1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Holy Legion of Diana Moon Glampers

I came across an article in First Things that lamented the lack of substantive guidance concerning film found on the American bishops' website. For some reason this got me thinking of Diana Moon Glampers (the portly, matronly villain in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron").

This story is common in public secondary schools here in the States, but in case you've forgotten the tale, here's the climax:

Harrison placed his big hands on the girl’s tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.  And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling.

They kissed it.

And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
 Poor Ms. Glampers! As in her (future) day as today, people so often want the end without a messy means. In this story "we the people" want absolute equality and the enforcement mechanism is a horror.

The Legion of Deceny had the best of intentions: filth ran rampant in film (for the 20s and 30s, that is) and they created a simple rating system that was meant to protect pious hearts, minds and eyes from temptation. What has always made me curious about this approach is the censor (or "guidance counselor" if you prefer): how is he protected from the filth? Is he like an exorcist who has a designated role in which he gets special protection? In other words, doesn't the censor endanger his own soul?

In this I'm reminded of a friend who recounts that the private Christian school she went to had a cheer-leading squad. After each game, the principal and assistant principal (two white guys) would review footage of the girls performance to ensure that their short dresses were of appropriate length as they "reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun." Yeah, protecting everyone's morals, I'm sure.
Censors of the soul (and body) are alive if not well. For all I know, they are legion.

Permission granted 

In film, fiction and other areas of creative expression, some look for someone else's permission to view or read certain works. I can sympathize with this at one level: in our hyperactive age, it seems that one simply doesn't have the time to judge for oneself. Alas, the price of the shortcut (trusting in the wisdom of the impeccably safe expert) is alienation. But wait, there's more: you also get absolution from responsibility engaging the world with all of its ambiguity. Disengagement is magically transformed into piety and virtue. I call that a bargain.

Without a willingness to take risks, it is impossible to mature. And maturing is simply the fruit of being edcuated - continually. I have had parents complain that the text I assigned or the film I showed was scandalous or too suggestive or simply "too confusing" for their son or daughter. I think they are often being a bit disengenous when they say this. For all I know, it's true: their son or daughter doesn't "get it," but the punchline is that neither does mom or dad. That's the real problem: mal-educated parents who are unwilling to try to understand.

I should note that in none of these cases did the works appeal to prurient interests nor did they contain an excess of nudity or gratuitous violence. I'm very circumspect in what I share with students.

So, what's going on here? Am I watching the "dumbing down of America" before my eyes?

My pet theory is that there are a lot of good, faithful Catholics who simply want to be spared the drama of interpretation. This is where the censors or gurus or experts come in: they certify content for us. Their slogan could be, "We think so you don't have to!"

T.S. Eliot warns of this pathology:

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good (Choruses from "The Rock").
I don't think that Catholics in America are so obtuse that we need a revitalized Legion of Decency (such travesties can be entrusted to our evangelical friends!); what we need to do is to begin educating ourselves. In no little part, this is why the Church exists for us.

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