Month: February 2019

Progress Report II – 2006 Gwinnett County Case

The Laura Mallory case has not changed direction over the past few weeks, so much as it has changed scope. We have come across some articles that have greatly added to our understanding of Mallory’s intent in taking the case to court, and have begun working to determine our expectations for our site’s interface and design.

First, this interview with Mallory, originally published in the Loganville Tribune in June, 2007 and later shared on Mallory’s now-defunct blog, “His Voice Today,” serves as an important testimony from Mallory regarding her initial approach to the Harry Potter challenge in 2006, and opens several new avenues for research. According to Mallory herself, she had reportedly been told that “the principal told me anything in the libraries can be used in the classrooms,” with these claims confirmed (to some extent) by a witness for the Gwinnett County school board, Dr. Lisa Eickholdt. Mallory then stated that she “came across ‘Harry Potter — Witchcraft Repackaged — Making Evil Look Innocent,’ a video documentary by occult expert Cary Matriciana.” Further research confirms that the documentarian referenced by the interviewer was actually named Caryl Matrisciana, an anti-spiritualist evangelical filmmaker who died of cancer in 2016. Also notable is that Mallory references precedent in the form of an earlier Gwinnett County case, which we may be able to look into in order to establish an effective comparison to this particular case; Mallory stated, “we mentioned the 1985 case where ‘Deenie,’ by Judy Blume, was removed from the schools.” Lastly, it’s notable that Mallory explicitly stated, “our country was founded on Biblical values and beliefs, hence our nation’s amazing success,” and “there is an undeniable bias against Christianity today in our schools,” given that such statements give credence to our wider thematic focus: the entrenchment of the Religious Right. We have not yet explored Mallory’s blog thoroughly using Way Back Machine, but it will likely supply further information on Mallory’s own positions during this time. Naturally, we will also seek to obtain further information on the works of Caryl Matrisciana, using her filmography as a center point for our investigation into late 20th century, early 21st century anti-Wicca/anti-occult panic.

In terms of our site, Olivia and I are both in agreement on certain design elements, prior to any significant drafting. We both want to prioritize interactivity and rely predominantly on visuals. A couple of design choices from other websites that I feel would help us execute this vision are a locked navigation bar and large header images, which help connect the project to the theme in a consistent way that won’t detract from its academic significance. I’m also interested in possibly working on a “for students/teachers” section, with added reading and guided discussion questions. Our site’s heavy reliance on visuals will require additional camerawork, but after analyzing the University of Georgia’s “CSI: Dixie,” I realize we can supplement existing pictures of notable sites involved in the case with abstract shots relating to its overall setting, theme, and significance, which should provide an interesting creative challenge.

Finally, in terms of our current priorities, we’ve been dancing around obtaining primary sources. While we’ve managed to acquire enough material to likely construct an acceptable case study as-is, we should seek to obtain whatever primary material we can in the coming week, as primary case summaries and steganography would make the report considerably more engaging for prospective readers.

Survey of Technology – GC&SU

Georgia College & State University provides a number of easily accessible resources which will allow Olivia and I to maintain a high standard of quality for digital materials contributed to our site, while also limiting potential costs to both ourselves and the COPLAC. In terms of material requirements, specialized equipment pertaining to the creation of a research blog is regularly available through the Ina Dillard Russell (I.D.R.) library, with an extended check-out period determined by the applicant’s class schedule available upon request. Considering the nature of our project, relevant materials available through the I.D.R. library include: Nikon DSLR or Canon Rebel high-definition cameras, compact tripods, portable audio recorders, USB microphones, and possibly portable interface devices like Apple IPads, all of which, between the two of us, may be checked-out simultaneously. Additionally, my position as a student librarian may help to expedite this process, allowing us greater mobility on return dates, as well as a greater awareness of which materials are available at any given time.

Also available through the I.D.R. library is an “audio/video editing studio,” available for use by appointment Monday through Thursday, with limited accessibility on weekends. The studio houses a soundproof recording booth with a studio-quality microphone, as well as an IMac Pro featuring “Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Audition, Garageband, iMovie, Final Cut Pro and Logic.” While the recording booth itself offers limited opportunities for effective in-person interviews, considering that we expect the majority of interviews to take place digitally, it may help to cut down on ambient noise if used properly. With input from library staff, specifically Kell Carpenter (Associate Director for Access Services) and Quechyan Cummings (Library Equipment Circulation Coordinator), the IMac will enable us to refine relevant audio files, using basic editing techniques to improve clarity, particularly where we expect to sacrifice some clarity in favor of accessibility, as in the case of phone interviews.

Scanners capable of digitizing physical documents and distributing them over email are available through the I.D.R. library during all hours of operation, as is a fax machine, in the unlikely event that we should require one to recieve or distribute research materials or legal information related to the acquisition process. Additionally, as we have alluded to previously, a research center and writing center are available weekly to assist in maintaining accessible language and an effective presentation when drafting content for the site.

Finally, it should be noted that Olivia and I both belong to departments whose subjects generally pertain to our topic (literature and history, respectively). Consultations with members of our departments engaged in relevant fields of research, like my earlier email correspondence with southern historian Dr. James Welborn III, supply significant feedback on context and implementation, which may not otherwise be available through supplementary institutions like the writing or research centers. Other COPLAC contributors, like my course adviser, Dr. Jessica Wallace, may provide direction unique to this particular class format. Reaching out to members of GC&SU’s mass communications and computer science departments may also provide additional feedback, contributing further information on effective ways to communicate with a general audience through a digital medium.

Appropriation and Stereotyping in Censorship: On Metzger and Kelleher’s “The Dearth of Native Voices in Young Adult Literature.”

Kenan Metzger and Wendy Kelleher’s “The Dearth of Native Voices in Young Adult Literature” provides a key example of the cultural consequences of literary censorship, which can otherwise appear amorphous and innocuous when viewed in relation to socially privileged youth; where most cases of literary censorship concern the acceptability of certain ideas, cases of literary censorship involving marginalized voices concern the acceptability of whole identities, not merely the right to think in a certain way, but to exist in a certain way. In a cultural environment where eurocentric standards of merit frequently determine one’s access to the means of publication, invariably, white male voices have emerged as the American cultural default, limiting opportunities for adequate representation, and encouraging appropriation, essentialization, and vilification in the form of stereotyping. As Metzger and Kelleher’s article suggests, demonization and overt racial antagonism are rarely threats posed by stereotyped images, in fact, stereotypes are often depicted in widely-appreciated cultural staples like Disney’s Pocahontas, or Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves. Rather, stereotyping denies the affected culture any semblance of nuance, reducing complex cultural experiences to recognizable symbols and simplified caricatures, which are then open to commoditization, and which tend to reinforce preconceptions held by the empowered, patriarchal class.

Considering the nature of appropriation and its relation to power in America, it is useful to view the censorship of literature produced by marginalized groups outside of a model of explicit challenges to texts, instead incorporating added dimensions of quantity, availability, and diversity of published materials. After all, Metzger and Kelleher’s titular “dearth” constitutes a less visible, but equally consequential, form of censorship, which effectively silences marginalized creators by permitting expression only when it is conducive to the status quo, or by removing them from the process of expression entirely. By contributing to an expectation of diversity in literature, and by insisting that marginalized groups maintain a high degree of ownership over their own stories, audiences and activists counter trends enabling censorship in the form of omission.

Importantly, as Metzger and Kelleher indicate, cultural progress does not exist in a vacuum; representation is necessary in part because it engenders material progress. Concepts related to positive representation in media, like a firm understanding of one’s place in society, a sense of belonging, and impressions of solidarity, can help to guide marginalized young people through an adverse social environment, allowing them to achieve greater success over time. Moveover, as Jane Hafen suggests, positive representation often promotes strong communal bonds, allowing for enduring racial solidarity where stereotypical depictions only serve to isolate and encourage othering. Metzger and Kelleher’s focus on young adult literature is apt in this sense, considering that secondary education greatly informs an individual’s later prospects. Young adult literature is particularly crucial for one’s development, and as Joseph Bruchac indicates, the incorporation of a narrative may enable a student to understand aspects of their own history more effectively than a set of facts detached from personal context. By encouraging success in school and beyond, positive representation provides the groundwork for effective resistance to the existing American power structure.

Progress Report I – 2007 Gwinnett County Case

My partner Olivia and I have made considerable progress on our project over the past week, having settled on a 2007 case involving a challenge to author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in Georgia’s Gwinnett County school system. We have ultimately decided to pursue this case, rather than committing to a more general study of the mid 20th-century Georgia Literature Commission, because we expect that a narrow focus will allow for greater specificity, and that a more recent case will better complement this course’s thematic and pedagogical approach. Additionally, Olivia has connections in the Gwinnett County school system who may potentially provide interviews, or help expedite the process of obtaining sources from local administrators.

A cursory investigation into publicly available sources reveals that the appellant in this case, Laura Mallory, a concerned parent affiliated with the Gwinnett County school system, alleged that the inclusion of Rowling’s books in the Magill Elementary School media center constituted state-sponsored promotion of Wicca, a modern religion which seeks to recontextualize pagan folk traditions. Mallory proposed that by providing access to Harry Potter, Gwinnett County had thus effectively violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Her case reached a state appellate court after being initially rejected by the Gwinnett County school board, but was again rejected according to a case summary made available by the Georgia Department of Education, on the grounds that she failed to present evidence satisfying the “especially high” burden of proof required to demonstrate “gross abuse of discretion” on the part of the local board. Wording in later accounts suggests that the case may have reached an additional court soon after the appellate case, but further research is required to distinguish between individual rulings with certainty.

Additional regional and religious context associated with the Mallory case, derived in part from relevant secondary sources, may allow for more meaningful research. To that end, I have personally contacted Dr. James Welborn III, a southern historian at Georgia College & State University, to inquire about additional books and articles involving southern progressivism and power dynamics in contemporary southern communities. Moving forward, I may also seek to contact members of the Georgia College sociology department to discuss the politics of victimization, particularly majority victimization and the appropriation of victimhood. Notable questions informing proper contextualization include Mallory’s background and denomination, her intent in structuring the case around the inherently secular Establishment Clause, and the extent of her stake in school literature over the course of these cases, namely the ages and enrollment statuses of her three children. While this case appears relatively short-lived and decisive, I predict that the bulk of our analysis will come from asking questions about the implicit meaning expressed in Mallory’s challenge rather than examining the explicit challenge itself; what can we conclude about her worldview and intent, based on her diction and conduct? Ideally, Mallory will concede to an interview, provided we are able to contact her at some point, as an interview would likely prove enlightening even if it were moderated by her own terms and sense of comfort with the topic.

Moving forward, our most immediate priority will be to obtain more holistic records of cases involving Mallory. It is also imperative that we identify other notable figures involved with these trials, and seek out any relevant information associated with them.