Buzz

Art and Death

Art and death: Suicide may be painless, as the theme song from the movie M*A*S*H suggests, but talking about it can be a pain in the butt, particularly if you're a student at Tarrant County College. Would-be filmmaker William Lin found out just how touchy the subject is when he placed an ad in the school's newspaper, The Collegian. "Considered suicide?" the ad asked. "Share your thoughts with us. Send it in for an independent film project." He included a physical address, plus one for his Web site, www.dyingpictures.com.

The ad ran in one issue before it was pulled from the paper. About two weeks ago, Lin then showed up at the newspaper's office, camera in hand, to find out why his ad contract, which was for the entire semester, was canceled. Long story short: Campus cops were called. Lin was pulled from the only class he was taking and hauled to the office of campus President Larry Darlage.

Federal privacy laws prevent school officials from saying anything about Lin's case other than that he was enrolled, but now he's not, so we'll have to take Lin's version about what happened next: "'You must know that you are abnormal. I consider you a threat to education,'" Lin says Darlage told him. Lin says he was frisked, told to apologize and to give up any recordings he took on campus. Lin refused and was dropped from his class and told he could not re-enroll next semester.

"This is such a taboo subject," Lin, a 28-year-old waiter, told Buzz. "There's such a stigma surrounding suicide."

This isn't the first time Lin's 2-year-old film project, which as yet does not include any on-camera interviews with would-be suicides, has landed him in the press. Last year, the Austin Chronicle dropped a similar ad after receiving complaints from readers, prompting the UT student daily to write an article about the conflict between free speech rights and the dangers of a non-professional, non-judgmental amateur soliciting talk about self-murder. (The Dallas Observer ran his ad last year. We'll talk about anything. That a good thing? Discuss. Just don't do it at a Tarrant County College.)

Lin continues to work on his film—assuming anyone will talk to him. In the meantime, he's chapped that he hasn't been refunded for his ad, and he wonders what sort of message TCC is giving students about free speech and press. It's a pretty accurate one, actually. If you think colleges are bastions of unrestricted speech, then you probably haven't graduated yet.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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