Billy Coddington was led into the interrogation room by a guard a good foot taller, and twenty years younger, than the diminutive, middle aged man. Annoyed yet somehow amused by it all, he was disappointed at the drab, gray walls -- your tax dollars and all. He'd have preferred his tax dollars spent on more cheerful colors -- turquoise or a nice candy-apple red, perhaps. Windows would have also been nice. He was not arrested, simply called in for questioning. It was something he'd expected for some time, but surprised when it actually happened.
There were three people sitting at the far end of a rectangular table, a man and two women. Two were going over paperwork, while one was holding a small digital voice recorder. Finally, they were ready.
"Mister Coddington," a balding man in a gray three-piece suit said after instructing the clerk to turn on the recording device, "our records show you have not streamed any audio or video content for over two years."
"No use for it," Coddington said, sitting down on the opposite side of his own volition. "I have a good library of actual content, so temporary contrivances are unnecessary."
"But far less expensive than having to buy the same book or movie every time you want to view it."
"Why would anyone," a thin, graying woman with a beak of a nose asked, "want to read a book more than once or see a movie they've already seen? There are so many new books and movies released every month."
"Mostly trash," Coddington replied. "Disposable trifles for superficial minds. While I will admit to an occasional bit of fluff, I prefer the classics."
"You are aware," the man said, "permanent copies are banned by the Revised Copyright Law -- including copies of works formerly considered to be in the public domain?"
"Sheer insanity. But do any of you have names?" Coddington asked. "It may just be me, but this formal anonymity seems a bit distracting."
"I am Mister Powell with the Department of Justice, Copyright Infringement Division. This is Mrs. Caldwell with the Bureau of Censorship and Moral Uplifting. And that is my secretary, Ms. Jones."
"Ah," he said, looking at the shapely blonde secretary. "Is it just me getting older, or are you secretaries getting younger and younger? As for you, Mister Powell, all my books and disks are covered by the 'grandfather clause' to the law. As for you Mrs. Caldwell, I oppose your Bureau and all it stands for as a violation of several constitutional amendments."
"The Supreme Court did uphold the creation of the Bureau."
"On a 5 to 4 vote, with the dissenting statements having far more common sense than the majority views. 'Exorbitant rates for substandard content by Internet providers '. 'Muzzling controversial opinions, an alphabet soup of words only spoken by their first initial.'"
"Words hurt," Caldwell said, more as though repeating a mantra than creating an original thought.
"Only if you give them the power to do as much," Coddington countered. "In my life, I have been called 'shorty,' 'half-pint,' 'sawed-off runt'. But we all have our deviations from the imaginary physical norm. Mister Powell, I'm sure your comb-over has caused a co-worker or two to chuckle. Does that take away anything from your administrative abilities? And Mrs. Caldwell, a comparison to a parrot might be hurtful, but has it ever prevented you from getting a job? It certainly hasn't prevented you from acquiring a spouse."
"Mister Caldwell considers my nose 'patrician,'" Mrs Caldwell said, showing more indignation than anger. "And our society is more enlightened than that of the past."
"Enlightened or thin-skinned? If being called 'Pee-Wee' never bothered me, why should any superficial designation bother anyone else?"
"You said it yourself," Powell admitted. "We live in a superficial age. That 'great liberator,' the Internet, turned into a cesspool of anonymous trolls, harassment of all sorts, and every variety of pornography."
"The last can be useful a few times a week," Coddington said, a sly glint in his eye. "But if this is a superficial age, shouldn't we strive to do better? To get past the superficial demands of attitude, even personality, and get back to character?"
"Mister Coddington," Powell said, "I cannot charge you with any offense, due to the 'grandfather clause' in the law. Mrs. Caldwell?"
"I should demand a full listing of all your books and disks."
"And see what's on your index of banned works? I can think of a few off-hand. More if I gave it any thought. Three about the ante-bellum South. A few that show tobacco use in a fashionable light. Several that poke fun at minorities. One or two that show Nazi Germany as a source of humor. One that satirizes Christianity. And that's just the DVDs. The books, oh boy, have we have a major library of so-called dangerous thought there."
"How can such an intelligent, articulate mind house such evil?" Mrs. Caldwell asked. "I am quite perplexed by it all."
"If freedom of expression, freedom of thought are evil, then I am, as you say, evil."
"How do you see them?"
"As the cornerstones of liberal thought," Coddington said, having thought of this answer well in advance. "Fairness and civility cannot exist without the freedom to disagree amicably. Sadly, unpopular opinions are too often met on the Internet with impotent, inarticulate death threats. Mrs. Caldwell, I may disagree with what you stand for as overly-cautious, over-sensitive whinings. But I will defend your right to hold those viewpoints. Disagreement need not be disrespect."
"You respect me?" Mrs. Caldwell asked, even more confused.
"You are a fellow human being, a fellow traveler on this voyage from cradle to grave. Of course I respect you. One can look at the whole of a person's life. There may be opinions you cannot agree with, but if you remain fair, and look at the totality. You will find honorable traits and beliefs."
"What do you find in me?"
"In you, Mrs. Caldwell, I find one of the most honorable of all human traits -- curiosity. You see my file, and that isn't enough for you. You ask questions. You probe into my psyche. Your chief failing is how you dismiss works based on their reputation without actually seeing them yourself."
Mrs. Caldwell rested her head on top of her interlaced fingers. She glanced over at Coddington for a long moment. "Then I'll tell you what," she said, separating her hands, resting them on the table, "select the most noxious, most offensive film in your collection. We'll view it together and see if we can maintain a civil discussion. I have my doubts, but am willing to give it a try."
"That's all I can ask," Mister Coddington said, smiling, looking at the expression on Mrs. Caldwell's face, and realizing he'd already won.
Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-08-10
Image(s) are public domain.