• Flux Magazine

"#MeToo at the Library" by Noelle S. Dahl

In the land of political correctness and cultural appropriation, the issue of what is appropriate and inappropriate is in question. Should we see a poster of Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein without any explanation or context in a classroom? The short answer is no. It is inappropriate. But where do we draw the line between displaying a controversial work or deciding to withdraw it completely? I would argue that providing context, for anything that may be in doubt, is crucial. An example of this cultural insensitivity is Sonoma State University’s Jack London exhibition.

In honor of Jack London, the inspiration behind the university’s mascot of a seawolf, Sonoma State University’s library has introduced an exhibit commemorating the novelist and his many great works. Amongst the memorabilia which teems with photographs, film posters, and other noteworthy things, is The Call of the Wild movie poster featuring American actors, Clark Gable and Loretta Young. Clark Gable, an actor famed for his roles in It Happened One Night, Red Dust, and The Misfits played the lead role of Jack Thornton in The Call of the Wild, adapted from Jack London’s original novel. Cheek to cheek with Loretta Young, who played Claire Blake in the 1935 film, Gable appears to be embracing her on set for the film yet some allege that this relationship was not exclusive to the film’s production. Decades after the film, Young claimed that Gable had raped her during the shooting of the movie which followed by a secret pregnancy of Gable’s child. Daunted by the public’s perception of her having a child out of wedlock, Young shielded her baby from the limelight. It was not until her last years in which Young reported that Gable had date-raped her and had known about her the truth of her daughter without taking responsibility.

Let me be clear—I do not support condemning men as rapists without evidence or without hearing their defense, but I do advocate for showing sensitivity and respect to anyone who alleges that they are a victim of sexual assault. And as Young and Gable are both gone, their circumstance may as well join the thousands of fixed and closed Hollywood secrets. Regardless, I do not support the library’s decision on exhibiting the poster without any context. Without requesting information from the English Department’s faculty, the gallery resembles less than a distinguished university gallery, and more of an idle attempt to spotlight anything to do with Jack London.

Here’s why this is problematic. Left and right, we see the media admonish culturally insensitive actions from individuals or see insensitive acts from individuals and organizations. From fraternities hosting “Cowboys and Indians” parties to congressmen having worn Blackface in college years, cultural insensitivity should retain the same grounds for everyone. And a university library should act as an example of what is appropriate versus inappropriate to exhibit on a college campus where sexual assault is pervasive. We, at Sonoma State University, deserve better.

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