Our newspaper, that grand old dame The Herald Mail, keeps tabs on the bills our representatives bring to the state legislature. One of those representatives is LeRoy Myers, our very own delegate from Washington County. A few days ago in its Bills of Local Interest feature, the paper printed this summary of a bill Myers recently introduced on the floor of the House of Delegates:
HB 1163 - Prohibits a person from displaying on a motor vehicle a specified item that depicts or resembles anatomically correct, less than completely and opaquely covered, human or animal genitals, human buttocks, or human female breasts.
The bill is a response to a complaint Myers received from a Deputy Sheriff (Matt Bragunier, a guy I went to high school with, incidentally) who said he was tired of all the fake bull testicles he sees dangling from the hitches of pickup trucks. Myers’s father owns a beef farm nearby in Clear Spring, where for as long as anyone can remember there’s been a huge, very anatomically correct granite statue of a bull standing out by the road. When some of his constituents brought this to LeRoy’s attention, he claimed it wasn’t the same thing, that the target of his bill was people who are “being vulgar with their intent.”
I agree that hanging a set of plastic bull testes from your truck, or displaying a pair of fake tits on your dashboard, or affixing a sticker of Hobbes pissing on the logo of whatever brand of automobile you don’t like, is in very poor taste. I just don’t see how it should be any of the government’s business. I’m pretty permissive about this sort of thing; censorship in the name of propriety is still censorship.
The sight of even artificial genitalia offends some folks, I realize, but that’s irrelevant. The right not to be offended by things you encounter when out in public does not exist, nor should it. People are too uptight about anatomy anyway; maybe a little more exposure to that sort of thing, however crass, would desensitize them and they’d give the rest of us a break.
Ashley and I were discussing this last night, and she mentioned the time during a high school English class when they watched the film 1984. There is a brief scene of a fully nude woman, which the teacher apparently forgot was in there. Nothing vulgar happens, there’s no portrayal of sex in any way, but the teacher stopped the movie early and offered any of the students who might have been upset by seeing something not unlike what many of them see in the mirror after a shower a profuse and flustered apology. The sad thing is, the guy was right to be paranoid; parents have thrown tantrums en masse about far less than a woman’s immobile exposed breasts and vagina on a TV screen. It’s one reason why students in high school in this county sometimes have to get signed parental permission before watching a PG-13-rated movie that they would not need parental consent to see in a theater. God forbid our chaste and mild teenagers discover the existence of human reproductive organs.
But that’s not really the issue. The heart of the matter is this: Is legislating decency the government’s business? I don’t think it is. It’s not the government’s business to make sure we don’t offend one another. It’s not even the government’s business to make sure we’re nice to one another; it’s the government’s business to make sure we don’t rob and kill each other; anything less we should be able to handle ourselves. We’re grown-ups, aren’t we? Why is that such wishful thinking?
Lots of shit offends me — people chewing gum, loud motorcycles and the morons who tear through town on them, public displays of religion, self-absorbed assholes who talk during movies, wimpy emo music, the KKK holding rallies on National Civil War Battlefields (which has happened around here twice in the last year) — but I wouldn’t want any of it to be against the law.
There’s a lot of daylight between not liking something personally, and making it a crime for others to like it. Some people are offended by anti-abortion protestors who walk around in front of clinics holding signs with graphic photos of aborted fetuses. It’s not my favorite thing to look at, either, but if someone wants to make a statement by displaying it, they should have that right. If someone else has a statement to make by hanging a replica of a bull’s scrotum from his hitch, no matter how crude or classless we may find that statement to be, they should have the same right. Too bad if it might offend someone. This is the least of the perils we must deal with in a free society. We shouldn’t be complaining.