Monday, April 30, 2007

Your Only Choices Are Fear and Paranoia

I’m glad my job doesn’t involve updating online content.

Because apparently, updating online content is a high-pressure occupation where you don’t have time to think about what you’re doing or if it even makes sense. Apparently there’s an online content supervisor riding your ass constantly, screaming “If you can’t make that survey go live in five seconds, I’ll find someone who can!”

That’s the only explanation I can think of for the survey I just saw at

The survey accompanies a story about 18-year-old Allen Lee, a high school senior in Cary, Illinois. Lee carried a 4.2 GPA and had never been in trouble before, but when he wrote an essay for his English class that his teacher and principal considered too violent, he was charged with disorderly conduct.

Yeah. They turned his essay over to the police and the police turned it over to the McHenry County DA, and the McHenry County DA—who must not have a lot to do—decided they’d better bring charges against this dangerous writer. Lee now faces the possibility of a $1500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Folks, the thought-police are here. You missed the announcement because there wasn’t one.

According to the AP story, the teacher who assigned the essay told her students to “be creative,” and that there wouldn’t be any judgment or censorship. She might have forgotten to tell the class that she reserved the right to freak the hell out and have people arrested, but, you know, jeez, you can’t remember everything. There’s a paragraph from Lee’s essay in the news story, and yeah, it contains some violent images. But if the whole thing is as obviously tongue-in-cheek as the sample paragraph, there are some extremely unqualified judges of both creative writing and human psychology in the Cary-Grove School District.

In any event, Lee was a Marine recruit who was looking forward to joining the Corps after graduation, but after his arrest, the Marines released him from his contract. They didn’t want him writing anything naughty about our enemies.

The teacher and the principal weren’t the only ones getting off on their paranoid adrenaline rush. Tom Carroll, an assistant DA for McHenry County, said that “in light of recent events…that makes the reaction all the more reasonable.”

Note to Mr Carroll: The reaction was not reasonable in any sense of the word. Even if Lee had exhibited the same psychoses as the Virginia Tech shooter (which he didn’t), the reasonable reaction would be to prescribe some counseling and some rather intense observation. Writing is not disorderly conduct in any context.

Now, back to the harried online survey writer I mentioned at the beginning of this post. This is the exact wording of the survey:

Should students face legal action for submitting violent writings in class?
• Yes, such writings must be dealt with severely, especially after the Virginia Tech massacre.
• No, students who submit such writings need help, not jail time.

Those were the only choices! No option for “No, creative writing is never against the law,” or “No, you can’t assume a correlation between violent writing and violent behavior,” or “No, this is a dumbass question that assumes the respondents have bought in to the very culture of fear and paranoia that mass media outlets have been instrumental in propagating.”


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