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Dave Marsh–rock critic, author of several books, and editor of Rock & Roll Confidential–has just published 50 Ways to Fight Censorship and Important Facts to Know About the Censors, a slim volume that moves from admonitions to register and vote through how-to advice on publishing newsletters to boycotting and suing the censorship bastards. It ends (way number 50) with the admonition to “make the real obscenities the real issues” (meaning things like “homelessness, unemployment, war and militarism, racism, sexism, AIDS, homophobia”). Along the way it’s packed with lists: of “50 great banned books” (courtesy of the American Library Association), of Marsh’s 20 great censored pieces of music and ten great anticensorship songs, of video-making resources. (“Make an Anti-Censorship Home Video Showing the Various Benefits of Free Speech in Your Community–and the Perils of Censorship” is way number 29.) There are names, addresses, and phone numbers of the major motion-picture companies, the networks and broadcasting-industry associations, the book, music, and video retail chains–all so you can make your protest directly.
That the book is in a how-to format means that it doesn’t really explore some thorny political questions that may divide those on the anticensorship side. For example, Marsh criticizes the way the American Civil Liberties Union approaches things, but the criticisms don’t rear their head in his book–in fact, way number 19 encourages readers to join the ACLU.
“You write a book, and especially an action guide, to deal with people where they are,” Marsh explains. “The essential limitation of the ACLU to me is its insistence on working through the court system. Because as Ross v. Sullivan [the recent decision upholding rules forbidding doctors to mention abortion in clinics receiving federal money] proved, the court system today is the enemy not the friend of free speech. And it seems to me in particular that the ACLU’s insistence on carrying the 2 Live Crew case to the Supreme Court is going to have horrendous consequences. I believe that the court could easily use it as the vehicle to dismantle, overtly, the [current obscenity] standard.
“What the ACLU thing is about is getting people to support an organization which, as limited as it is and as much as I disagree with some of its values–I’m no liberal–is in fact one of the most maligned organizations in the United States, and therefore joining the ACLU has tremendous symbolic power. And I–whatever procedural and political quarrels I have with the ACLU–at the end of the day I belong to the ACLU, and I’m glad I do.”
Marsh says he doesn’t have any illusions about our government. “I don’t think this is a good system. But I do think that there are two separate questions in political struggle generally in the United States. One is: Can we describe an orbit outside of the system in which we may function? And the other is: Can we function more effectively within the orbit of the system? Now there are some people who find it compromising to work within the system at all. That’s fine with me. But I don’t agree with it. And certainly my book’s premise is that one must do both and one can do both.”
At 11 AM on Sunday, June 16, Marsh will be on a panel discussing censorship and violence, at the Hotel Morton, 500 S. Dearborn. The panel is part of the seventh annual Printers Row Book Fair, which runs from 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday on Dearborn between Congress and Polk. Marsh will also read from and discuss his new book at 1:30 PM on Sunday at the fair’s Dearborn Station stage. Admission to both events is free; call 987-1980 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ed Hedemann.