The Shame of Others

    Marvelous recent story from Germany demonstrates American thinking isn’t alone in being palsied by corrosive political correctness.

    In an instance of abrupt consideration, Gotthard Hänisch, a Berlin college administrator, arbitrarily culled an art exhibit at his institution. He had pieces judged “interculturally insensitive” removed to an obscure corner, one less likely to incite easily inflamed passersby.

    Showing way too much deference, the bureaucrat fretted Muslim students would find several portraits obscene. Naturally the art most Western viewers evaluate with at least somewhat critical eyes involved female forms. You know, the usual nude ones.

    Rigid Islam maintains prohibitions against human form representations. Female nudity makes the faith’s more intolerant practitioners apoplectic. Oh, like they really need any more reasons to kill and destroy indiscriminately. Therefore, Hänisch’s caution.

    However, the gallery holding the defiling images just wasn’t any infidel exhibition hall. The college had established a concourse where local artists’ works were displayed. The signature of Susanne Schüffel graced the canvases. Just six nudes comprised 50 of her oeuvre. Schüffel’s scenery became a minor tempest because Muslim immigrants attending German as a second language courses might’ve traversed the gallery.

    Where inaction could’ve transformed these exchanges into teachable moments towards tolerance, Hänisch’s premature response turned nothing into something.

    The unspoken yet absorbed lesson would’ve been the new arrivals needed developing wider latitudes of acceptance in their new country. Who is unaware that Islamic nations are less dynamic culturally than Western or Far Eastern societies? As well as particularly repressive towards women. No. Mine isn’t an insult. It’s a fact. And disputing it isn’t argumentative, but denial.

    Let Golstifteh Farahani, Pegah Ahangarani, and Hatun Sürücü serve as examples of the above repression. The first two women are Persian actresses. The former correctly gauged the gale against her in Iran and chose self-exile in France. The latter now occupies an Iranian jail cell for trying to pursue that craft in her country. The third woman, a Turkish-born Berliner, merely attempted leading a life most Westerners would rightly consider normal. But vicious clannishness imported from Turkey compelled Sürücü relatives to murder her. As always, an unfettered woman living freely jeopardized family honor.

    By passing these portraits day in and day out, witnessing calm rather than the expected convulsions such would prompt in their old countries, wouldn’t most GSL students have observed how the society they wished integrating into operated finer than any raft of lectures? High-sounding as high-minded preaching can aspire, actual practice instills deeper examples.

    Perhaps the paintings could’ve inspired some worthwhile discussions in several GSL classes. Rather than conjugate verbs, wrestle with declensions as well as repeat trite rote phrases, abstractions such as opinions and tastes could’ve further thickened the newcomers’ immersions. If so, the smallest upshot of any cross-cultural bridging should’ve been the students searching their Duldens more often.

     Instead, the takeaway was fear can twist settled communal aspects. Don’t Muslims from Islamic countries carry that lesson along from the lands they’ve departed? No need for remedial programs then.

     Fortunately, two superior outcomes resulted from Hänisch’s overreaction. The first may not have improved verbal sharpness, though it surely ought have demonstrated individuals’ power.

     Upon learning of the removals district city councilor Julianne Witt alerted Schüffel. Both women recognized misplaced censorship under the mistaken veil of protection. Rather than slog through channels, they restored those works to their original walls.

      Wie sagt man “gumption” auf Deutsch?

      Outwardly defiant as Schüffel’s and Witt’s restoration seemed, the student body as well as local community supported it. Secondly and maybe surprisingly, the Muslims whose sensitivities were to be shielded failed appreciating the official’s high-handedness.

      Among others in that community, the local imam complained of Hänisch’s presumption. Why not consult local believers before acting rashly on their behalf? Yes, unaccustomed and perhaps befuddled by Western openness, most area immigrants nevertheless realized their new home demanded accommodating and new comportment. Theirs. 

      Holy magi! Wouldn’t O. Henry have appreciated that ending?

      Unfortunately for common sense, an American incident now wending its legislative way won’t produce the same feel good effect as Berlin’s. These are litigious times. Americans live in a litigious country.

       Modern technology and jilted lovers’ age-old venom have presented us with a conundrum for our times.

       The most affected party, a woman, sent a long-distance lover intimate self-portrayals. She really shouldn’t have. Perhaps keeping her delights covered might’ve made him esteem her more. Okay. At least he would’ve lacked material to embarrass her.

       The incident recalls essay excerpts I heard recited during an ages-ago Arizona writing class. The topic of this specific exercise? “Personal.” Good and all-encompassing vague, eh? A few classmates translated it into “intimate.” Through their voices they revealed accordingly.

       One brave, no, one confident woman wrote how she foresaw the inexorable end of a relationship. A pale, reedy, ginger, she dealt with that impending dissolution by sending her soon-to-have-been ex Polaroids of her nude self. In bidding him farewell, she also cleverly castigated him for his abandonment.

    The woman already knew that somewhere along life, months, years, maybe even decades later, her ex-lover would find himself treading in some dismay. To salve his melancholy, he’d unearth those candids (And what’s more candid than a naked redhead?) and let their wistful past comfort him momentarily.

    If remembered correctly, she more or less hexed his future that afternoon. Or by my reckoning, tried.

    I’ve no idea whether her certainty was uncanny, but she left behind vivid memories. Right down to the amount of emulsion that should’ve faded in those snapshots.

    Unfortunately for today’s aggrieved woman, the pair split ugly. Roughly ejected, his nature bent towards her humiliation. Resorting to revenge porn, the scorned lover thoroughly disseminated her images. (Revenge porn, if it hasn’t already made Webster’s pages, is likeliest to appear among the dictionary’s 2014 roster of new inclusions.) The Who’s-Who of recipients reads more like “who among her circle hadn’t gotten cc’ed?”

     Surely there is temptation to call the complainant a “victim.” But she isn’t. A little circumspection, a jot of foresight, and any of the uninvited who’ve stared lasciviously upon her charms could’ve kept basing their one-handed fantasies on febrile imagination.

     This being America naturally lawyers have been engaged. Legislative sessions have been convened. Outraged editorials have been written. All to codify measures which will somehow repeal those revenge porn-type acts of spurned suitors. Oh, once we turn back time I guess the laws of gravity will soon be ripe for refining, too.

     Revenge porn isn’t a criminal or civil matter, but one for common sense. She voluntarily sent him her compromising poses. Once he received them, they became his to do with as he pleased. With one hand or the other.

     While in her lover’s favor, she doubtlessly nestled within his heart. But once their love sundered, he retained nubile proof of who was lost. And what vindicates better than being vindictive?

      Anyway, aside from the woman’s understandable fury, society really shouldn’t offer any kind of remedy or recourse. The moment she relinquished ownership of her images, she forfeited how they could be, if so desired, shared.

      Actually while filing the inevitable police report, officers retained enough professionalism to refrain from saying, “Inside we’re laughing at you.” Despite the hell to pay later, wouldn’t that have been an appropriate response?

      Had her images been stolen before being splashed across device screens, then circumstances would’ve justly required full-weight law. Or had minors filled those frames. Instead, an adult willingly initiated her own future disgrace.

      Dumb is harder to stuff back into bottles than genies.

      States which have enacted them need to rescind their revenge porn laws pronto. Without nanny state intrusion, won’t more prospective nymphs and seductresses devote second thoughts to any possible viral outbreaks which may result from their private exposures?

    Shouldn’t this awareness serve as greater deterrence against malicious downloads of private “cheekiness” and “sauciness” than any rulings from our modern Comstocks?

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