Sometimes people ask me to write about bills that are pending in the Arkansas Legislature. I hardly ever do.
What's the point?
I know a lot of members of the Arkansas Legislature never read this column because they tell me so; in emails that begin "I never read your column." I believe them, because it's hard to imagine some of them reading anything, including the bills they're duty-bound to vote on.
Maybe that's harsh, but given how things have played out over the past few years, it's hard to see the Legislature as anything but a fantasy camp for wannabe One America News Network commentators. They're so busy engaging in performative anti-wokeness they've hardly got time to collect their per diem checks and meet the lobbyists for drinkies. (Oh, don't worry, they never read this column.)
To that end, they are bound and determined to throw rocks at the sort of people who may have hurt them when they were small, like teachers who made them try to diagram a sentence and RuPaul who made them feel all weird in and about their dungarees.
And librarians, with all their shushing at them and their buddies while they were giggling at the dirty words in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged.
Now here they are, all important and smart (no matter what that lying transcript says) and charged with doing the people's bidness and being called "honorable" and don't you know it's payback time, all you thinky gentlemens and ladies who weren't going to vote for us nohow anyway.
My ego is not so developed that I believe I have any influence over that bunch.
Another reason I don't often write about bills pending in the Arkansas Legislature is because they're pending, which means that anything could happen between the time I write about them and the time you see this column.
For instance, right now, as I'm writing this column, the fate of Senate Bill 81 is still up in the air. But by the time you're reading this column, it could have already been passed and signed into law. (That seems doubtful, but given the pushiness and anti-thoughtfulness of this edition of Arkansas government, I wouldn't say it's impossible.)
So I'm writing at a disadvantage. You guys know more about the bill than I do because I'm stuck back here in the middle of last week.
Still, I want to talk about this bill, which is designed to give elected officials a say in what books and other library materials are "appropriate" and to establish criminal penalties for librarians who check for--or presumably even browse--"obscene" materials. Because elected officials are so good at deciding what's "appropriate."
There are certain things that any reasonable person would see as "inappropriate," including wristwatches wider than 42 mm, short-sleeved dress shirts, racist emails mocking battered women, allegedly happily married people having clandestine Ashley Madison accounts, $80,000 farm trucks and sitting on the weight bench texting while other people are trying to use the Smith machine--but I'm not sure any of the people who engage in those activities (outside of the bench hogger) should be subject to criminal or civil penalties.
Many a little opprobrium should come their way, maybe their boss should have a talk with them, and maybe some of them should be fired, but I'm not sure we need to get the law involved.
But it's "the keeds!" you (well, not you, but the people who never read this column) squeal. The precious future of the country that we cannot have "indoctrinated" (except by the same institutions that indoctrinated their parents). Because the members of the Arkansas Legislature actually care more about children than some who went to school and got an advanced degree so they could take a job helping children (and other human beings) find out how stuff works and what happened before they were born.
Shushing giggling morons looking up dirty words in Merriam-Webster Unabridged is only about half of what they do, though I'm sure some of them would say I'm underestimating that.
The real purpose of SB 81 is to discourage people from becoming librarians, and it's part of a larger campaign by the know-nothings to recruit more of their number. (Because you know they can't reproduce naturally; their keeds are just as likely, or maybe even more likely, to want to find out stuff than any other kids.)
But we're talking about obscenity! you (again, not you) squeal.
I'd argue the "The Masked Singer" is about the most obscene thing this country has yet produced. Unless it's Twitter. But if a librarian is passing out complimentary codes to her OnlyFans pages we have a problem. I don't think that happens very often (though there are plenty of precedents about these honorables freaking out about things that happened not at all).
I think we can trust most librarians to make judgment calls about what their tenderest clients need to see, and we can deal with their incidents of misjudgment without threatening them with fines and jail time.
But understand, I'm with the Ledge on this: There are some bad books out there.
Books you should not read. Books of poetry purportedly written by cats? Almost certainly bad. Ghost-written campaign biographies? Yet to see a good one. Books by Nicholas Sparks? Mostly bad. Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho"? So bad that in my review of it I fantasied about, well, torturing the book, ripping its pages out one by one, and burning them with fire.
(The movie is better.)
I even have it in for young adult fiction, when it's being read by young adults. Young adults should be reading Schopenhauer and Camille Paglia and J.D. Salinger and Bukowski and Pat Cadigan. Maybe Rimbaud and Verlaine. Young adults ought to leave the likes of J.K. Rowling and Beverly Cleary to the little kids.
So I'm not a blanket defender of books. I think we should furiously ignore the bad ones.
And let our kids find some things out for themselves. We should only hope they have the guidance of a librarian.
And the bully Legislature ought to leave educators alone and quit pretending that there's a woke mob of Marxists and predatory bibliognosts out there. (The "sexy librarian" is a movie trope that has no correlation to real life. I know because I looked it up in the card catalog when I was in middle school; a librarian taught me how.)
I'm not suggesting anybody apply any extra scrutiny to football coaches or youth ministers or honorable members of august bodies, but if you're talking about what's inappropriate and what's obscene ...