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An 'apparent' act of censorship

Matt Westerhold • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

A reader called this morning and took exception to how reporter Tom Jackson described the particular sculpture in an art exhibit at BGSU Firelands.

The sculpture prompted the college to order its removal, leading to the shutdown of the entire art exhibit and cries of censorship.

In a story in Wednesday's Register, Jackson described the offending art this way: (It) depicts the apparent sexual abuse of a child.

"That description is not accurate," the caller said. "The sculpture is an abstract representation. That means it's up to the beholder to  interpret what is depicted. By writing it that way, you're editorializing. You're rendering support for an act of censorship."

Strike me over the head. Hit where it hurts. The caller went on to say that a newspaper has no business supporting an act of censorship.  

I've been struggling with this since last week when the censorship allegations first surfaced, and it will be interesting later today when the Register editorial board meets. 

I've already gotten some feedback here in the newsroom -- if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck -- but the caller makes a good and valid point.

I still haven't seen the sculpture or a photograph of it. Still trying to nail that down. That's when the rubber will meet the road, and when, finally, I will have to decide whether I think the Register would be censoring art if we do not make an image of it available to readers.  

How could we justify withholding that information on the topic of censorship?

Whew. It's going to be a hoot at that eddy board meeting.

Tom Jackson responds

I’ve asked for a chance to reply to the caller who is criticizing me for my characterization of James Parlin’s artwork, “The Middle School Science Teacher Makes a Decision He’ll Live to Regret.”

My critic says I was wrong to say the sculpture “depicts the apparent sexual abuse of a child.”

I’ve had to rely on descriptions of the artwork, as I haven’t been able to see it or an image of it.

But this is how the gallery director, David Sapp, described it: “The title of the sculpture that was removed is The Middle School Science Teacher Makes a Decision He’ll Live to Regret. It is a small cast aluminum sculpture painted in bright colors depicting (actually implying) a female figure performing oral sex upon a man.”

A neutral witness I interviewed told me the sculpture appeared to depict a young girl.

Our newspaper is pursuing efforts to obtain an image of the sculpture. When and if that happens, we’ll all have a chance to see whether it’s really an “abstract representation.” When I see it, I’ll offer an opinion on my blog.

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