What Would Palin Think?

What Would Palin Think?

Last week 12th Street was considering its public stance.

We did an interview with an author who is no stranger to controversy. John Reed, author of Snowball’s Chance and organizer of next year’s 9/11 Toga Party, was delighting us with snippets of his upcoming book, Tales of Woe.

We’ve got to wait until 2009 for MTV Books to release that one, but if you like tales of “suffering, suffering, suffering,” of the kind normally reserved for your worst imaginings, then this will be the book for you. A man who had sex with his bicycle is caught (on the saddle?) by the hotel’s maids, then convicted and put on the sex-offenders list. This is “one of the few light stories” in the book, Reed said.

What he told us next, however, demanded a little more debate.

I asked John if we were ready for Woe. This was his answer:

Tales of Woe, MTV 2009

Tales of Woe, MTV 2009

“Uh, I thought I was prepared, and I certainly wasn’t. The stories in this book are sicker and more upsetting than anything anyone can possibly imagine. And, by the way, anything you can imagine, any horrible thing you can imagine happening to a person—it’s happened. Some people are not going to be happy about it. There’s a double dog rapist (a guy who raped two dogs) that scares me. There’s no law against raping dogs in Alaska, which is of course yet another reason to get behind Palin. We should decriminalize dog rape nationwide. And then, who knows … the world.”

At first glance, you might think this is funny. A natural thought after reading this might be, “I wonder whether they make the dogs pay for the rape kits in Alaska.” Several people I spoke to about this paragraph actually asked that question immediately, including one of the editors here. This is good, risky satire [note: this link isn’t PG], the type of controversy that—coming from England, where our tabloids are ruthless—I’m very fond of. (See here, here, and here. And here).

But give it a second read, and ask yourself: is he referring to the pitbull/lipstick comment? Is he saying it would be alright to rape Palin?

No. Or at least not intentionally. But that’s what it could be taken to mean. And if someone out there might read a pro-rape-of-Palin sentiment in this paragraph, is that something we want to risk?

Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is fairly clear on this issue. If you go through their Bloggers’ FAQ to their post on Online Defamation Law, it’s spelled out pretty clearly; libel is a “false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation, and published ‘with fault,’ meaning as a result of negligence or malice.”

Further down the post is the following:

“Libelous (when false):

  • Charging someone with being a communist (in 1959)
  • Calling an attorney a ‘crook’
  • Describing a woman as a call girl
  • Accusing a minister of unethical conduct
  • Accusing a father of violating the confidence of son

Not-libelous:

  • Calling a political foe a ‘thief’ and ‘liar’ in chance encounter (because hyperbole in context)
  • Calling a TV show participant a ‘local loser,’ ‘chicken butt’ and ‘big skank’
  • Calling someone a ‘bitch’ or a ‘son of a bitch’
  • Changing product code name from “Carl Sagan” to ‘Butt Head Astronomer'”

I like the EFF. Anyway, this is clearly not libel. However, should it be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that John was sanctioning rape of Alaska’s governor (which, I might repeat, he certainly was not—although I wouldn’t say he’d be too afraid of a comment like that), perhaps that would attract attention that we would otherwise avoid. We all know what that’s like. What would Palin think of this post? I bet she’d understand the power of words used creatively.

Anyway, I welcome your comments on this matter. And you can read the rest of the interview here. In the W&D Program, learning how to give a close analysis of a text is the cornerstone of our classes. They’re training us to be aware of this stuff, and to understand its impact. I think this harks back to the controversy over Nirvana’s song, Rape Me. Kurt was attacked by some feminists for its lyrics, and accused of taking a jab at the media for abusing his celebrity status, but he said it meant “You can hurt me, but I’ll survive,” and was, in fact, an “anti-rape” song.

In the end, after a long debate, we didn’t run the Alaska stuff, but I ask you: Did we make the right decision? I’m undecided. Convince me.

If you comment, please keep it decent. Thanks.

John Reed has attracted his fair share of controversy. His novel Snowball’s Chance, in which Snowball brings capitalism back to Orwell’s Animal Farm, generated criticism—and praise—from the right and left alike. His latest book, All the World’s a Grave (ATWAG), a pastiche of the lines from five of Shakespeare’s plays, is just as contentious. The subtitle “A New Play by William Shakespeare” says it all: Prince Hamlet goes to war for the daughter of King Lear, Juliet. When Hamlet returns he discovers that his mother has murdered his father, and married Macbeth. Visited by his father’s ghost, and goaded by the opportunistic Lieutenant Iago, Hamlet is driven mad by the belief that Juliet is having an affair with General Romeo.

12th Street: It has been said that we Brits are gluttons for punishment. After the reception your book Snowball’s Chance received from the Orwell estate, was it a natural progression to take on, as George Bernard Shaw quipped, “Bardolatry?”

JR: Hmm, I didn’t think about it like that. Maybe I do have it in for the Brits.

12th Street: Thank you. Was personal enjoyment one of your influences when deciding to take this project on, or was it something else?

JR: Oh, sure, I had a blast. I feel, on some level, that writers just do whatever they want and make up reasons later. That’s why some of their rationalizing seems so retarded to other people.
It didn’t hurt that Emily Haynes, my editor, liked the idea. I can’t say that was the single impetus, because I had taken a stab at the project in college—[and] not gotten anywhere—and written the first act in 2003. To be honest, even though Emily liked the idea I was suspicious of it, and I confess that I wasn’t compelled so much as I was consumed. Not an act of will, but an act of abandon. (more…)