove how much we need this movie, a theater in Kentucky has refused to screen The Butler.  So much for freedom of speech.  My esteem (while already quite low because of Rand Paul) just dropped even further.

We were glued to our seats during the entire movie and I so hope most people in the United States see this movie.  The Civil Rights Movement is not over–we still have a long way to go and we still so desperately need people like John Lewis.  Let me know what you think of the movie.

Daniel Tosh: Hate.1, Laughs.0

14 Jul

Just Not Funny!

Thank you to my friend and LGBTQ ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. Allow me to start by admitting that I have never found Tosh to be funny. White male privilege is very seldom funny to me, unless the man has amazing talent at weaving it into something we might call wit. I would just as soon call George W a wit as I would Tosh.

I realize that comedians like to think of everything as fair play when it comes to humor and there is a very natural and understandable reaction against censorship.  What I would call attention to is what I would call bad form, or when one’s privilege overtakes the comedy and thus loses the laughable moment. For example, Tracy Morgan crossed a line when his joke involved killing someone who is gay. Tosh also crossed a line with his contemptible misogyny in defending rape jokes.  Really? Rape is something funny? Racism is not funny, as Michael Richards found out and justifiably lost his career.  Where is the line? Is it possible to cross the line? When someone describes his work as Tosh does:

I’m not a misogynistic and racist person…But I do find those jokes funny, so I say them.

it’s pretty clear he’s lacking both in awareness and a good comic sense.

I believe there is a line of what is acceptable, but I also believe that someone with enormous self-awareness and great aplomb can cross that line.  Curtis Luciani does a fantastic job of articulating self-awareness and what is bad form:

1) Rape is way, WAY more prevalent than you seem to think it is. Are there more than five women in your audience? You do the math, and then you run the little fantasy scenario that I just put together in your head, and you tell me how it feels.

2) I ain’t buying any of that “If I can make jokes about genocide, why can’t I make jokes about rape?” Horseshit, unless you made those genocide jokes during a gig at the Srebrenica Funny Bone. You got away with making a joke about genocide because your odds of having a holocaust survivor’s kid in the audience were pretty fucking low.

And if you did happen to have one in the audience, and he heckled you, walked out, and wrote something nasty on the internet… would you be more likely to be a human being and say “Wow. I can understand why that person’s authentic response to what I was doing was so emotional and negative. Maybe my genocide material just isn’t good enough to justify the pain that it inflicts. Maybe I need more skill in order to pull this off.” Or are you gonna be a lousy piece of shit and say, “Yeah, I apologize, I guess, IF YOU WERE OFFENDED.”

Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain. And if you don’t get that, you are a fucking bully, and I’ve got zero time for bullies.

Well said, Curtis.  One job of a comic is to help people laugh at pain and transform it into something comical.  When one causes harm, shame, or stigma it is no longer “comedy” but pathetic bullying rooted in hate.

Lisa Brown: Censorship and Misogyny in Michigan

18 Jun

Kudos to Lisa Brown

Thank you to my friend Voice of the Trailer (VOT) for inspiring me to write this article. Apparently, Republican men  are determined to rule women’s vaginas. West Bloomfield Representative Lisa Brown was banned from speaking on the Michigan House floor Thursday after she referred to her female anatomy the day before. She used the word “vagina” when voicing her opinion against a bill restricting abortions. She said the bill would violate her Jewish religious beliefs:

I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs, why are you asking me to adopt yours? And finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina but no means no.

As a result of Rep. Brown being censored, at least nine female legislators are going to join playwright Even Ensler Monday night for a reading of her famous 1996 play, The Vagina Monologues, on the Capitol steps.

Ensler commented, ”

Censoring a woman for saying a word that is a body part that 51 percent of their constituents have is a repression that we have not and should not ever witness in this country.

Kudos to Brown for writing an article for the Detroit News where she explains her …”outrage that this legislative body wants to dictate not only what women can do, but also what we can say. Although male lawmakers have no problem passing laws about my vagina … when I dared mention its name, they became outraged.”  How wonderful to see a strong woman who does not buy into right wing oppression and is able to speak truth to power!

Is this the future of the free and open Internet?

18 Jan


Don’t let it be. Act now.

Don’t Filter Me: Celebrating the Freedom to Search

29 Sep

As part of Banned Books Week, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has put together a program to raise awareness about Banned Websites. Although few websites engaging in legal acivity in the United States are literally banned , local practices in many school districts and public libraries effectively ban large segments of content. Wide-scale filtering of web content on library computers is a form of censorship and libraries must be careful to balance legal requirements with their mission to serve their communities.

Because access to Federal funding requires schools and libraries to adhere to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), many jurisdictions are confused about the level of filtering required. Students, teachers, and librarians are frustrated daily when they discover legitimate educational websites blocked by filtering software. Such filtering may also extend to the use of online social networking sites such as FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and Blogger.

Filtering websites does the next generation of digital citizens a disservice.  Students must develop skills to evaluate information from all types of sources in multiple formats, including the Internet. Relying solely on filters does not teach young citizens how to be savvy searchers or how to evaluate the accuracy of information. In order to make school more relevant to students and enhance their learning experiences, educators also need to be able to incorporate the social tools that students use every day into their coursework. Excessive filtering makes this impossible. For a great overview of how libraries can meet the requirements of CIPA and still serve their communitites, read the AASL publication Minors’ First Amendment Rights.

Another unfortunate side effect of aggressive filtering is the isolation of LGBTQ students. Online connections and information allow students to get quality information and helpful resources to understand their emerging sexual identities, regardless of orientation or geography. Many filters arbitrarily block LGBT content, even when it is not remotely sexual in nature. This is a distinct disservice to an already disenfranchised population. The ACLU has mounted the Don’t Filter Me project to help deal with this problem.

The Internet, like the world it connects, can be a scary, sometimes dangerous place. Artificially cordoning off vast swaths of its content “just in case” is not a good strategy, however. Narrowly defined filters (blocking obvious pornography, for example) together with effective instruction  and active student engagement is a much better approach. Let’s remember to help the next generation learn to be a part of their world, not hide it from them.

Free Your Mind: Read a Banned Book!

24 Sep

Every year the American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read. Starting today, September 24, through October 1, 2011, TSM encourages everyone to take the time to celebrate and appreciate the freedom of information and expression inherent in our national principles.

Sadly, many people wish to impose their views or values on others and restrict access to information they feel is dangerous for a variety of reasons. Some of these people are well-intentioned, but many set out to block views with which they disagree.

Typical targets for challenges are:

  • Sexual content, especially materials dealing with homosexuality
  • Content perceived as conflicting with religious or moral values
  • Age-appropriateness of materials
  • Portrayals of witchcraft or devil worship
  • Materials perceived as subversive or unpatriotic

ALA compiles a list of the most-challenged books each year which it releases in April during National Library Week. The 2010 top ten includes books in most of these categories and, as usual, is heavy on materials for children and teens. Champion challenge lists have been compiled for each of the past two decades as well; the 2000 – 2009 list was led (by a wide margin) by the Harry Potter series, proving that popularity is no insulation from the clutches of ignorance.

In libraries, there is an important distinction between a book being challenged and being banned. Anyone who uses the library may question the inclusion of material in its collection. Good libraries have strong policies that describe what they collect and how they provide access to it. When a challenge is placed, the library (or its board or other leadership in some cases) can decide to reject the challenge, place restrictions on the material (such as moving a book from the children’s area to the adult area), or get rid of it altogether. A banned book is one that has been removed. Libraries report hundreds of challenges to their collections each year. Since reporting is voluntary, it is safe to assume that there are many more challenges that occur.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if we did not have Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

See what all the fuss is about! Take the time to read a banned book this week. Whether you find something challenging that makes you think or experience a great read and wonder what the controversy was, you’ll be glad you did.

(As an added bonus, McGill University has compiled this list of banned books, all of which include links to lists of local libraries so you can borrow and read them!)

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