“Of course there are virtually no public art collections containing tainted material remaining in the Free World.”
“But it’s still illegal for me to view them?”
“Of course. Prosecutions are rare, of course.”
“Rare? Not nonexistent?” Herbert regretted his voice carried a hint of concern.
“Well, the Chinese are beginning to cooperate more and more with the International Convention on Hate Speech. Visitors to China have to register to view designated material, say at a museum show, and we’re adding more every day.”
“So the Chinese are reporting you?’
“No. Not yet at least. Obviously we don’t have that kind of influence and can only ask. But the dampening effect of disallowing anonymity alone is remarkable. If someone isn’t determined to see these things, views them as curiosities really, why’s he going to document an illegal act that might land him in some UN hellhole prison somewhere? And that’s most people.”
“The Chinese have no problem with all this?”
“I think they like it. I think they like the idea that westerners can be so easily compromised with their home countries.”
“Like the ambassador.”
“Yes. Anyone of stature is going to stay away from tainted material. The ambassador is the exception proving that rule. Of course the Chinese like it. One more tool. They also love the propaganda yield, to be able to taunt us that our own history from which we cower is kept there under glass, an anthropological curiosity from a dead civilization in the midst of a living, breathing one. At least that’s how I’ve heard it described by one of their own.
“And people here keep getting into trouble for it. Like the ambassador. Why?”
“Yeah. They just can’t help themselves.” Genero said with slight admiration.
“I’ve heard of vast private collections.”
“Overblown–probably. But private collections are a problem, certainly. We have no idea how many are out there. What constitutes a collection, also, is a legitimate question.”
Herbert perked up at this.
“Yes. That’s my concern. Say a guy has, in the classic example, an old newspaper announcing the moon landing–“
Genero looked at him with sly sympathy.
“Well, if this friend of yours had only that, and just that, while he’d be in clear violation, it’s not like they’re going to come busting down his door. As long as it doesn’t circulate, he’s not going to get into trouble.”
“But he could be arrested.”
“Yes. Of course. Look what they got that last fellow for, what was he, chairman of the national bank or something? It was a stack of old pornographic magazines. It wasn’t even political stuff, they were more in the line of curiosities.”
“Aren’t they all really?”
“No. No. There’s still some very dangerous stuff in there. Even the sort of stuff in the chairman’s collection, there were to be found political articles expounding the most dangerous ideas. Something of a political nature would be a stew of toxic expression.”
Herbert regretted the intrigue in his voice.
“But I point him out only to note they had some reason to come after him and the collection was a pretext.”
“They say everybody possessing any text is in violation.”
“Any text older than sixty years, even the most banal. That’s in there. But it it’s not quite everything.”
“Well there’s no reason to worry about photographs, paintings or the like yet, of course, but you know President Feltyear He-Him said just the other night, the international direction is clearly toward the gradual cleaning up and elimination…”
“So, with the inclusion of imagery, it might become true that virtually everyone is in violation of the International Convention on Intolerance and Hate Communication?”
“That’s an exaggeration. But it isn’t such a bad thing. Everyone has something on them. Everyone has a stake in making things work–because everyone is on notice not to screw up or, worse, go over to the wreckers.”
“What did he do, anyway?”
“The bank chairman.”