When I was in high school, one issue of the school newspaper was dedicated to student poems, short stories, artwork, and whatever else could fill the pages. I managed to submit two, uh, submissions my senior year and to my delight they were selected for publication. That’s not to say it was a smooth process. In fact, I learned firsthand that someone with presumably good intentions could completely miss the point.
The poem in question is entitled Censorship. It’s title that because it is about censorship and because at 18 I possessed the all the subtlety of the proverbial bull in the more proverbial china shop. I thought people had to be directly told what a piece was about before they could understand it(the fact that I have better mastered the art of subtlety probably explains why I don’t write movies for Michael Bay). It’s not a particularly good poem, but it did make its point. Well, it made its point except with one faculty advisor.
“You need to take out one line,” she explained.
“What line?” I asked
“The one about Nazis.”
“We feel it’s better that you don’t mention Nazis.”
“Because . . .?”
“Because we don’t want to mention Nazis.”
“It’s when something seems to be one way, but it’s actually another, sort of.” Why did teachers so often roll their eyes at me?
“No,” she sighed, “I mean why do you think it’s ironic.”
“Because the poem is about censorship. It’s against censorship and you want to censor it!”
The poem printed in its entirety.
To be fair, it was 1991 and the U.S. was in the first real, public war it had been in for quite some time. Clarksville is also a military town, so many meant a little overboard with the best intentions. Once our principal came over the intercom to berate us for not paying attention to the ChannelOne news broadcast. He went on for several minutes before telling us we would not watch ChannelOne that day because he determined we shouldn’t see it. The news contained a report about how the Kurds were treated in Iraq and he thought it might be too traumatic for the many military children at Northeast.
That’s a funny thing. When I was much younger I saw censorship or the withholding of information as the problem. Now I live in a 24-hour news culture that desperately wants to fill the airwaves. Now I worry less about reporters holding back information and more about them completely missing the point. MIssing it so much, in fact, that they become part of the problem.
One recent Sunday night, a college student asked me to record a “news” report on a Certain News Network for her. Chrisie and I, along with a few other students, settled in to watch the report. It was ostensibly about sex trafficking in the U.S., but we couldn’t follow a coherent narrative throughout the hour-long piece. But there was a deeper, much more insidious issue with the program. I finally had a moment where I hit pause.
“Is anyone else seeing this? Does anyone else have a problem with this?”
Everyone agreed. My main issue (among very, very many) was that the reporter, a woman apparently in her 20’s, spent the entire program dressed in outfits more suited to going out than reporting on a serious issue. She wore thigh high boots, skinny jeans, and ridiculously tight and low cut tops.
The worst moment came in a segment recorded in Tennessee. She spent a day at the “John School” in Nashville wearing the above described outfit and constantly bent over in front of the attendees (and the camera). I couldn’t decide if it was a joke or travesty that she “reported” on the problem of sex trafficking while presenting an over sexualized image of herself.
“You’re contributing to the problem!” I yelled at the screen. Several times.
It also reminded me of my own moment when I realized I missed the point and it forced a change within me. I can only hope that she, and other reporters like her have their own such moments and we move past sensationalism for truth.
And until that moment comes, I hope the rest of us have the sense to reach for the remote and press Off.