Note To Artists on College Campuses: Don't Be Controversial or Insensitive, Especially Unintentionally

From the campus of Miami University of Ohio comes the latest instance of administrative shutown of expression and dialogue in the very place that is supposed to facilitate the same. The problem this time? An art project that some say called to mind the Jena 6 in Louisiana.

Miami University's Associated Student Government (ASG) passed a resolution in an emergency session Thursday night to respond to an artistic display found on Western Campus Tuesday that included a tire swing and seven noose-like ropes.

According to the three student artists involved, the piece, titled "Growing Up," was a class project, pre-approved by their professor and another member of the art department staff and was intended to signify the death of childhood-death being signified by the noose-like ropes and childhood signified by the tire swing.

A representative for the artists attended the emergency session to explain the thought process behind the display.

"It was never intended to be a racial statement," said the representative. "It was a class project for an Intro to Art class. The artists even changed the knots to scaffolding knots to signify death in its purest form without creating an actual noose."

He added that the seven noose-like ropes were meant to signify seven decades or 70 years, the lifespan of an average man. They were hung in a way that they could only clearly be seen if sitting on the tire swing.

The display was exhibited in a tree on Patterson Avenue across from the Art Building from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, until a student called the police at 5:13 p.m. alerting them to the display....

"This was good for us," said Jens Sutmöller, student body president. "In the end I think we accomplished three things. The first was student senate and leaders now have a better understanding of the situation. Then we realized there was an opportunity and responsibility to continue discussing the concepts as a campus and community. And third we are presenting as an organization that racism and bigotry do exist on campuses and we need to improve upon that climate."...

Now the students involved are waiting while President Hodge and other university officials decide just what measures will be taken to penalize them.

"Nothing conclusive has been decided as of yet," Mosley-Howard said. "We are conducting an investigation separate from the Miami Police Department which is common in these situations. In any situation that involves both the police and the university, there could be two separate penalties."...

President Hodge said Wednesday that he feels that careful consideration should have been taken when creating a project like this.

"Given all that's happened, especially with the events in Jena, this was highly inappropriate and this is where I hold them accountable," he said. "These are symbols that are known to project hatred and they should've known better."

James Lentini, dean of the School of Fine Arts, said he is looking into the approval process behind the art project.

"It's important for us to have good censors or radars for what is appropriate and where it is placed," he said....

Assistant Director of Educational Placement Gerald Yearwood agreed, saying free expression can be offensive without context.

"I didn't think that it was racially motivated, but given the magnitude that has taken place in this country relative to the hangman's noose, you would think that whoever put it together would have some information and back off," he said. "Certain things touch a nerve. Obviously, there was an impact and there are going to
be reactions."...

The students issued a formal statement to the Police Department and President Hodge apologizing for any offense caused.

"We know that many are offended and we want everyone to know we're sorry for any offense," one student said. "It was never intended to be that way. It was never our goal to be insensitive. We send our sincerest apologies and we hope that the community forgives us."...

"We are a family and we need to handle this as a family," said Mathew Boaz, director of the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity. "We cannot let external rifts hinder us. We need to resolve this and move forward together. We have a great leader here and we need to give him a chance to collect the information he needs to move us forward."

Full story here.

I didn't see the display and the picture doesn't give a particularly good sense of it, but I find it really screwed up that the first order of business is to take down something and force the artists to apologize the way they did.

This especially doesn't make sense because even if the display was intended to call to mind Jena, wouldn't most people immediately assume it was a comment on that, not an endorsement?

If colleges and universities really supported free and open debate, wouldn't they use these sorts of things as "teachable moments" where all sorts of viewpoints about art and its role in society would be debated? Rather than being shut down with extreme prejudice?

And I am the only one who thinks the "great leader" talk at the end of the block quote above sounds like it's been translated from North Korean?

Back in 2000, Alan Kors looked at the groupthink pushed during college orientations.

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  • Dave Woycechowsky||

    "teachable moments"

    college professors can be some of the hardest people in the world to teach. Believe me on this, I know from whence I speak.

  • Episiarch||

    Now the students involved are waiting while President Hodge and other university officials decide just what measures will be taken to penalize them.

    I was going "bullshit campus PC grumble grumble" until I saw this. WTF?!? Penalize them, when it seems pretty clear that it had nothing to do with Jena, race, or anything but the death of childhood?

    Honestly, I hope campuses become their own little gulags (seeing as I'll never go near one again anyway) and eventually blow apart in some kind of student rebellion.

  • ||

    "I didn't think that it was racially motivated, but given the magnitude that has taken place in this country...

    Given the magnitude that has taken place? WTF?

  • ||

    If colleges and universities really supported free and open debate...

    Now that's just a silly thing to say. Where did you ever get that idea?

  • ||

    School to artists: "Don't create any art that might challenge or offend people. Paint a landscape or flower arrangement instead."

    Message: Going to college to become an artist is a really dumb and expensive decision.

  • Indoctrinate U||

    Good thing there's a great new film about this kind of oppression: http://www.indoctrinate-u.com

    Spread the word! Despite fantastic advance reviews, it looks like major theatre chains are afraid of screening it. The production company will screen it at any city in which 500 people sign up on their website. Do you part, and maybe we can counter-act this particular liberal brand of academic bigotry.

  • ||

    free expression can be offensive without context.

    can, and should

  • R C Dean||

    I'm not sure how art consisting of crucifixes dunked in urine and pictures of the Madonna smeared with shit is so important that it requires state support, but an installation featuring nooses requires state sanction.

  • ||

    Won't somebody think of the negroes?

  • Teachable moment for lurking g||

    "Whence" = "from where"
    "From Whence" = "from from where"

  • ||

    Won't somebody think of the negroes?

    Post of the day.

  • ||

    ...the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity.

    Terrifying.

    But it's good to know the university is fighting for the inalienable right of people everywhere to never be offended by something they don't bother trying to understand.

  • Jonathan Blanks||

    "It's important for us to have good censors or radars for what is appropriate and where it is placed"

    Certainly censors ARE the best guarantors of free speech.

  • LarryA||

    college professors can be some of the hardest people in the world to teach. Believe me on this, I know from whence I speak.

    Makes sense. Why should a university have to put up with people who still have something to learn? :-P

    "It's important for us to have good censors or radars for what is appropriate and where it is placed," he said.


    So:
    1. White folks can never understand the Black experience because they weren't raised Black.
    2. White folks must always be held accountable whenever they do something that offends a Black person because they should understand what is offensive.

  • ||

    In my own state, too. Great

    I mean, they got the police involved? I guess one of their duties now is to step in to help take down "offensive" works of art.

    Orwell must be spinning in his grave. Well, probably just spinning even faster, considering all the other crap going on in public universities.

  • Bingo||

    The posting above this one is about how controversial and offensive a blackface halloween costume is. I'm confused.

  • ||

    This is and should be prosecuted as the hate crime that it is. I'm all for free speach, but no one has the right to offend anyone.

  • ||

    college professors can be some of the hardest people in the world to teach. Believe me on this, I know from whence I speak.

    A single physics professors rightfully ignoring advice from an internet whack-job doesn't necessary mean anything in the larger scheme of things, Dave.

  • ||

    Remember kids, racism is bad, but not as bad as the appearance of racism.

  • ||

    Message Fact: Going to college to become an artist is a really dumb and expensive decision.

    There, fixed...

  • ||

    Bingo,

    I found audio of the music that must be constantly playing in your head.

  • ||

    At the University of Illinois the administration checks up on Facebook looking for pictures of students in offensive costumes at off-campus parties. So far they've gotten a team of Jamaican bobsledders, a Nazi, some rednecks, and some sluts.

    I'd like to think that these students will be safe, but seeing how the same administration got the editors of the school newspaper fired for posting cartoons of Muhammad, I'm not too optimistic. It will at least be an opportunity to reprogram the students.

  • ||

    Project Mayhem teaches us that we are all equal in death. You are not your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are not your skin color. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the all-singing, all-dancing shit of the world.

  • ||

    By the way, of course the people in authority are going to overreact. It's either that or risk a week-long visit from Reverand Al and his merry bunch.

  • ed||

    The posting above this one is about how controversial and offensive a blackface halloween costume is. I'm confused.

    Evidently if it's art and it's offensive, it's A-OK, but if it's a costume party it's not A-OK. Especially when the party is loosely affiliated with the Bush administration. Got it, Bingo?

  • ||

    @Thomas

    First off, it's become clear from this article (and the article it links) that this work was NOT racially motivated. The context was the life-span and childhood. It's just that some others saw the context differently. I fail to see how that could be considered a hate crime, even considering how broad hate crime laws may be.

    First, "no one has the right to offend anyone?" So if I put up carictures of Democratic presidential candidates and some liberals took offense, could I get arrested? If there were a group of atheists preaching on how bad Christianity/Judaism/Islam is, and some people devout in that faith objected, could the atheists be arrested?

    If you make any speech that causes offense a crime, then tell me, what speech reamins "free?"

  • ||

    As someone who earns his living as a college professor, I find this sort of censorship (really, any censorship) quite frightening.

    Many faculty members (and Americans in general) hold a wide range of political and social beliefs that the standard 'liberal-conservative' spectrum is wholly incapable of accurately expressing. Some are narrow-minded ideologues, many (most) are not.

    That being said, there is certainly a separate administrative culture at many universities that generate offices of 'Equity and Equal Opportunity' that are often not particularly equitable or useful. They are, however, typically guided by dogmatic notions of 'equity' that are short-sighted, ill-informed, and poorly executed.

    Either way, most faculty members are decent people who take their job as educators, not indoctrinators, seriously, and respect the intellectual diversity that actually exists among the student populations.

  • ||

    It's probably just safer to offend Christians.

  • Jonathan Blanks||

    THOMAS!!!

    This is and should be prosecuted as the hate crime that it is. I'm all for free speach, but no one has the right to offend anyone.

    No one has the right NOT to be offended. It runs completely counter to the idea of free speech. How in the world can you reconcile "not being offended" and the protection of speech? The idea that speech requires protection is granting that someone is going to be offended by speech.

    Free from intimidation? I can grant you. Free from being offended? Ridiculous and impossible.

  • ||

    It's so hard to tell online, but I thought Thomas was being sarcastic.

  • ||

    No one has the right NOT to be offended. It runs completely counter to the idea of free speech.

    I meant intentionally offending someone, NOT inadvertently accidently offending someone, i.e. not a hate crime. Because the noose is well known to offend, it qualifies as hate.

  • ||

    This piece doesn't offend me at all, and it's a reach to say it depicts any obvious references to the Jim Crow South. Even if it did, it's not in the sort of context to be 'threatening'.

    I'd say that guy (working for a government agency) wearing black face and dressed as a prisoner is offensive, at least in a clueless sort of way. *That guy* really should know better. It doesn't mean much more to me than that, though.

  • Guy Montag||

    Orwell must be spinning in his grave. Well, probably just spinning even faster, considering all the other crap going on in public universities.

    Nope, he isn't. I just checked the Orewllwebcam from the NSA feed. However, the cameras at George Orwell Plaza in Barcelona are showing folks milling about.

  • Guy Montag||

    This piece doesn't offend me at all, and it's a reach to say it depicts any obvious references to the Jim Crow South.

    Didn't Southern White kids play on tire swings? I predect that near-future research at some expensive private school that can't win at football, will show that the ropes used for tire swings in the South were symbolic of hanging nooses just like in George Allen's old office. No doubt photographs of Confederate flags as the backdrop to tire swings will be found in the archives.

    Note: lamp posts are always exempt from racist implication because lamp posts are what irish New Yorkers hanged black people from when they protested against conscription during a war.

  • Jonathan Blanks||

    Thomas:

    intentionally offending someone is still fully protected by the First Amendment and rightfully so. Political speech, by its very nature, is controversial and potentially offensive. There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to offend someone.

    If you can prove that an act was meant to intentionally intimidate someone -- not just make them feel uncomfortable or upset them -- then again, I can give you some leeway. But just showing 'intent to offend' does not fit any reasonable standard of a "crime".

  • Jennifer||

    You haters are overlooking the Constitutional amendment which clearly states "the right of the people to be free of offense, shall not be infringed."

  • ||

    Isn't this a public University?

    Personally, I would sue. This seems like a violation of 1st amendment rights. If this were a private institution I would say whatevr, but if it's a public university I wouldn't apologize and I would be taking a very strong 1st amendment stand.

    These "artists" are pussies. Grow a fucking spine and defend your work. Make this an issue about censorship and the sanitisation (sp?) of art in an institution that is supposed to allow creativity and free expression.

  • ||

    I meant intentionally offending someone, NOT inadvertently accidently offending someone, i.e. not a hate crime. Because the noose is well known to offend, it qualifies as hate.

    Damn Thomas, and I thought your original stupid comment was a great parody of Juanita.

  • Jay D||

    Note To Artists on College Campuses:

    Tire swings are not art.

  • ||

    Man. I'd bet they would really hate my Piss Jessie Jackson installation.

  • The Extispicator||

    I'm perpetually offended by everything. Therefore, it is my constitutional right to force everyone to cease all communication immediately. Stop the Hate Crimes!!

  • J.R.||

    "These "artists" are pussies. Grow a fucking spine and defend your work. Make this an issue about censorship and the sanitisation (sp?) of art in an institution that is supposed to allow creativity and free expression."

    They're not artists, they're students in an introductory art class and are probably just trying to keep their heads down and get by. They probably weren't trying to create great art, just get a passing grade. Hell, the explanation of the intended symbolism sounds like the kind of bullshit that art teachers eat up.

  • The Extispicator||

    Miami is not a public university.

  • ||

    "I didn't think that it was racially motivated, but given the magnitude that has taken place in this country...

    Given the magnitude that has taken place? WTF?


    Of course the Jena thing was of HUGE magnitude. The reverends Jackson and Sharpton were there protesting.

  • CL||

    Hodge is, without a doubt, far better than that abomination of a president we used to have, Jim Garland. But it appears he's regressing to a really shitty mean.

  • CL||

    Miami is not a public university.

    Yes it is. Either that, or a whole lot of Ohio taxpayers are losing out on money for that in-state tuition discount.

  • My Wife Left Me for a Nigger C||

    I personally think this display is brilliant.

  • ||

    They're not artists, they're students in an introductory art class and are probably just trying to keep their heads down and get by. They probably weren't trying to create great art, just get a passing grade. Hell, the explanation of the intended symbolism sounds like the kind of bullshit that art teachers eat up.

    Maybe so, but if they get penalized or punished by the university -- especially for something that they got pre-approval for, they should fight this hard. I would.

  • Jonathan Blanks||

    Thomas:

    see MWLfaNC (above). Certainly offensive to me. Was certainly intended to provoke, and probably intended to offend.

    But it is also certainly legal.

  • ||

    MU of Ohio is definitely a public university, and I agree with Chicago Tom. I would sue.

  • ||

    "Nothing conclusive has been decided as of yet," Mosley-Howard said. "We are conducting an investigation separate from the Miami Police Department which is common in these situations. In any situation that involves both the police and the university, there could be two separate penalties."...

    Whatever happened to looking at the situation, figuring out the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and treating it accordingly (no charges, penalties, apologies, etc.)? Didn't these fucking people ever watch Three's Company?

  • ||

    "Miami University's Associated Student Government (ASG) passed a resolution in an emergency session Thursday night to respond to an artistic display found on Western Campus Tuesday that included a tire swing and seven noose-like ropes."

    Personally, I don't see why this would require the response of an emergency session--an emergency drum circle probably would have sufficed.

  • lunchstealer||

    Wait, does this mean that gallows humor is now racist?

  • ||

    "We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

    -Benjamin Franklin

  • lunchstealer||

    I think we need to have an emergency blog posting to discuss the possible racial implications of Taktix's post.

  • ||

    "You shifty ni---er! They said you was hung!"
    "And they was right!"
    -- Sheriff Bart

  • Guy Montag||

    You haters are overlooking the Constitutional amendment which clearly states "the right of the people to be free of offense, shall not be infringed."

    Isn't that only if you are a member of the faculty?

  • ||

    It's important for us to have good censors...



    Finally! At long last a college administrator doesn't mince his words and tells us what he really believes!

  • ||

    "I didn't think that it was racially motivated, but given the magnitude that has taken place in this country..."

    Given the magnitude that has taken place? WTF?

    Haven't you heard? This country is in the midst of a magnitude epidemic.

    There's so much magnitude in this country right now that enormity is just around the corner.

  • ||

    "You shifty ni---er! They said you was hung!"
    "And they was right!"
    -- Sheriff Bart

    There's so much magnitude in this country right now that enormity is just around the corner.


    I am beginning to see what this is really about.

  • ||

    Pssh. Everyone knows that magnitude is, like, happening all around us and stuff. There's magnitude everywhere, dude. You cannot escape the magnitude.

  • ||

    I think you all may be mistaking magnitude for largeish-ness.
    "Magnitude" is what happens when Tom Selleck gets pissed off.

  • ||

    This is and should be prosecuted as the hate crime that it is. I'm all for free speach, but no one has the right to offend anyone.

    Thomas, I find your comment offensive. You're under arrest.

  • VM||

    "I'm all for free speech, but "

    sure sign of a jackass talking. It is exactly the offensive speech that needs protection, you dumbass fucking moron. It's the ability to write critical things about politicians, religions, beliefs, attitudes - all of which will be offensive to their respective proponents. You gigantic vomitous mass.

    Plus, that's a violation of the drinking game.

  • lunchstealer||

    Stevo wins the thread, but VM gets MVP for best takedown.

  • VM||

    "Believe me on this, I know from whence I speak."

    yes - out of your ass. Jeebus. everybody hier knows that.

    (blush, lunch. blush. although this comment beats the other one, grin)

  • ||

    Didn't these fucking people ever watch Three's Company?

    They need a good dose of the Three Stooges, if you ask me.

  • LarryA||

    I'm all for free speach, but

    Keep your "but" off my Bill of Rights.

  • ||

    Sophomore at MU here, the school's reaction to this REALLY made me mad and ashamed to go here... thank you for mentioning this. I'm going to try to get a letter to the editor into the Miami Student

  • ||

    Any college official who participates in disciplining these students should be sued under the First Amendment for violating clearly-established constitutional rights, and denied any qualified immunity defense under 42 USC 1983.

    Even offensive, or sexist/racist, campus art is protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g, Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University, 993 F.2d 386 (4th Cir. 1993) (racist, sexist "ugly woman" skit was protected by First Amendment, despite claims that it assaulted diversity and created a "hostile and distracting learning environment" for women and blacks); Dambrot v. Central Michigan University, 55 F.3d 1177 (6th Cir. 1995) (appeals court with jurisdiction over Miami University of Ohio says that racist campus speech by students is protected and that restrictions on speech that turn on the subjective reactions of listeners are unconstitutionally vague).

  • ||

    Well, here is the text of my letter to the editor of the Miami Student. Now we just wait to see if it gets in or not:

    I think the university community should be ashamed of the way the administration treated the students who put up the art display on Western Campus last week. The University Police took it down without any legal basis whatsoever.
    First of all, this display clearly had nothing to do with the Jena six. Even if it did, however, isn't the fact that we have free speech for even the lowest, most evil human beings what makes us America? Even if these students were members of a secret neo-nazi organization, dedicated to spreading their messages of hate across the campus of Miami University, isn't that protected in this country? And isn't this a publicly-funded university?
    "Free speech can be offensive without context," says one university official in the article the Miami Student published. This may be true, but it doesn't justify censoring that speech! I don't think anyone believes we should change the First Amendment to "Congress shall make no abridging the freedom of speech, provided that speech is in context and non-offensive…"
    Banning or limiting free speech and other liberties, even with the best of intentions, is how we become what we despise.

  • ||

    Oh yeah, and just for everyone's curiosity, here is the text of an email sent out to all students and staff here:

    "Miami's Institutional Response team wishes to update the community on details and actions taken as a result of the Oct. 30 incident of an art display on campus that included nooses. We are grateful for the concern shown by so many members of the community.



    Investigation



    The three students who installed the display met with the president and the dean of students to discuss the implications of their actions; during the discussions they expressed their remorse. While Miami police have investigated, at this time the incident has not been designated a criminal act.



    The School of Fine Arts has reviewed the situation and debriefed the instructor of the course; It has determined that

    a thorough review of protocol must be conducted
    best practices will be put in place
    sensitivity training will be available for all faculty


    Communication


    The president, dean of students and other Student Affairs staff met with students, faculty and staff at the Center for Black Culture and Learning throughout the day to discuss what happened.



    Dr. Hodge spoke with Jan Miller, president of the Oxford chapter of the NAACP, and briefed her on the incident and actions being taken.


    Outcomes/Next Steps


    Materials are being prepared by The Center for American and World Cultures, office of diversity affairs and the interim associate vice president for institutional diversity for faculty and others to use to engage the university community in thoughtful conversations about the meaning of this incident, the issues associated with it and steps we must take to make this a community that respects and values all individuals.



    The officers of Associated Student Government will hold an emergency meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1, to take up a resolution concerning the actions and calling for university-wide dialogue on issues of inclusion in this campus community.



    Select members of the President's Executive Council (PEC) will meet with concerned students on November 7 to discuss their concerns and strategies and outline action steps to make this community one of inclusion, and to prevent this from happening in the future.


    --The Institutional Response Team"

  • Ska||

    Fuck everything, we need a War on Magnitude right now. Who is going to be the Magnitude Czar?

    A university president talking about the importance of censors......jeebus christ. Not quite as amazing as the Office of Equity and blah blah blah eat a dick.

    Didn't these fucking people ever watch Three's Company?

    Is this the one where Mr. Roper overheard Jack talking to Chrissy about his "huge cock" - which ends up being a gigantic rooster?

  • ||

    "Materials are being prepared by The Center for American and World Cultures, office of diversity affairs and the interim associate vice president for institutional diversity for faculty and others to use to engage the university community in thoughtful conversations about the meaning of this incident, the issues associated with it and steps we must take to make this a community that respects and values all individuals.



    The officers of Associated Student Government will hold an emergency meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1, to take up a resolution concerning the actions and calling for university-wide dialogue on issues of inclusion in this campus community."

    Will they include KKK for an "university-wide dialog in the issues on inclusion in this campus community"?

  • ||

    university-wide dialog

    They have a monitor large enough to fit a university-wide dialog?

  • ||

    "Materials are being prepared by The Center for American and World Cultures, office of diversity affairs and the interim associate vice president for institutional diversity for faculty and others to use to engage the university community in thoughtful conversations about the meaning of this incident, the issues associated with it and steps we must take to make this a community that respects and values all individuals."

    I have a new game idea: Whoever can create the most upheaval and work for their college campus in the next 6 months wins a trip to some Reasonoid gathering or something.

    Bonus points if you can document the number of work hours spent and pay rates of the folks trying to address the issue.

  • thoreau||

    The more I learn about universities from the inside, the less surprised I am that this idiocy is being spearheaded by the office of the President.

    Some reading between lines: The Dean of Fine Arts apparently wants to know more about how the project is approved. That could mean any number of things, but there's at least a slight chance that the Dean of Fine Arts is interested in learning something before reaching a judgement. I know nothing about that school, but the more I learn about universities the less surprised I am that the administrator closest to the faculty would have the most guarded response. (Of course, it's also possible that the Dean of Fine Arts will do something idiotic, but will do it in the deliberate manner that one would expect from a an academic Dean.)

  • ||

    Now the students involved are waiting while President Hodge and other university officials decide just what measures will be taken to penalize them.



    The students should be ambushed when they exit the administration building, knocked unconscious, and then beaten and kicked. Have we learned nothing?

  • ||

    I don't get it. These students make art and are labelled racists. Balko publishes a link to a web-site that says there is not a single Phd in East LA, not one, and that New Orleans is now a better place, and he is praised by all the numb-skulls over here.

    The world has tilted. Nothing makes sense anymore. I might start agreeing with MikeP. I might start understanding Neu Mejican's comments. I might embrace Joe as a kindred spirit. Well, no, not that last one.

  • thoreau||

    You'll have to be in higher education to appreciate this section of the report that Nick Zingale quotes:

    "Outcomes/Next Steps"

    The word "outcomes" is a buzzword. Big time buzzword. But I'd only heard it in the curriculum context. I'd never thought of it in terms of PC incident response. But I guess it makes sense.

    I'm looking for the word "assessment." Once that word appears, we'll know it's reached the point of no return.

  • Guy Montag||

    When do they plan the book burning?

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