Dear Sir or Madame,

I would normally prefer to address you by name, but I don’t know your name. You haven’t corresponded with me directly, nor did the Press’s promotions representative disclose your name to me. I know you only as the person who made the decision  to delete content from a blog post I prepared for the Press. I was told that you chose to delete this text because it included a link to a music video that depicts naked bodies. I wish to express my thoughts on this matter, even though you have not asked me for them.

I am writing to you here, on my blog, rather than finding out your “real” identity for a couple of reasons: first, you saw no need to correspond with me, the author of the content you removed, so I think it is fair that I do the same. Well, now I do. The truth is that until today, I had a different understanding of our mutual rights and responsibilities–mine as “author” and yours as “publisher.” Until today, I did not expect that you would erase my words or ideas without my permission. Second, I don’t particularly care about this single decision as much as I do the class of decisions into which it falls. That is, I don’t care so much about reinstating the text on the blog. After all, the blog is your property, not mine. But I think it is important that educated people have frequent discussions about the character and quality of discourse and freedom of expression, and this is an opportunity to do so.  Third, I suspect your decision was based on your sense of what the leaders of the organization that employs you would prefer, rather than your individual wishes or preferences. In this sense, it makes little sense to address you as an individual. And fourth, organizations–publishing houses or record labels, art galleries or museums–don’t typically make decisions in a vacuum, but base them on a sense of best practices in the field. So, the field is a more appropriate context for appeal.

I must, therefore, address myself to all those bosses, leaders, and decision-makers who believe the moral course, when faced with the possibility that some employees, clients, members, or followers might be offended, is to blight that offense from the earth. To remove it from view. To extinguish it.

I hope to convince you that your thinking is wrong.

I argue that the moral thing –when you think something good and right might pose offense– is to add a step into the process that allows people to chose for themselves when and what kind of material to consume. In this case I included both a description of the content in the video and added a hyperlink instead of embedding the content. Thus, only those readers of your blog who decide–after reading the description–to click through to the video would be able to see it.

Here is that text:

“Gobbledigook” by Sigur Ros. In the final chapter of Banding Together I mention a number of bands and songs that are, for my purposes, “unclassifiable.” It made sense to end the playlist with some of these, including this charming tune by Icelandic band Sigur Ros. You should watch the video for this song, as long as you are not offended by playful nudity.

See? I explain there is nudity and describe it as “playful” (check it out if you care to; I stand behind this). And I make people click through–I don’t embed it right there for all to see.

I am not interested in regulating what others view on the internet. You shouldn’t be in this business either. Particularly so as you are engaged in a business which depends upon free inquiry and creative expression. If such freedom did not exist your press would either cease to function, or would publish–one imagines–even more books about identifying finches.

Finches are great, but is that really the world you envisioned when you took this job? Or did you think you might contribute to the expansion of knowledge? The cultivation of the mind? The exploration of new ideas?

I think your decision today is inconsistent with what you do, and should, stand for and behind.

And not for nothing–the “Gobbledigook” video is not profane. I mean, I’m sure there’s someone on earth who would find it to be so–that’s why I presented it as I did–but surely that is a small and reactionary minority of viewers. And we should stand up to them, because they are wrong. If you watch the video you will see that it depicts naked humans (presumably they are Icelandic humans, as that’s where the band is from) running on a beach, through a forest, playing “drums” on a downed log, talking, painting letters on each other using some sort of mud (I think), singing, and dancing. Yes, they are naked. But they so clearly and undeniably represent beauty, and freedom, and the majesty and wonder of the human form. Not its cruelty. Not its avarice, or meanness, or resentments. Its joy. You should get behind joy. You should get behind beautiful bodies. You should get behind any piece of culture that makes people hopeful. That makes us laugh, or smile, or remember what it was like to be a kid, or what it’s like to be with friends, or out camping, or running. What sand feels like between your toes, or what autumn leaves smell like when you run your hands through them. These are the things to stand behind.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Dear Sir or Madame,

  1. Jenn,
    There could be children reading the website of an academic press whose primary audience is PhDs. I know when I was a horny and impressionable teenage boy I spent quite a lot of time looking at the materials of university presses hoping to stumble across some playful nudity.

  2. Jenn Lena

    Let me add: I think the video is good for kids, even teenage ones. Maybe especially.

  3. Jenn, your calm and reasoned reaction to things that are crazy-making continues to astound and inspire me.

  4. Kim

    For what it’s worth, rolling around naked (in the dew) is also an Icelandic cultural tradition.

  5. Jenn Lena

    It is amazing the lengths they go to to convince people to move to Greenland.

  6. I think it’s a very dangerous video, and am glad PUP had the good sense not to spread it around. Did you see the cigarette smoking? The callous disregard for fire safety?

    Joking, OF COURSE – I second Tina’s comment, this is an example of Jenn’s general model of calm thoughtfulness in the face of insanity.

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