For the last four to five years of my kids high school education, I’ve participated in something utterly unique in terms of fund-raising. It is an old fashioned (Norman Rockwellish “Let’s Put On A Show”) production, known as Ham On Regal. And for the past 49, going on 50 years, this hodge-podge of skits and musical numbers has involved a huge commitment of time, effort and resources. The committed consist of your ordinary middle-aged parents, parents of teenagers who attend the Joel E. Ferris High School on Spokane’s South Hill. Next week, for example, roughly 300 of them will perform dance moves (from the 1970‘s) that you thought were extinct. In full costume, they will flail around in some semblance of rhythm and uniformity to the tunes of the Black Eyed Peas, Devo, Abba and more. There will be scenes of three minutes in duration — fifteen to be exact — in which characters like Paris Hilton mingle with Rambo and Red from That 70‘s Show. Yes, it’s all very entertaining.
But here’s my dilemma: as a co-chair on the script committee for this year’s rowdy rumpus, I tried to do that double entendre thing. That is, overseeing 18 other writers like myself, I tried to corral those who wanted to introduce a plethora of fart jokes and other assorted potty humor. For the most part, we were successful and the dialogue for Ham Times At Ferris High is not half bad. (You might want to check out a show.) Unfortunately, what wound up on the cutting room floor were seemingly innocuous lines like “Shut up” (changed to “Be quiet”). When Dick Vitale, an ESPN mainstay, says something about going “number one in the pool, but having Duke at #2 going all the way…,” instead of smiles, we recently got frowns of disapproval. Moreover, when another hilarious personage complains that the Bible is boring, one individual asks us not to disrespect the Old and New Testaments. I guess my point is this: the suburban superego has gone into hyperdrive!
Or, to put it more succinctly, censorship in America shows no signs of abating. And for a liminal poet like me there’s nothing to do but sigh… Sigh and write my ass off!
What in the world are folks afraid of? It’s not as if we’re running around the stage, shouting F-bombs. It’s not as if what we think of as juvenile humor isn’t in fact funny at all. It clearly is. Consider the staying power of the average innuendo… Wink! Wink! Nudge! Nudge! Know what I mean?! We have one scene with the Ty Pennington character from all those Home Make-over Shows, and when a pretend-student approaches him with a stud-finder, the device beeps like crazy! Inference? He’s a stud — Get it? — “and this happens all the time.”
Now I’d like to contrast this Pleasantville motif with what happens to aspiring writer who finds himself among other writers in your standard MFA program… or PHD program or… BFD program (stands for Big F**king Deal).
Let the expletives fly! O You Allen Ginsberg proteges! Howl! Is there a body part out there that rhymes with Carolina? Are there any dirty diatribes that have gone unexplored by Philip Roth or John Updike or even Mitze Szereto? What might be the vernacular of your most authentic composite character who stars in a porn flick — and might it induce the real-life one to blush? The answers to these questions are border-line offensive, and I suppose that’s the crux (or the crotch) of the matter.
Suburban sensibilities, which thrive in certain areas of Spokane, ought to be challenged. There ought to be holes that we can poke through the thin veneer of piety, that is the banner of morality that we want succeeding generations to uphold. But why? Why poke holes in the cultural chit-chat unless we’re prepared to say something more than it’s all a pile of shit? Why not give the people their delusions in spades? Why not allow the Wizard of Oz to remain comfortable behind the curtain? Why not grant the space to figures like him to manipulate the levers and gadgets, which billow smoke, which scares us to death?
Well, nearly everyone knows the answer to each of these questions, and it finds renewed incarnation this week in the remarks of presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Santorum wants us to beware of the liberal education our children are receiving from professors who want to peal back the curtain. He wants us to learn technique and to be trained in the theatrics of modern-day citizenship, but to leave the truth to the experts, who undoubtably harbor no doubts about anything spewed forth by the Vatican.
It’s a shame really, a shame that nothing gets the attention like a good ol’ fashion “K’ak,” as Gary Snyder’s Coyote would have it in poem, A Berry Feast. But so be it.
I know that I am now and will never be a completely cutting-edge persona. The term Avant-Garde, applies to enfleshed souls like me only in the most modest and mundane sense. Yet, a guy can dream, can’t he? At my core, in the middle of the night, I’m either a raccoon or a recluse. That is, I don’t mind having a bit of china in the cupboards, just as long as I can smash a goblet to pieces once in a while.
Are there idiots who act out of their Sigmund Freud ids without the constructive balance of a corrective? Yes, probably so. No body comes to mind at the moment. But where both the id and the superego thrive, let the ego pull back and renounce everything.
Cursing with four-or-more-letter words was never meant to elevate you as a writer into the spotlight. That vocab is just the means of keeping you alienated and isolated from others long enough… until the real inspiration arrives… so you can write…