I read something today so completely insipid and ridiculous it just begged for me to make comment on it. And I did. At some length, and with more than my usual amount of irony. The reason was because apparently a Pennsylvania mayor is upset at a West Ward magazine that profiled a longtime female resident, Kathy Kulig and her husband. She’s restoring an historic home in the area. She’s a scientist, a breed seldom if ever associated with a lack of intelligence.
And she’s an erotic romance author.
Apparently, this one little snippet, coupled with a biting criticism of the inaugural Art Festival in the area, hurled everyone from the city council to the mayor himself into a censorgasm. (Ooooh…bet that’s going to raise a few eyebrows.) After reading the author’s blog post, the story about the aftermath in the local newspaper’s online edition, and then another story in another (presumably larger than neighborhood) paper, and going over the chain of comments, I felt like I needed a bath. Politics is and always has been a slimy business, but things in Easton’s West Ward seem to have gone completely over the top.
(For the record, it appears that the West Word does not maintain an archive on its website, making it impossible to peruse the original article; I was only able to navigate to an issue from April of 2012. If anyone reading this should happen to have a link to the issue featuring Kulig, please post it in the comments and I will revise this article as appropriate, complete with link. My commentary from here forward is based on points of congruence among commentators on the Easton Patch website who did read the original.)
By all accounts from the residents’ comments, the West Ward is smack in the middle of “We don’t go there.” The mental image I got from reading the commentary was kind of like Las Vegas’ East Fremont Street between the “good” *kaff hack kaff* part of Boulder Highway and the Fremont Street Experience, without the single redeeming benefit of having the option of either getting rich or getting mugged when you pull over at the 7-11. (Don’t laugh…I’ve seen both happen within five minutes.) However, this is not to say that decent or intelligent people don’t live there, as evidenced by Kulig and others. So the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV–hmmm…) and Mayor Sal Panto, Jr. decided the West Ward’s image needed a facelift. Enter the West Word, a community magazine. The stated goal was to report news of benefit and interest to the residents of the West Ward, focusing on the positive aspects of the community in order to attract families and investors. (To me this is a huge, blindingly red flag. We want investors, so we want to show our best face. Okay, but: Isn’t there something called truth in advertising?)
So the magazine’s staff did exactly what journalists do. They wrote about things going on in town. And this was all fine and good, so long as they toed the “party line,” which was apparently (so the powers that be thought) bought and paid for with a grant from the CACLV. Which is not entirely unreasonable, considering that the CACLV is listed on the West Word as the publisher, but at the same time, one cannot expect journalists not to do what they do, an oversight that anyone with two and a half seconds’ publishing experience would immediately pick up on.
How much of this is a true representation of what happened in this particular case? I confess, not living there or being involved in local politics, I honestly don’t know. I do know that Panto took to the Lehigh Valley Express-Times website to speak out against his critics, political and otherwise. The vitriol on both sides is astounding, with allegations of corruption, bribery, et al (you know, politics) being bantered back and forth, while a third group of people aghast at the high-handed antics of the mayor and the CACLV chimes in from the sidelines, including truly yours. Panto’s objection to the story about Kulig was not her being an erotic romance author, by the way; it was the fact that the word “erotic” was used in a publication that is intended for families.
This warranted further consideration, to my way of thinking, so I did some digging. Now, here’s where things really get interesting. I took a random sampling of stories from the same papers, sans the West Word, as indicated above, and looked for certain keywords. “Sex” only showed up twice. “Erotic” showed up once, in connection with Mrs. Kulig. However, words such as brothel, rape, violence, assault, murder, death, slaying, drugs, and so on were fairly regular occurrences. All in publications and on television shows that are readily available to children.
Have we really descended so far into the cultural morass that consensual sex, the most beautiful thing human beings can share with each other, is considered more dangerous to expose our children to than murder? What is it about this Puritanical insistence that the human body is dirty and evil, something to be ashamed of and hidden, that it keeps drawing such rabid and committed followers? Do they seriously think that one instance of the word “erotica” in a newspaper equals five, ten, fifty mentions of the words I listed above? (And let us not forget my previous rant about “mommy porn” and all the reasons that ticks me off.)
Okay. Let’s switch focus and turn on the TV for a second.
Flipping through six channels in a four-minute span, I get Two and a Half Men (before Ashton Kutcher gooned it up by taking Charlie Sheen’s place…as if!), two Viagra commercials, one Levitra commercial, one Stayfree ad, and one ad for Mirena. So sleazy sex, having better sex, having safer sex, and that delightful time of the month when most women want no part of sex (understandably), are very much in the public eye. When Mommy and Daddy get home from work and turn on the nightly news or prime-time TV, sitting nestled in the den with their man-cubs close by, these kids are getting an eyeful.
And the objection is that the word “erotic” shouldn’t appear in a family publication, when erectile dysfunction drugs are plastered all over the TV set? Something is seriously squirrelly here.
Now, I’m not saying that parents should bow to the inevitable and start having “The Talk” with little Timmy or Susie at age three. Far from it. Like any responsible erotic romance author, I believe only legal adults above the age of majority in their jurisdiction should be able to access my work, and I certainly don’t want children getting a hold of it. Do I believe for one minute that some thoughtless parent will never, ever, ever leave one of my paperbacks lying around or let their child have their Kindle, never considering what they last read until the kid asks “Mommy (or Daddy), what’s an orgasm?” triggering a blush hot enough to ignite the atmosphere and a frantic scrabble for the reading material in question? Nope. I’m not that naive and I’m not that stupid, but I also give my readers credit for being smart enough to think about consequences and mature enough to own the results of their actions. Bottom line: it’s up to parents to be parents and decide what they think is appropriate for their kids to see, hear, and read, not government at any level or under any guise whatsoever.
However: It seems to me that if you’re even going to hint at censorship, regardless of how well-intentioned it may be, let’s get rid of the news stories about tragedies and violent acts. Let’s stop making rape a spectator sport. Let’s stop discussing drug use on the front page or at the top of the hour. Let’s leave it up to the parents when and how to tell their kids that the real world isn’t always a nice, friendly, fluffy place.
I definitely don’t think kids should be exposed to overtly or graphically sexual visual or textual content. But if I have to choose between my kid seeing two people making love or reading about Jeffrey Dahmer, I’d a whole lot rather this hypothetical child have a sex-positive, inclusive worldview than the dark fascination with mass murderers and serial killers that makes up such a high percentage of current TV programming. Get the scary, bloody, gratuitously violent content off the air and out of the headlines, and then we can talk about chopping the “E” word that so many people seem to be so scared of.
Until next time,