Saturday, May 2, 2009

He put his *** in her ***.

He put his backpack in her car? He put his dog in her living room? He put his hotdog in her bun? OK, you fill in the blanks.

Be careful, though. You could use words that offend people. Maybe, the mere suggestion of such words in the headline above offends you. I wonder.

I also wondered how Carnegie Mellon University faculty and staff felt about a pornographic movie being shown on CMU's campus. An XXX-rated movie, “The New Devil in Miss Jones,” was shown last Sunday night, April 26th by students at CMU for a student audience, but I was curious to know what CMU faculty and staff thought. So, as co-editor of the CMU publication, "Focus," I asked them. I stopped people randomly on campus and asked, “How do you feel about pornography being shown on campus and do you think it affects our reputation?”

Most of my interviewees were very forthcoming. Most said what they thought. One ran off, and one refused attribution. The first said, with much enthusiasm, “I think it’s great! But I won’t comment.” (That was a man, by the way…so to speak.) And one, a faculty member, gave me a reasoned quote and later chickened out, asking that her name not be used.

For the record, Dick Tucker, interim dean of student affairs, cited the official university position in an e-mail that was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Dick (no pun intended) said, “While university policy supports freedom of expression, the university strongly objects to showing such films. We regret the offense or discomfort that the showing of such a film may create for members of the campus community."

He also said a staff adviser "…has been engaged in ongoing conversations with the group, as in past years, strongly encouraging (the students) to reconsider the appropriateness of showing such a film."

OK, that was the official position. But, as I said, I wanted to know how the CMU faculty and staff felt about a subject that obviously makes people very nervous; so, I took a walk around campus, stopped people at random, and asked, “How do you feel about porn being shown on campus and what do you think it does to the reputation of the school?”

Bob Taylor, of Heinz College, said, “I’d have to know how you define ‘porn.’ Some of the violence that we routinely watch could be called ‘porn.’ If it’s sexual, I’d have to say ‘no’ to it on the basis that it doesn’t add anything of value. In any event, it’s a personal decision.”

Brian Staszel, Multimedia Designer/Manger, echoed that thought. Brian asked, “What does X-rated mean? I’m a huge supporter of free speech. In fact, I teach at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and we have had students try to make porn. But, we want to know, ‘What point are you trying to make.’ I find that students are doing it for shock value.”

Suzette Mongell, a young executive assistant to Takeo Kanade, felt “pretty neutral” to the showing of porn on campus. “If people want to see it, they can,” she said. “We’re all adults, old enough to make our own choices.”

But, what about the reputation of the university, I asked? Rose Krakovsky, a receptionist in Statistics, said, “I visited a friend of mine in the hospital before the movie was shown and he asked me about the movie; he thought it presented a bad impression.” When asked how she felt about showing the movie, Rose said, “I’m against it. It demeans women, and doesn’t help the guys a lot, either.”

Bonnie John, a professor in Human Computer Interaction, said, “I believe in free speech, but I’d suggest they check ID’s at the gate. The movie should be for consenting adults. And, attendance at the movie cannot be required for a grade.”

Most faculty and staff mentioned the complications of free speech and the maturity needed to accompany it. An associate professor in Philosophy whom we interviewed, and who later wished not to be identified, said, "Both pornography and free speech are difficult and complicated issues. If they are to be discussed, they should be discussed thoughtfully and carefully and in an informed manner; knee-jerk responses must be avoided. Moreover, it should be remembered that, although both of these are involved in the question at hand, they are distinct. A discussion of one should not be conflated with a discussion of the other. That said, I don't think that the showing of one adult movie on campus is something to get too worked up about."

Ironic isn’t it? This person who doesn’t think porn’s a big deal, who treasures free speech, won‘t allow attribution in a campus publication. Hmm. Tenure issues?

Jackie DeFazio, business manager in Philosophy, and willing to go on the record, responded to our question in this way, “I’m not for it,” she said. “My son is coming here next year and I don’t think he needs to see porn. It’s not really needed on campus.”

But, is it needed? Narelle Sissons, assistant professor of design at the School of Drama, said, “We should have freedom to watch what we want to watch. And, if it provokes a useful discussion, so much the better. Porn exists; we can’t deny that. And, I can imagine the curiosity of the students. I wouldn’t go, but if we can use a showing as a teaching tool, if we can have a debate, if we discuss porn’s value, or lack thereof, to society, then it can be useful.”

Charline Tomer, a teacher at the Pre-school, said simply, “I’d rather not have it on campus.”

With a South American point of view, Uruguayan artist-lecturer at CFA and well known classical pianist, Enrique Graf, said, “The students are all 18; they can choose to go or not. It’s an individual decision and the internet is full of porn, anyway.”

Laurie Weingart, professor of organizational behavior at Tepper School, said, “These are young adults interested in sexuality. These movies are part of the sexual landscape. Perhaps we offer them a safer environment here to discuss this. As for CMU’s reputation, this is an isolated incident not likely to cause us harm.”

Marc Siskin, manager of the modern language resource center in the Department of Modern Languages said, “No one was forced to see the movie. It wasn’t part of any curriculum. I have no problem with it as long as it’s legal. But, it’s a slippery slope. Who knows who might be offended? I found “Apocalypto” (by Mel Gibson) very offensive but I don’t want to prevent others from seeing it.” His colleague, Sue Connelly agreed, saying, “We can’t infringe on free speech. If we limit that, where will we turn next, foreign films?”

Andrew Narshall, reserves assistant in Hunt Library, said, “I’m not a huge proponent of porn but the free speech issue trumps everything.”

Yes, I see. Free speech trumps all. But why does porn make so many people so nervous? Why do some faculty run, he actually ran from me, and others beg off from attribution? Why did the University of Maryland cancel the viewing of “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge,” the most expensive porn film ever made ($10 million). Why so much worry at the University of Michigan and UC Davis who both made the news for planning to show it?

Maybe speech isn’t so free. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. You are getting sharper by the day Ed...loved every bit of this piece...awesome! ..and by the way, i personally think that while it is a sacrilege to have porn on campus, whats the alternative if one doesn't have it, get it from external sources, what the heck, the campus might as well go for it! :)

    Thanks, Chirantan.