Saturday, April 28, 2007

[NEWS] Disorderly Conduct

Illinois high school student Allen Lee was encouraged by his English teacher to write an emotional essay, casting aside all restraint and embracing extremes and exaggeration. In these times it is perhaps not surprising that the theme he chose was drugs, violence and even attacks on schools. His work was explicit and disturbing, using the full writing abilities of a dedicated honor-roll student with a 4.2 grade point average.

In these times is it also not surprising that the English teacher in question notified the principal. Although the essay mentioned no specific people, places and or times it was disturbing and explicit. The teen, while intelligent, apparently lacked the inbuilt cynicism most kids have when it comes to following teachers' instructions to the letter. And, well, these days it probably behooves school administrators to be vigilant and proactive. It wouldn't hurt to ensure that Allen Yee was writing creatively as instructed, not expressing some very well-disguised desires beneath the honor-student, future marine persona.

What is surprising it that the police were approached and opted to charge Allen Yee with disorderly conduct--arresting him off a public street and taking the 18-year-old into custody. They are in effect not only making the student criminally culpable for his teacher's reaction to his writing--but implying that he desired and wrote specifically to get that reaction. This seems wildly implausible and frankly a terrifying prospect for ayone who writes contraversial material. Disorderly conduct is a charge aimed at people who carry out dangerous pranks that cause public panic and endanger others.

Fictional work certainly can be used as an indicator that person may need further analysis and psychological support. But it is in no way a good indicator on its own, and in no case is prosecution on the sole basis of creative writing a sensible or sane reaction. I wish Allen Yee all the best in defending himself and hope his year is not too badly disrupted by being forced to attend school elsewhere. I also hope the marines accept him as planned once the legal case is resolved; he had after all already undergone and passed their own psychiatric evaluations with flying colors. But one of the lessons of this, his graduating year, is to realise that our promised freedoms are always under threat and authority figures' instructions must always be considered with a degree of distrust and caution.

And the relevance of this to erotic writing? I think the idea of criminalising writing and holding writers responsible for reader reactions is fundamentally important regardless of the content in question. As they say about allowing others freedoms to be eroded: ...and then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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