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Shades of Gray Involved When Discussing Censorship

March 29, 1990

It's true that seeing things as either black or white is easier (Joseph Bell's article "Flap Over . . . Censorship . . . as All or Nothing," March 3). But aren't there some shades of gray involved in any discussion of censorship?

Regarding the arts, or the shelves of the public library, I agree that everything should be available for the choosing, like a well-stocked buffet. We need artists and writers to help nudge our comfort zones. The Rev. Lou Sheldon, Sen. Jesse Helms, Rep. Rohrabacher et al, may orate as they will, but many of us feel that what artists and writers do is crucial to what we perceive as civilization. The arts must be nurtured, and thus funded.

What about censorship in a different sphere, in the upbringing and education of our children? Can there be no discussion of age limits? Lots of parents feel that setting limits for young children is an OK-thing, even necessary these days. Can't we be opposed to censorship yet careful about the steaminess or violence-level of the films our kids see? If a teacher in the family life curriculum goes beyond the bounds of reasonableness, are all parents who squawk guilty of advocating censorship?

How about, above age 18--or 17 or 16, since children grow up fast these days--everything should be available. Below that magic, community-agreed-upon age, parents get to advise discretion.

Censorship is a knotty subject for all of us. The more fundamentalist member of each community will probably continue to feel a missionary zeal to define the limits for us all. If the authors of Megatrends 2000 are correct, the 1990s will be characterized by (1) a rise in fundamentalist religion, and (2) a renaissance in the arts. If correct, the stage is set for conflict. Governing boards of schools, museums and libraries must have well-balanced review committees in place to respectfully handle--not dismiss out of hand or deny or cover up--all complaints. We must remember that some complaints are justified, no matter the identity (brand of religion, cut of clothing/hair, ethnic origin, sexual orientation) of the critic.

Most important, there must be open community dialogue that centers on the issue at hand, not on emotions or symbols or name-calling. Complicated things are never black and white.

Karen Evarts,

Newport Beach

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