The Chicago City Council. The aldermen in it. Where do these jokers come from?
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) specifically. Ever heard of him? Me neither. But there he was, in the Sun-Times on Saturday, demanding that Spike Lee call his new movie something other than “Chiraq.”
“It’s very offensive and, hopefully, he rethinks his position,” Beale told our Fran Spielman. “He definitely needs to change the name.”
He does? Definitely? Or what?
Maybe Beale will lead a squad of aldermen to arrest the movie, the way Ald. Dorothy Tillman and a couple colleagues, backed by the cops, raided the School of the Art Institute to seize a painting.
Not that we have to go back to 1988 to find Chicago officialdom acting as ham-handed censors. It’s a Chicago tradition. Remember “Persepolis”? The acclaimed graphic novel that two years ago Barbara Byrd-Bennett yanked out of the public schools after one complaint. Or Bob Fioretti quashing a hot dog stand, “Felony Franks?”
Doesn’t Beale realize the sting of embarrassment over art quickly passes, but the stain of censorship never fades? He belongs to the same legislative body which, in 1965, voted its “unqualified condemnation” of Wright Junior College for having James Baldwin’s novel “Another Country” on a reading list?
And why? Let’s read from the City Council resolution. The book “extensively dwells upon homosexuality as though it had redeeming social value.”
It isn’t always the City Council trying to toss a blanket over what they don’t like. That’s a game anyone can play. In 1958 the Archdiocese of Chicago banned the Everly Brother’s song “Wake Up Little Susie.” Polish groups pushed the mayor to remove Nelson Algren’s 1942 novel, “Never Come Morning” from library shelves. More on that later.
No matter how far you go, you have bluenose Chicagoans jamming their sausage-fingers in the arts.
In 1907, the Chicago Tribune thundered against nickelodeons for exerting “an influence that is wholly vicious.” That was the same year Chicago instituted its movie censorship board, one of the first cities to do so. Chicago is a place that censored silent movies. Then gangster movies. Then Richard J. Daley was so insecure about the city’s film image that he shut down production here. His son had the head of the school board investigate students who acted in “Hardball” because kids in it swore a lot.
The city’s silent movie censorship backfired. The pink permits it issued to show movies had adult content became prized advertising tools.
It always backfires, bringing publicity to what these lunkheads are trying to squelch. News of Spike Lee’s movie being shot here was in the gossip pages before, speculating on which stars would appear. Now it’s news.
Titles change. Lee might call it “Chiraq.” Or he could change the title to “Eden,” sarcastically, and include a scene where a dunce alderman pops his mouth off, making empty demands, as if Chicago’s violence problem will be solved if nobody knows about it.
Artists don’t forget, and revenge is a dish best served cold. Mayor Kelly pulled Algren’s book. But he had other books.
In “City on the Make,” Algren decries, “the medieval nonentities of City Hall who have gotten the work of Rossellini, Sartre and Denis Mitchell outlawed here don’t care for the local talent either. … The Dziennik Chicagoski will get you if you don’t watch out. The Polish Roman Catholic Union, having recently purchased Milwaukee Avenue, wants its property boosted, not described.”
That’s it. In a nutshell. Beale wants the city “boosted, not described.” Spike Lee hasn’t shot a foot of film, and already he’s flushing out the fools in Chicago, prompting them to leap up and wave, identifying themselves. Just imagine what the film itself will do.
“Freedom of expression still doesn’t mean you can insult the people of this city,” Beale said of a movie that hasn’t even been made yet.
Actually, freedom of expression means exactly that. The embarrassment is that Beale doesn’t seem aware of the fact.