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Paul Stoller

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Arizona Airheads

Posted: 02/15/2012 11:51 am

Now that the campaign surge of Pennsylvania's "favorite son," Rick Santorum, keeper of public "morality," has turned media attention to the culture wars, it behooves us to consider what kind of social devastation small-minded culture warriors can precipitate in America.

One egregious example is the bill recently introduced in the Arizona State Senate. This legislation, SB 1467, would limit the speech of public employees, punishing professors, for example, who dared to use profanity in or out of the classroom.

Here's the text of the legislation.

"Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona:

A. If a person who provides classroom instruction in a public school engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the federal communications commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio:

1. For the first occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for one week of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

2. For the second occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for two weeks of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the second occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

3. For the third occurrence, the school shall terminate the employment of the person. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first or second occurrence from terminating the employment of that person.

B. For the purposes of this section, "public school" means a public preschool program, a public elementary school, a public junior high school, a public middle school, a public high school, a public vocational education program, a public community college or a public university in this state."

If such a bill were enacted high school teachers and university professors could be fired for swearing or exposing students to cultural expression deemed "indecent" or "profane." Indeed, such a law would make it difficult to teach the "immoral" lessons of many classics of English language literature, including the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Scott Fitzgerald, James Agee, or Doris Lessing. Would the works of the great Tim O'Brien pass the censorship test? One can only imagine the shock waves that a book by Philip Roth would trigger. What films could a cinema studies professor show in her or his class? Could Apocalypse Now, Moonstruck, or even Midnight in Paris pass the censorship test? One wonders if the five Arizona Airheads who co-sponsored the bill have read the works of these titans of expressive culture. Could any of them have an intelligent discussion about literature or, for that matter, science? Maybe they all should be reading George Orwell.

If the Arizona Airhead bill was an exception to normal and intelligent public discourse, the example would be mildly amusing -- fodder for small talk at a party or the water cooler. It is, however, yet another example of the know-nothing attitudes about science and literature that many of our public servants, mostly stalwarts of the GOP, blindly maintain. The proposed bill is also a poignant reminder of the widespread right-wing assault on science, literature and public education--all seen as left wing plots to subvert the "values" of American young people.

In Arizona, the legislature has already banned "divisive" ethnic studies courses. In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett's new budget proposes absurdly deep cuts that will eventually obliterate public education--especially higher education, making a college education an impossible dream for the sons and daughters of Pennsylvania middle class families. On the presidential campaign trail GOP presidential hopefuls continue to doubt the value of science. Rick Santorum, for example, is saying that global warming is a hoax. Extending his 16th century "intellectual insights" into the social and cultural realm, Santorum says that contraception is wrong, that sex is mostly about procreation, that all abortions should be banned because life, even if it results from a rape, is a gift. In Rick Santorum's world, if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she'll just have to deal with this gift from God and get on with her life. What a mensch!

There is a possible explanation for these extremely out of touch proposals and beliefs. Maybe we'll soon discover that Rick Santorum and his Arizona Airhead cronies are really extraterrestrial aliens on an uncomfortably prolonged visit to earth.

When will they return to their home planet?

Soon, I hope.

 

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