Mar 10, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the Sheila Kearns Case

It isn't like me to discuss politics on this blog. While it is indicative of some subjects and opinions expressed here, I try and avoid it mostly because it detracts from the assessment of the subjects at hand. However, there has been one story that has bothered me since I discovered its existence on The A.V. Club a month or so ago. In what is a very bizarre situation, an Ohio substitute teacher named Sheila Kearns was arrested for showing a few Spanish classes the anthology film The ABC's of Death. If that sounds asinine, it's because it is. If you haven't seen the film, be grateful. With recent news that the film's creator Tim League is starting a petition to free her from her 90 day sentence in prison, I want to simply come out and say that she's wrong on all accounts and should just face the punishment. You just let down the whole teaching profession in irreparable ways.
It is likely being asked at the current moment what is so bad about showing a movie to classes? True, it does seem lazy that a substitute teacher would show a film instead of teach in the first place, but let's move beyond this. Showing a film isn't the issue. Showing a RELEVANT one is. Since this was a Spanish class, there's an endless well of titles to choose from. I am unsure how Kearns came to possess a copy of The ABC's of Death, but I can assure you that from title alone, it isn't a film that you blindly show a class. In fact, that's the bigger issue at hand. She didn't watch the film until the actual trial where she was remorseful and petrified at what she saw. The fact that very few students came forward when she allegedly showed it to five different classes is astounding.
Let me summarize what the actual film is about. It is an anthology of 26 short films by various directors on the subject of death. The orchestration happened when each filmmaker was handed a letter and forced to be creative with it. Still not convinced this was a terrible, TERRIBLE decision based on plot alone? There were segments such as F for Fart, T for Toilet and O for Orgasm. There were segments that featured frontal nudity, a woman's death involving fecal matter, a massive phallus shooting missiles and cartoon Nazi animals doing erotic dances. For those uncomfortable with death, it would be a painful experience. However, it's also a really awful movie that incoherently moves along in the shocking moments and expecting that to be provoking.
By some off chance last Halloween, I succumbed to watching it out of vague curiosity. I regretfully finished the whole thing and still consider it to be one of the biggest abominations in contemporary horror film making. Whereas the VHS series at least started off with a cohesive connection, there was nothing particularly alluring about what I saw. It was a mean spirited conglomeration of ideas from international filmmakers without serving a bigger purpose. It was gruesome and disgusting. I felt disturbed for even watching it, and I am a 25-year-old watching it around one random midnight. 
I can sympathize with the children more than the teacher. I cannot claim to know the route of which a substitute teacher is chosen, but I am confident that there's a certain common sense and decency that goes into being one. Even the laziest of teachers should know that when choosing entertainment to pass a class period, it is best to go tame and unmemorable at worst. However, there's something immediately striking about showing something called The ABC's of Death (another tip-off was that it is unrated) to a class full of minors. I am unsure what each student at this Ohio's school personal tastes are or if they can handle low brow and dark humor. However, it feels insulting to assume that something with the word "death" in the title is immediately acceptable.
Also, this wasn't a singular incident. While Kearns was dropped of charges regarding the first showing, she received penalties for later ones. Okay, let's just get through the obvious questions. Why wasn't she immediately aware of how disturbing the content was (it gets bad pretty quickly, though F for Fart is particularly juvenile in too many ways to go into)? Were there any children who gave a visceral reaction that could tip her off? Why didn't she realize this even at the point of the second class? Assuming that there's 20 kids per class, there were 100 chances of things going wrong. On the bright side, the teacher did confiscate the video at a certain point. 
As much as it would be easy to blame the school that hired her, I do feel like there's a certain level of guilt that should be given to Kearns. As proven by the trial, she had no idea how vile the content was. It is content that is best reserved for mature audiences, who are even then likely to feel uneasy. It doesn't entirely make sense why she did this. It's one thing if there was some explicit language or a random scene of nudity. While that should be considered unsafe material for impressionable minors, it doesn't necessarily add much to the centralized plot. In this case, there were 26 shorts showing various formations of death. Some are very extreme and visually off putting. There's a certain understanding of school conduct that content like this shouldn't be shown, as school is generally safe for all students regardless on their interests outside of those confines.
In the long stretch, I have trouble wanting to use the argument "But it's just a movie." It is, even if I think it's particularly abysmal. It would be one thing to show it at say at an event geared towards horror movie audiences (even then, that's a public setting with mature audiences). It is another to show it in schools. The teacher's actions are inexcusable and based on the film's explicit content, it does seem right for her to have an arrest that at least drives the point home. If she can't make the personal connection that something with "death" in the title is bad to show children, then maybe she shouldn't have any right to be a teacher. She can't follow the most basic of rules that humans who haven't even taken a teaching class likely now. Frankly, she gives  teachers a bad rap and should be punished instead of embraced as being allowed to show whatever material she wants to minors. I'm sure that she's a fine individual otherwise, but hopefully this blacklists and keeps something this atrocious from happening again.

No comments:

Post a Comment