Monday, September 7, 2015

The Great New Zealand Book Banning Experiment ... Wait, What?!

Oh dear.

I'm not going to start this piece with some sort of grandiloquent and vainglorious polemical point that transgresses Godwin's Law about whether those who burn books will sooner or later burn people as well - even if the author of the work we're talking about, New Zealand writer Ted Dawe, asked exactly that question in the NZ Herald yesterday morning.

Instead, I'm going to ask one very simple question:

When is it appropriate for the Christian president of the Film And Literature Review Board, Don Mathieson, to wade into a dispute and overrule the Board's own Chief Censor in order to get an outcome more in tune with his own, personal beliefs?

Because that's EXACTLY what's happened here.

Not long after its rise to prominence in 2013, "Into The River" was referred by Internal Affairs to the Office of the Censor and the Film and Literature Review Board. There was a protracted legal wrangle featuring Mathieson himself arguing for an R-18 restriction, before finally an R-14 classification was settled upon.

This decision was then reviewed and overturned by the proper authority last month, leaving the book ultimately unrestricted..

Which offended notorious God-botherer and general curmudgeonly nuisance-about-town Bob McCoskrie, who took issue with this exercise in due process and began working in concert with his co-religionist, Mathieson, to over-ride the decision of the chief censor.

It seems curious that Mathieson was able to lose the argument when debating the issue through the proper channels only to then turn around later and over-ride the outcome by "Presidential" decree.

That smacks of vindictive self-interest being prioritized over the sound workings of institutions and fair process.

We now have a situation wherein the book is banned. That's right - straight-up, and outright BANNED. With a fine of up to $10,000 apiece for making it available to the general public.

And these Christians-in-our-public-sphere, Mathieson and McCoskrie, running around backslapping each other through the media about setting a "semi-precedent" and hopefully "[exerting] a significant influence upon other decisions portraying teenage sex and drug taking".

Or, in other words, they think they've got all the rest of us on notice.

And Heaven help you if you happen to write something - with or without artistic and literary merit - which they happen not to like.

Speaking of "literary merit" ... this isn't some sort of 50 Shades of Grey for Kids, or Twilight or something. It won top prize at the NZ Post's Children's Book Awards in 2013.

I'm not going to deny that occasionally, hugely problematic works of fiction get disseminated out into the hands of our young people with nary a restriction nor a warning label upon the licentious and bloodthirsty content they might come into contact with.

Most school libraries, after all, possess at least one copy of the Old Testament - which is rife with the stuff. As well as incest, genocide and attempted child-sacrifice into the bargain.

But we don't choose to restrict that.

Hell, McCoskrie and Mathieson probably want to make it recommended if not outright REQUIRED reading for our young people!

So I'm going to cheerfully call "Hypocrisy" on this sad little imbroglio; while also suggesting that we've set an exceptionally dangerous "semi-precedent" (and really ... what IS that, anyway) in using this law - for the first time since its inception 22 years ago - to ban a relatively innocuous and outright award-winning piece of teenage fiction.

And also point out that we have now entered into a perilous situation wherein certain religious persons personally empowered by positions of prominence and influence appear to think it's A-OK to start inflicting their own individual moralities upon us via arguable abusage of their holding of office.

That's not OK.

That way, Texas lies.

What's 451 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?

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