Issues with running of an ad speaks to much bigger problems

R. Justin Shepherd

“The Bible-thumpers are at it again … and this time, IT’S PERSONAL!”

– Trailer for “Hell House VI: The Movie”

OK, OK. Maybe it’s irrelevant, but, at the risk of turning away a number of conservative mediaphobes, I think the above is an accurate summary of what has become an annual event here on the Hill. Of course, I could be a little more formal … let me try again, this time in chronological order.

Halloween hype rolls around. Kids hound their parents for costumes, frat boys start preparing their secret-recipe pumpkin hooch, leaves turn brown and Victory Hill Ministries gives the Herald some old-fashioned green.

The result? A little publicity for a Christian-style haunted house, and a lot of complaining by some of the more left-leaning Hilltoppers. So the complaints roll in, the Herald defends its decisions – once upon a time, many moons ago, a quartet of upstart youths even stole (that’s right, STOLE!) as many of the ads as they could get their hands on! The whole debacle is good for filling space on this very opinion page, and for giving campus professors something to do (ever since annual Smash-Your-TV Week, they’ve been bored stiff).

Me, I’ve never been to Hell House. I got turned off of the whole Halloween thing years ago, when a sudden downpour utterly ruined my homemade cardboard Voltron costume. But I digress.

It’s kind of like a dichotomous chorus: those on the right singing “Repent, lest ye perish!”; those on the left harmonizing with the refrain of “All You Need Is Love.” But it’s starting to sound like a broken record, and I’m wondering if a small dose of logic could put an end to this song and dance once and for all.

1. As a journalistic institution, newspapers should attempt to protect the First Amendment. Although – and let me make this clear – the advertising department of a newspaper is separate from the news department, newspapers don’t exist in order to protect the various sensibilities of its readers, especially when it comes to sociopolitical viewpoints. Criticism over the Hell House ads is focused on Victory Hill’s stances against abortion and homosexuality – stances that are still very legal in our nation. For the Herald to reject the Hell House ads on the basis of their non-obscene arguments would be the paper’s censorship of political viewpoint, and that’s not something we want our news organizations to do.

2. The places for abortion and homosexuality in our culture are still debatable. On the heels of a couple ?ber-elderly Supreme Court justices’ possible resignations, Roe. V. Wade stands at least a modest chance of being overturned. And despite the popularity of “Queer Eye,” a substantial number of Americans are still uncomfortable, if not altogether opposed, to the prospect of same-sex relationships, especially marriage, being given as much credence as their coed counterparts. As such, these topics need to be free for debate – even if the forum is a hokey haunted house.

3. And then there’s the “if you don’t like it, don’t go” routine. Sounds simple, and it is. Think Hell House is awful? Don’t go. Think it’s great? Head to Victory Hill’s Web site and e-mail them a thank you note.

The thing to remember is this: People just don’t listen. The louder one side shouts, the harder the other generally presses its collective fingers in its collective ears. In fact, I almost think I’ve wasted my time writing this. But then I think back to the days when I worked at the Herald, and I remember how hard it was to find something to put on this opinion page. Heck, I’m doing the whole school a service. But again, I digress.

Despite the advertising, the bad publicity it elicits and the rebuttal that the bad publicity inevitably brings, “Hell House VI” won’t make it to the big screen. I doubt it could even pass for an off-Broadway show. But it all amounts to much ado about nothing, and it’s time we realize it and move on.

R. Justin Shepherd is senior print journalism major from Shepardsville.

The opinions expressed in this commentary do not reflect those of the Herald, Western or its administration.