Michael Tierney of The Comic Book Store in Little Rock, Arkansas has previously commented (see 'Michael Tierney of The Comic Book Store on Arkansas Display Law') on the proposed change to Arkansas's display law (see 'CBDLF Joins In Arkansas Suit'). Here he notes an Arkansas display reference from our recent magazine (see 'ICv2 Releases ICv2 Retailers Guide to Anime/Manga #3') and brings us up to date on the current round in his fight against the new law:
Ding-ding-ding-ding... Round 3. Most people probably know by now about the recently rewritten Act 858 that would prohibit the display of any material deemed harmful to minors in Arkansas.
The camera crews just left my store (for the second time in a week), off to confront a supporter of this Act with my concerns. I'll know after tonight if this round of my open debate with the Arkansas Legislature will be a win, lose, or draw. But I'd rather fight the fight now, publicly and out in the open, instead of waiting until I'm backed into a corner.
Like in any good fight, you have to just wade in and start reaching for whatever weapons you can find. My thanks go to ICv2 for my latest tool: The latest ICv2 Retailers Guide to Anime/Manga mentioned the censorship issue here in Arkansas - which started long before the recent bill. Page 3 recounts the experience of one Manga publisher while inside Wal-Mart's flagship store, near Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentenville, Arkansas. When the publisher asked an Anderson's News employee, who was stocking the shelves with newsstand distribution books, where the comics were, the employee replied:
'We don't put out comics in Wal-Mart. We dropped them a couple of years ago because they're obscene.'
What a catastrophic statement! What an indicator of an oppressive environment where someone is always waiting in the shadows to dictate what reading is good and what reading is bad! But... Wal-Mart's problem wasn't that comics are obscene - the problem was that they didn't retail them in a responsible manner. Wal-Mart is a classic 'dump in bulk, stack it high and move it fast' wholesaler. Not a retailer. A wholesaler deals in volume, not retailing.
When Wal-Mart did still sell comics, they openly sold to any kid the exact same mature books that I was bagging and taping shut, and requiring a parent's permission. Wal-Mart did not handle these books in a responsible manner - and it came back to haunt them. In their defense, after years of the Comics Code Authority reviewing everything they sold beforehand, the shift in publisher's marketing strategies caught them off-guard and left them unprepared the change in content.
My point to the reporter was that it's okay to expect retailers to conduct their business in a responsible manner. If they don't, there are already laws in place to deal with it.
Act 858 on the other hand, has the stated intention of keeping 90% of books away from children. They consider that 90% of what I read as an adult to be harmful to kids. I can't think of anything that I now read as an adult that I didn't read as a kid. Let this law run rampant, and everything from Tarzan (Hey, he's half naked - and look at his cruelty to those poor animals!) to Disney (an uncle and his nephews that don't wear pants? - child pornography!) will be taken from kids.
And where are children supposed to learn their life skills from? Learning from reading helps develop their self-defense mechanisms - before they have first hand encounters with the dangers of life.
The legislator that the reporter was off to interview has stated clearly that he considers books like Cosmopolitan to be showing way too much skin. I pointed out to the reporter about how my store stands atop Park Hill, overlooking the state capital building. If a kid were to walk to the capital from my store - he would openly see as much or more skin than is shown on any magazine cover. As Maggie Thompson said to me: Life is PG.
You can't put a blindfold on a kid, and expect him to be prepared for life when you take the blinders off at eighteen. As many concerned parents called to tell me; Act 858 is intended to do the job of parenting. You can't legislate parenting! It's up to each parent to decide how their child should be raised. That's my argument.
I have no argument against protecting children from harm. But, I can't agree with rolling a live hand grenade of a law into a crowded room and telling everyone else to deal with it. Their intentions were good, but they actually wrote a law with the intent of letting others figure out what it meant - later. This would only create an atmosphere of uncertainty for every bookseller and librarian in the state.
I'm sharing this in case you ever have to deal with a similar crisis of excessive legislation. If this does happen to you - stand up and fight! Sure, some people will criticize you for speaking up. They'll say that you should be quiet, and trust that things will work out without your interference - while at the same time they pull their sheepskins over their wolf's ears.
Okay, now I'm going to shift gears. I was just about to hit the send button, when I got a call from the reporter. He actually got the legislator to say on tape that they might have made a mistake! The camera crews are on the way back to the store. The news at both 5 and 6 are going to open with a live report from the front of my store!