Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Right to Be Forgotten?

Theme from “Cheers” - Gary Portnoy (mp3)
A New Name for Everything - The Weakerthans (mp3)

One of the Big Topics Worth Discussion swimming in the murky but mesmerizing mess that is “The Dark Knight Returns” is the question of whether we have the right to be forgotten. (slight spoiler alert ahead: if you like, skip to "The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly...")

Selena Kyle, played well -- if too anorexically -- by the charming-when-healthy Anne Hathaway, is an imperfect gal whose albatross, whose reason for continuing a pattern of criminal behavior, is the inability to escape her past. If she could only start fresh, she would fly straight, we are led to believe.

Of course Bruce Wayne has the super-secret computer program that can clean her slate (feel free to insert sexual innuendo here, since if Selena Kyle looked like post-accident Harvey Dent, I highly doubt Batman would have been so keen to help her out). Strangely, in a trilogy filled with moral ambiguity and difficult ethical decisions facing Our Dark Knight, the question of whether it’s right to clean Selena Kyle’s slate isn’t one of them. He hands that sucker over without a second thought.

The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly, a.k.a. The Greatest Monthly Magazine Going, includes an exploration of this very issue.

Right now, across the globe, courts and judges are determining whether individuals have a right to clean their slate. Think of it as declaring identity bankruptcy. The person you are is so scarred and damaged by the images or information available about you on the Internet that you are simply incapable of escaping them and living free. The nuances and risks of such a notion will only become a bigger part of our cultural conversation in the coming decade.

My gut reaction to reading this article was to support it fully. I’m a big believer in forgiveness, and this kind of “right” seems to potentially offer just that on a massive scale. Not only forgiven, but forgotten. If you did naked keg stands at the dawn of the Facebook generation, or if a friend posted shots of you in bed with your drunken college hook-up, it doesn’t seem remotely fair that this crap must forever lurk in the shadows, a potentially awkward discussion every time you apply for a job or have a particularly nosy girlfriend or in-law.

But then I wondered, what about convicted child molesters? What about someone like Warren Jeffs or David Miscavige, best-known recent or current leaders of the FLDS and Church of Scientology?

What about Karen Klein, the older bus monitor who was famously harassed by middle school students and who was given more than $300,000 in Internet donations afterward? She regularly noted in interviews that she didn’t believe she deserved to be a celebrity, and that all the attention was unwarranted. Does she have the right to be forgotten? Even if it means that a potentially watershed moment in the bullying conversation -- groups of kids can even bully adults -- gets forgotten with her?

What about Emily Dickinson? It's debated, but many believe she did not want her poems to be published at all.

I hope our country’s and world’s lawmakers and judges truly measure and take in the complexity of this challenge. Perhaps we don’t have an inalienable right to be forgotten. We certainly don’t have an inalienable right to second chances or forgiveness, not in this life.

Maybe there's a clean slate waiting for us after we die, but it would be nice to see us try to make a right like this work here on earth.

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