Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wait, did this really happen!?

I'm usually neutral on Lynn Happens. If anything, I'm pro-arts and pro-nightlife over there. I reserve most of my opinions for this blog. Last night's City Council meeting pushed one of my buttons, so here I go.

An amendment was added to an over-reaching adult entertainment ordinance in order to quell some fears artists and area residents such as myself had about some of the over-reaching parts of the ordinance inadvertently impacting the arts. Just to zone them out of existence and deny them alcohol licenses would have been sufficient, but it took things a bit too far. In an attempt to compromise, an amendment was proposed that any artistic expression that crosses some sort of line, wherever that is, can apply for a permit for a fee of $175.

More on that later, but first, a little about where I'm coming from:

I've had adverse reactions to ordinances in the past. I reacted so strongly, when I first came to Lynn, on the Sign Ordinance, that even though I do not own a business with frontage for a sign, I saw it as stifling creative expression and was immediately moved speak up, setup a blog, and connect with City Hall. (I also did not want my new neighborhood to look bland.)

The old motto of my alma mater Emerson is "Expression Necessary to Evolution." I believe in it, whether it's expressing one's needs and wants on the most base level, or the highest forms of human artistic expression. (My degree from there is in Speech Communication.

And so there's a common thread in most of the issues I've expressed strong opinions on. That's because I've spent a good part of my life and career on the tools and techniques of self-expression, from interpersonal communication to mass communication. I have trained everyone from elementary aged children to elderly WWII veterans in radio and television broadcasting. I had an elderly woman who couldn't program the clock on her VCR producing and board-op'ing her own radio show within days. Well, that's actually easier than programing a VCR clock, but I digress.

I consider myself a mostly moderate person, guided by reason. Yet, when it comes to the First Amendment and freedom of expression, I turn into an absolutist. I personally feel closed in, almost like an animal fighting to get out of a cage, when I hear about restrictions on human expression. But from a rational point of view, we simply don't require permission for works artistic expression that some one or some committee might deem offensive in this country. It is not the American way. This is not a post Soviet republic, theocracy, or third world country. I imagine the ACLU would have a field day with this new ordinance, if it were ever enforced.

And that brings me to the next point I want to make. I don't believe that it will be enforced. Yet being fairly confident of that, I'm still not relieved. Just having it on the books makes my blood boil. Our city should not have un-enforceable, un-constitutional laws on its books. Our city council should be above passing ordinances in vein to quiet imaginary outrage from an alarmist story in the Item. Besides, there are good parts of the ordinance that will do enough to prevent strip clubs and adult book stores from opening. It it was not necessary to take it any further.

And if the permitting process for artists were followed, who gets to decide? Is it the License Commission? Do they know what art is? What if it's a new play without the established history of Hair or Equus? What if it's photos or paintings of nudes by new artists? Lynn galleries aren't going to hang Rembrandt or Michelangelo, at least in the near future.  I fear new works are in greater danger of not being understood and approved of. And the $175 fee? They'd have to waive it nearly every time, so why impose one in the first place?

Also, if it came down to it, who would be in charge of deciding which books are considered art and which are adult? Who is qualified? Who or what body will be the official City of Lynn Censor? We finally have a book store back in this city and it'd be nice if we can keep it. And it happens to focus heavily on art books, and is within our arts district.

In other words, it's not enforceable. It shouldn't be there. It's embarrassing that our city is generating was is essentially a new "Blue law." And should we find ourselves with a different council and different leadership in the future, let's not leave it on the books for them to try to abuse.

Artist: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers (wiki)
Song: Pablo Picasso (video)


  1. This will be a great topic for debates when city council elections come up again.

    little by little chipping away at all our freedoms
    how does it ever get unwound when they pass bullshit ordinance after bullshit ordinance. uncontested

  3. Absolutely unacceptable, a sign of the times. The paranoia, the craze for control, all because people choose to live in fear instead of love.


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