Who draws the line in censorship?
TUCSON, Ariz. — Growing up, children are typically taught to paint and draw using watercolors, oils, markers, crayons and colored pencils. As a kid, Chris Ofili was apparently far from typical.
Last September, the Senate publicly condemned Ofili for his outlandish artwork and even stripped The Brooklyn Museum of Art of its funding for the exhibit. This is all very absurd, especially since Ofili was simply using his unique art as a vessel for self-expression.
One of the more talked-about pieces by Ofili, a picture of the Virgin Mary covered with fecal matter and cutouts of "butt shots" from porn magazines, was referred to as "sick" by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Yet another, more local form of censorship involves vulgarity on the Internet. Arizona State Representative Jean McGrath (R-Glendale) has proposed two bills, which, if made law, could prohibit students from surfing sexually-explicit Web sites on the Internet.
Campus computers would be equipped with or subscribed to Internet filters, preventing access to this type of material. According to McGrath, if the material accessed on school computers is not related to a specific educational purpose, the student would be disconnected immediately.
This is not to say students everywhere should overload school computer networks trying to access porn sites in case the filter becomes law.
Frankly, anyone who would sit in a public area on campus to view online porn has a whole lot of nerve. But the government is trying to regulate free, unlimited Internet access to adults. Who's to say the proposed Internet filter will only filter the smut?
Before long, everything on the Internet could have to be censored, passed through a board of executives and given a rating. Logging onto a local Internet browser will soon seem like a weekend trip to the movies.
These are two fairly hefty instances of attempted censorship and infringement on free speech. Both deal with prohibition of freedom, but who is to say where the line can be drawn?
If the Senate feels the need to ban art that may offend certain people, then it is going to have to ban everything that offends people: clothing, books, music, language and maybe even food (sorry, Martha Stewart, your cherry tarts are just way too vulgar).
Instead of worrying about what offends people, the American government needs to take a long hard look at what truly does not.
There is no right or wrong solution to censorship and questionably offensive forms of expression. What deeply disturbs one person might hit the funny bone of another. People all over the world have been arguing this fact for centuries. Politicians like Guliani and McGrath have been poking around in other people's business since the beginning of time.
There are homeless and hungry people on the streets, yet the American government insists on exerting its energy for "tattling" on rare forms of art and preventing grown, voting adults from surfing certain parts of the Internet.
But hope cannot be lost. The people of America are the ones who elect these officials, placing them in office. Guliani and McGrath can express their disgust all they want now.
They'll see the difference on the ballot later.
Maggie Burnett attends the University of Arizona. This column first appeared in the Arizona Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona and is reprinted here courtesy of the U-Wire.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, January 24, 2000