Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Vacation Photos a Mixed Blessing

    • Posted on Jun 07, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (6-7) Courier column.  I returned Tuesday from Europe with a suitcase full of dirty clothes, a healthy respect for jet travel, and 1,833 photos, mostly taken with my trusty Sony a77II--an amazing camera that never lets me down.  

    But--1,833 photos in ten days?  Isn't that a bit more like an obsessive need rather than a happy time off?  Well, yes, and I write about it here.  

    I do have powerful, lasting memories, but they all occurred when I put the camera away. 

    Still, a few of the photos came out well, and I will post a few  soon on this blog, as soon as I  choose and edit.   I hope to find maybe twenty really good ones.  

    Just returned from five days in London, followed by five more in Southern France.  We traveled with 35 local folks, visiting British and French museums, a fine French winery, as well as historic sites from Roman Baths to Stonehenge.   

     A nice mix of Dionysius and Apollo, as they say—with some days a bit more Dionysius, thanks to the celebratory nature of these bi-yearly May tours with Humble travel and Gary and Linda Kelley.     

    It was a magical trip, a highlight of the year.  At least.  

    I did return with a question, though, and it’s been on my mind for awhile:   
    Has vacation photography gotten out of control?  

     Stonehenge, that ancient monument to prehistoric builders that stands as an unexplained phenomenon, seemed inundated by paparazzi posing as tourists.  Virtually everyone (including me) was clicking away, taking hundreds of shots from every angle, almost afraid they would miss something if they stopped snapping.  

     Even as I was compulsively seeking the right angle and light for the best photo, I felt something was wrong.    

     In fact I was missing the actual experience of just being there, observing what was right in front of me.  My camera was doing the work of my brain.   

     Though it was fun and challenging playing with my camera, it was also turning Stonehenge into a two-dimensional experience. I was creating postcards rather than taking in the real thing.  

     Only when I put my camera away and we paused to really look did we create a genuine memory.  My wife and I stood quietly, absorbing the wonder and strange majesty of the prehistoric circular arrangement of stone monoliths.  I was finally awestruck, and it happened because I was camera-free.  

     Another morning we walked slowly and quietly through Westminster Abbey with no photography or cell phones allowed. Because the Abbey is a working church, both are forbidden.  

     This remarkable structure was built beginning in 960.  It serves as a record and centerpiece of an entire culture—a single site where most major events have been marked and celebrated.  

     A thousand years of vivid history are displayed here, with graves of kings, queens, prime ministers, artists, politicians, musicians, and writers, beginning with Chaucer, along with a large stone monument to Shakespeare.  

    You literally cannot leave the Abbey without passing the “Coronation Chair,” where every English monarch has been crowned since the beginning of the British empire.    

     I felt moved to tears, over and over, by the tombs, markers, sculptures, and inscriptions, including a large floor grave of an unknown WWI soldier—the only grave on whom it is forbidden to walk, and upon which heads of state from all over the world have placed wreaths. 

    Had I been snapping away, I would have missed the intensity and grandeur of that structure.   The entire morning moved me so deeply because the experience was direct, not interfered with by shutterbugging.  

     A few days later in France, a few of us were touring an old chapel that had been restored as part of a modern art museum near a small French walled city. Though photography was allowed, the little domed chapel seemed to invite quiet and contemplation.   

     Then a couple of us began singing, and stone structure resonated with harmonies almost from another world.  Probably it was due to overtones echoing from the hard stone, but we were all moved in ways that cannot be captured by photos or videos.  

     I came away from those ten days convinced that photography should not be excluded from vacations, but the best memories arise before or after cameras come out. 

     Wise travelers would do well to shut them off more often and absorb the three-dimensional wonders before them.   

    Go comment!
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  • Cartooning as a Capital Crime?

    • Posted on May 17, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's today's Courier column, 5-17.  Needless to say, the winning cartoon was not published with it, nor in any other newspaper that I know of.  Shocking, really, that we've been intimidated into suppressing freedom of expression.  

    If we travel to a country where Islam is the dominant political force, whether Islamic or not, we obey their laws.  That’s the right thing to do.   

    So we have a right to expect the same of Muslims when they travel or live here.  A country’s borders and culture define citizens’ and visitors’ behavior worldwide.  
    We have no laws against blasphemy, or apostasy, or intermarrying among faiths,
    or joining or not joining any church. 

    These activities are all “illegal” in areas of the world ruled by radical Muslims, with harsh punishments, including death.   Granted, radical Islamists do not rule a  single country, but rather fairly large regions of Syria and Iraq they call the “Caliphate” or “Islamic State.” 

     Radical Islam has been explained in detail by writers such as Ayan Hirsi Ali in her book “Heretic,” among others.   

    This brings us to Garland, Texas.  Recently a group led by Pam Geller, a vocal anti-radical Islamic American citizen, held a contest in that city with a $10,000 reward for the winning cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.  There was a winner, and it’s in the best
    tradition of political satire.  Here it is. 

    So why didn’t anyone but Geller and the winning cartoonist’s web site publish it?  All major American newspapers and television networks carried the story, but didn’t feature any images.  The winner won’t discuss it without images, which hasn’t happened yet.  

    Yet there’s nothing in the Koran about forbidding creating images of Mohammed.  There are dozens of such images available everywhere, including in our own Supreme Court chamber, showing him in a marble frieze as one of the world’s lawgivers.  Only in the last decades has it become blasphemy punishable by death, thanks to violent killers who have frightened us into visual silence. 

     American editorial writers, including the New York Times and Kathleen Parker.  followed a formula: 

    1. Yes, we believe in freedom of speech wholeheartedly, from the very depths of our souls. 

    2. But . . .

    3. When freedom of speech offends someone, we blame the offenders more than the offended, even when the offended attempt to kill them. 

     They did not state that third point openly, yet they blame Pam Geller and her contest as much as the two gunmen who showed up to commit mass murder. 

     They also blamed the Charlie Hebdo writers and cartoonists as much as they blamed the murderers who slaughtered them in their Paris office.  Bad taste magazine, they tut-tutted.   

     What gives here?  Aren’t we supposed to be guardians of the right of all citizens to say whatever they like, short of causing harm, as in shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater?  

    No one causes harm in these situations but the killers, who willfully murder out of their radical religious ideology.   

     Well yes, but . . . The “But” seems to arise from fear.   I can’t find any other principle other than “bad taste” of those people who break radical Sharia anti-blasphemy “law” with over the top depictions. 

     So only satire in good taste is protected?  Or pre-approved satire?  That makes no sense.  Much satire works because it’s in poor taste, making fun through hyperbole and ridicule.  And what butt of a satirical joke would approve it, if they had a choice?  

    You could make a frightening case that Sharia law already has come to America. Radical Muslims stifle our speech when it comes in the form of cartoons, and we let them, shifting blame to the victims.  

     Our media’s all but unanimous refusal to publish those images amounts to appeasement at best, capitulation at worst. 

     Where are our brave artists, writers, and publishers willing to take a stand against censorship based on fear?    

    Go comment!
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