What a difference an ocean can make.
A teacher at my old high school in North Canton, Ohio, USA has been making the news lately. I never met her –– I graduated in 1990 –– but I recognize the small-town attitude surrounding the controversy. What happened? According to the Canton Repository she apparently wrote and self-published a novel under a pseudonymn… and word somehow got out that it was her, and she was suspended from her job for three weeks.
So what’s the problem? I imagine four issues are at work here:
1. We’re talking North Canton, where football and religion are the two main activities. Did I write football and religion? Oops, football is the main religion in North Canton. Guys in shoulder pads hitting other guys that happen to touch them, and beer-bellied coaches patting their asses afterwards… it’s all very in-denial homoerotic. I played in the marching band for four years and saw it all.
2. The author is an English teacher. (So am I, but I never got in trouble for writing a book.)
3. The book is apparently erotic. (Some of my work also includes sex but nobody seems to care. Look, I live in Sweden.)
4. The book was self-published. Frankly, I bet if author Carol Ann Eastman (pen-named Deena Bright) had been published by Random House and she’d been interviewed by Oprah, she would have been a celebrity back home which would have meant the good people of North Canton would have ignored her. Maybe her students would have toilet-papered her trees one night after a football game, but really, nobody would have cared. Listen, that guy Marilyn Manson was attending Glenoak High, a couple minutes down the road, about the same time as I was in North Canton Hoover High, but nobody cared. Why? Probably because he became famous and got a record contract.
So maybe the mistake was self-publishing. Or maybe the mistake was writing under a pen-name. Possibly if the author had stood up straight and boldly asserted her rights as an author, her own union would have supported her (it appears the opposite happened). It still would have been uncomfortable for everyone, yes, because the body is considered to be a very dirty thing indeed in North Canton (not even infants are allowed to splash around in blow-up pools in yards because of supposedly-marauding pedophiles). But the last time I checked, yes, writing erotic fiction was indeed protected by the First Amendment.
I was in North Canton last summer. Apart from Walt Whitman and certain hot sonnets, I don’t tend to read erotica. But next time I’m back home, I’ll be sure to read more. It sounds like Carol Ann Eastman got her students reading, which is a victory in itself.
PS: A couple of fond memories from North Canton Hoover High:
One afternoon in English class, the then-head of the English Department, a gentleman with the initials W.W. (not Walt Whitman but not far off either) interrupted his lecture. He paused and gazed at a cheerleader in full (skimpy) uniform with legs crossed in the front row, and said, ”Pardon me, I just have to tell you that you have fabulous legs!” She smiled politely and replied, ”Thank you.”
Following on that theme, I wrote an editorial in the school newspaper the Viking Views wondering why the cheerleaders wore uniforms to school… that were against the dress code. Miniskirts and mustaches were disallowed, as well as alcohol ads and obscenities (though there was always some prankster wearing a ‘Hard Cock Cafe’ t-shirt and getting away with it, which made me wonder if the administration was fully literate). Well, word leaked about what I’d written, and one of the cheerleader’s mothers called the principal who impounded the entire print run in the school office for a week until the dust settled. Since then I’ve understood that high schools, even entire school districts, all too often function as banana republics.