Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On last week's Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, the Christian comedienne character played by Sarah Paulson wins a moral victory when she convinces her castmates that it's mean to make fun of small-town folks for canceling a high school production of The Crucible. Paulson gives one of those stirring, let's-buck-the-conventional-wisdom Aaron Sorkin speeches, and it's hard not to get to the end of it and think, "Hell, yeah! Lay off the heartland, you liberal snobs!"

And then I see this story, about a Missouri library that's dealing with complaints from locals about their purchase of the graphic novels Blankets and Fun Home–both of which feature non-explicit sex scenes–and I realize why Sorkin's heroic populism is kind of horseshit.

In short: there's a dangerously paternalistic short-sightedness to Sorkin's vision of a hard-working small-town America that just wants to protect their kids from a critique of religion. It's a vision that presumes Middle American unanimity, as though some outside agitator was forcing The Crucible on them when they didn't want it. Left out of the picture are the local teachers who decided to put the play on, the kids who wanted to perform it, and the parents who might've wanted to go see it. It's mean to make fun of the town? I can buy that. But is it mean to make fun of a handful of alarmists who make decisions on behalf of the town?

Back in the real-world–or at least in Missouri–it'd be easy to chalk up the complaints about two not-all-that-offensive books to small-town small-mindedness, and just let the people there be as backwater as they wanna be. But that would be ignoring the efforts of the librarians who ordered the books in the first place, as well as the people who came to the library to defend them. Consider this quote from a local: "The [public] library's purpose is to provide a broad sweep of information. If you have only things that you like in a library then it's a private library." (I'll excuse the fact that the same person also called Blankets and Fun Home "repugnant," since I'm betting that was based on the excerpted images shown at the meeting, and not on a full reading.)

Community standards are all well and good, but it's a mistake to assume that "communities" per se have anything like a clear, unmistakable opinion about what constitutes obscenity, or blasphemy for that matter. Yes, there have to be gatekeepers in place when decisions are made by public institutions about how to spend money, but it sounds like these Missouri gatekeepers were doing their jobs, by picking books based on starred reviews in catalogs. And when it comes down to it, public institutions should err on the side of giving their constituents access to the same cultural discussions that people in bigger cities take part in. It's what safeguards our chance to be fully American, as well as citizens of whatever burg our parents stuck us in.

Because whenever some fictional small town cancels some fictional performance of The Crucible, there's bound to be some fictional folks pissed off about it, and feeling alienated from their community and their country. Frankly, they probably wouldn't mind if some fictional comedians took a shot at the people who did the alienating. At the least, it wouldn't make them feel so alone.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter