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Dean's Office enforces its policies selectively

To the Editor:

Joe Kilian's article ["ODSA knew of planned explicit movie screening," Feb. 4] gives an interesting perspective on the motivations behind some of the people involved in the recent pornography "debate."

It's very interesting to note the difference in treatment between a movie that is intended to be shown as a movie (The Opening of Misty Beethoven) and one that is intended to be shown as propaganda (Not A Love Story). The conclusion could be drawn that Not a Love Story is considered automatically acceptable because it is against pornography.

Ruth Perry's claim that the Dean's Office had known about the activity for months sounds very bad in light of the events of the past several months. The Dean's Office made no effort to ensure that the movie would be screened six weeks in advance (not that it would even be announced six weeks beforehand) so other groups could plan alternate activities.

Suppose some group wanted to present an activity that would counter the barefaced propaganda of the activity involving that film?

Her claim that "the Dean's Office showed this film two years ago ... if that doesn't constitute approval, I don't know what does," is a most revealing one. It sounds very much like she thinks that the Dean's Office approves the showing of films, not the Ad Hoc Committee, as the Dean's Office's own rules provide for!

I suppose she has a point, considering Dean McBay's actions with regard to The Opening of Misty Beethoven. In that case, the Dean's Office did effectively, through use of strictly administrative power, shut down the movie, at least temporarily. So it's acceptable if the Dean's Office flagrantly violates its own rules, but not if the student body, or a group thereof, wishes to abide by them? I suppose the end justifies the means, as long as it is the Dean's Office that wants to do something.

Perry's further comments that Gordon Strong '85's complaint that the film violated the ODSA rules seems "like retaliatory harassment directed at the young women who are already upset and threatened by the showing of pornography films on campus" is most unfortunate. Had I protested (as I was considering) and received a public reply of that nature, I would consider it slander.

These sort of intimidation tactics, threatening people who dare to disagree with the party line, have no place in a democracy. If the Dean's Office condemns harassment, it should not harass people who disagree with its policy.

What "young women" are "threatened" by the showing of pornographic movies? Most people that I have talked to about this (men and women) don't feel threatened, except by Dean's Office intimidation. They typically view it as a First Amendment issue -- the freedom of speech. There are a few organizations on campus that I feel threatened by. Does that give me the right to have them shut down? No.

Let me state here that I have seen two pornographic movies (one of them a Registration Day movie). I found them both to be frankly sickening and demeaning -- to men as well as women. But what I think about pornographic movies is irrelevant. If there's a market for them (filling Kresge for four showings would seem to qualify), then clearly there are enough people who do in fact have some reason for watching the movie.

The argument that showing pornography violates women's civil rights is ridiculous. There are doubtless people who would be influenced to commit violence against women (or perhaps against men?) by seeing such a film. But these people are doubtless in an extreme minority, and very close to committing such acts even without viewing pornography. What about the civil right of freedom of speech?

The related argument that it influences people to believe that women are inferior may have more truth to it, but the fact that something influences someone to think in a certain fashion is not a valid argument for censoring it. People do, after all, have the right to be exposed to any form of expression (voluntary) and draw their own conclusions from it.

For one group of people to set itself up as a moral arbiter and to say "It is wrong to believe this, and therefore we will not permit the rest of you to see something that might influence you against our beliefs" is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy. I happen to believe in the (intuitively obvious, to me) concept that all people are equal, and discrimination on the basis of something like sex is downright silly, and if I choose to see a pornographic movie it wouldn't change my opinion there.

The name of the activity in question, "Pornography in Film and Advertising" is especially troubling in this regard. While admittedly much advertising is unabashedly sexist, I can't think of any examples of product promotion that is pornographic for any reasonable definition of pornographic. Does this mean that pornography shall be defined as "any speech which expresses or implies that principle that women, whether individually or as a group, are inferior to men?" And if so, should this be banned? I thought that speech is protected by the First Amendment, whatever its social content.

I wonder if, by writing this letter, I will be branded "insensitive," or worse, by certain people at MIT. I would consider this most unfortunate. However, I have observed in the past several months that people who take the position that showing pornography on campus does not violate anyone's rights, and indeed that banning it does, have been accused of "harassment."

Harassment is a serious charge, and should be reserved for serious occasions, not to persecute people who merely disagree with the point of view taken by the Dean's Office.

Robert Krawitz '86->