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Smokescreens and Censorship, Defined

Do you know what a smokescreen is? One definition: an action intended to conceal, confuse or obscure.  In the days since my recent uninvite from the Humble TeenLitFest, there have been numerous blogs and articles, and attached to those, comments. Now, I haven’t even tried to keep up with all the comments. But Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship has. And, says Joan, “several authoritative-sounding, if incorrect” comments go to whether or not my being asked not to speak is really censorship. A couple of comments I did see were about my not having a contract, and whether or not I was really invited. All these comments, my friends, are smokescreens—tactics to conceal, confuse or obscure the issue of censorship.


According to Joan, “Yes, it’s censorship when a public official excludes a speaker because they disagree with, or are offended by, the speaker’s statements and views. The fact that Ellen’s books are still in the library and bookstore is irrelevant.  An author doesn’t have to be censored everywhere to be censored somewhere. Public schools, like all public institutions, are required to comply with the First Amendment, which prohibits censorship based on viewpoint.  As a result, the district’s action in excluding Ellen because of the subjects she writes about and the views she expresses potentially exposes the school to legal liability.” She went on to quote three Supreme Court declarations, including this one:

"The Constitution exists precisely so that opinions and judgments, including esthetic and moral judgments about art and literature, can be formed, tested, and expressed. What the Constitution says is that these judgments are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority.” (US v Playboy Entertainment Group, 2000)


As for having a contract, here’s the deal. You may or may not know that I was adopted as a baby by an older couple. My father was born in 1883. No joke. He was 72 when he adopted me. He was a self-made man, who built a sixth-grade education into a thriving steel business. His generation was one where a verbal commitment was as good as a written contract. He got stung, in his later life, but I grew up believing, as he did, that when someone asks you to speak somewhere, agrees to an honorarium, and you put it on your calendar, you have a contract. That offer came in an email, with a follow-up email to confirm. That is a contract in my book.  If you think otherwise, you are part of the problem.


Debating the definition of censorship only serves to keep the ugly beast alive. It will only stop clawing our society when enough of us fight to declaw it. We start by diffusing the smokescreens.  A very big question remains. Why throw them up in the first place?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:25 am (UTC)
I am retweeting and pointing to posts on twitter as I see them, Ellen. I'm so proud of all of you for standing strong and united together.

"An author doesn’t have to be censored everywhere to be censored somewhere." So true.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
A thought
I have deliberated for a while on whether or not I should say anything. It's not any of my business, and I imagine anything I say will quickly get flamed, but in the spirit of true free speech, here goes:

I think the reason someone might consider all this a business strategy, rather than an ethical stand, is that it shares all the characteristics of modern political debate. The way that power and fame are being wielded in this situation make me think of you as the YA shock jock equivalent to a Glenn Beck, Michael Moore, or Anne Coulter.

Of course, there is much to say about all of these people as a whole, and as individuals, but one particular trait is that they make a lot of money simplifying issues.

Now, I'm not going to try to define what is and what isn't censorship. I hope we can all agree, however, that the issue is NOT as simple as one side: the anti-censorship heroes, and the other side: scum.

The issue of media content, and the range that falls between all things appropriate and straight-up pornography, is, even by the Supreme Court's assessment, a complicated one.

My point isn't that your material is inappropriate, Mrs. Hopkins. In fact, I don't think it is. But the fact that no one seems to be interested in discussing this tells me volumes. I think anyone truly interested in progress would convene all parties involved (in private) and try to reason whether or not the material in question is so far beyond the pale of community standards, that it simply must not be allowed. It must be labeled hate speech.

I think you'd fair pretty well in that conversation, which would include a close reading, lawyers to defend your position, and whatever else you needed to support your cause. Instead, it seems you've decided to use your notoriety to crush some small town administrator. Why not take a page from Justin Bieber's book and tweet the man's email address to all your fans? The outcome is the same.

It's a bit disingenuous to cast one's self as the David character when you are a bestselling author hurling fan abuse at a boondock bureaucrat. The money and publicity are better, but I think the trade off is that high horse at the very least.

A few quick disclaimers:
First, I won't write again, as I'd hate to call on the same wrath, or perpetuate what seems to be an orchestrated yelling match. Second, I don't know this guy, and I haven't been to Texas in a decade. Third, I'm not Mormon or whatever other simplified term we can use to make quick enemies of perfectly reasonable people.

A just cause does not make a just war.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
Re: A thought
Whatever. No one ever called me to the table to discuss. I would have welcomed that. You truly think this is about money? Honey, no way. I have enough money without this sort of publicity/notoriety. I am, indeed a NY Times bestselling author. Even if it is of the YA variety, I pay my bills and taxes that support many of those illegal aliens people keep yapping about. And likely subsidize your insurance.

However, if you think I have the money/clout of Glenn Beck, you are seriously disillusioned. Wow. If I were he, Humble TX would be off the map.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
Mr. Garrison you are putting words in Ellen's mouth. She hasn't cast herself as a "David" figure, she hasn't called anyone scum, and she hasn't asked anyone to "abuse" Mr. Sconzo. She asked her blog followers to write him letters but to "keep a respectful tone." Those are her words. How is this hurling "fan abuse?"

Classic smokescreen tactic, to lie about what the other side has said so that you can recast their point of view as unreasonable.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
This is a very well-made argument and I'm horrified at your treatment. I'm glad that you and the other authors who'd been invited are shining the light on an issue that truly needs attention. I've posted about it here: http://varkat.livejournal.com/172925.html .

-Lucienne Diver
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )