Wednesday, February 13, 2008

the appropriately floating standard

i was reading a book of essays a few months ago.  it was very well written, but occasionally had stronger profanity than i care for (when i comes down to it, i don't care for any profanity--  language is an immensely effective meta-medium, but that's another post for another day), and i'm working to be more discerning about what i accept.  
as i thought about the book, i thought of how i wouldn't watch a movie, or, perhaps even moreso, listen to a cd with similar language.  language and lyrics are more acute in music than in film because that is the only road of communication available.  watching a movie, we spread our perception between aural and visual means; in music, out attention is focused solely in listening, be it beautiful or coarse.

the byu bookstore does not sell any r-rated movies (or several pg-13 movies) or cds with a 'parental advisory' sticker on them.  i've never heard a complaint against that, as i would guess those are critical standards similar to most of their patrons.  and, i would venture to guess that if they ever did carry an r-rated movie, there would be an outcry from a vocal percentage of the student population.
yet, up on the main floor, one could find a book with r-rated language within minutes.  heck, the book i was reading was, at one time, on their 'recommended' shelf.  further, i have been flipping through movie books and seen nude stills from movies that the bookstore would not sell.  i haven't spent much time in the photography section, but i presume it is similar.
(i should acknowledge something here, and that is the prominence of the item.  when the daily show's 'america: the book' was on the byu shelves, it wasn't long before a student loudly protested it and it was soon taken off for it's profanity and nudity.)
is this a hypocrisy on byu?  is it careless management?
it is neither.
consider the art history section.  better, consider an art history class, at byu or any college or high school.  from classical greek sculpture through the renaissance and classical eras, up into the nineteenth century, nude figures are abundantly represented.  sometimes it's accurate of the event, such as the greek olympians.  later, the nude form represented a sort of immortality in history, such as statues of david, either by michelangelo or donatello.  nude subjects in the were often representative of the muses, naked women enjoying a nice day in the park with fully-clothed men.  edward manet's painting of 'olympia' was a bold statement on sexuality of the famous prostitute, comfortably disrobed and posing for the artist.
all of these were discussed in my art classes at byu and i don't know of anyone who ever complained about what we were seeing [some guys behind me complained about the rothkos during the 'modernism' section, but that's a different story].
in the nineteenth century painting began to face severe competition and potential extinction: photography was invented.
while its initial impression was a sort of 'painting perfected' (thus forcing painting to express visuals in a way that photography could not), people immediately sensed that something was different about it.
a very early photograph featured a nude woman, although her back was turned to the camera and a blanket was loosely draped around her waist in an attempt at modesty.  the relationship between the photographer and the model was no different than with a painter, yet there was something about the medium that had changed: photography was a little closer to reality.  
this sort of thinking is essentially a universal observation that holds true across art forms.
few people would have issues with a nude painting (within reason).  a nude photograph would be more divisive, though black and white would not be as problematic as color.  a movie is a motion picture, even closer to reality, and people are more sensitive to what is shown.  further still, while the majority of the public has little issue with nudity in a movie, similar content in live theatre is rarely seen in 'mainstream' works; the person is actually in the same room now.
i've heard of similar reactions to language; coarse and crude language in a movie is sadly abundant and common, almost to the extant that its absence is more noticeable.  but theatrical productions with can cause more agitation because, again, we are less removed from the offensive source.
bringing this back around, i think the byu bookstore has, for the most part, struck a good balance of what they will carry and what they will not.  while there is need to keep with the standards of school, an overly-sanitized criteria to the point that none could be offended with the content would reduce any sort of choice.  further, complete avoidance of such work does not equal righteousness but rather ignorance of the world around.  there is a line that each of us need to choose about what what is good and what is not.  fortunately, there are many helpful sources and guidelines helping us choose, but ultimately we choose who we want to be.
nice work, byu bookstore.

1 comment:

LJ said...

Isn't that a bell pepper?