09 September 2010

Day 166: Adaptations

"Rear Window" by Cornell Woolrich in Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen.*
ISBN: 97814000053148.

The premise of this short story is that a nosey neighbor with a broken leg and too much time on his hands witnesses suspicious behavior in the building next to him.  He suspects murder and calls the cops.  The question is, how morally responsible are we for reporting suspicious behavior?

This is such a tricky question for me.  As a librarian I unequivocally believe in every citizens' right to privacy.  But if someone's life is in danger or has been taken, don't I also have a responsibility, as a social being and a community member, to prevent harm?  These are the ethical dilemmas of both my profession and my own moral compass.  I am actually not so frightened of the people who come to the library and check out books about bomb making or euthanasia; these are people who act openly even if only in front of their circulation clerk.  I'm more concerned about the people who hide in their homes and do research solely on the internet.  Not that I think their actions should be monitored either, but there is something to the "I'm not doing anything wrong so I have nothing to hide" mentality.

But what if I did observe this behavior in a setting I was not meant to observe?  If I viewed suspicious behavior in someone else's home, I honestly don't know how I would react.  It's likely not a decision I would make on my own.  I would probably discuss it closely with family or friends to determine the best reaction.  I certainly wouldn't rely solely on my own speculations and paranoia to make the best judgment.  But I think perhaps the best I can hope for is to never have to make that decision.

*Film adaptation is Rear Window (1954).  Short story was originally titled "It Had to be Murder."
**Post originally written August 14th, 2010.  I'm a little behind on my reading.


  1. First, I should really get this book as I love (and teach) both film and lit. Second, I have a similar dilemma from time to time as a teacher. I have students every now and then who write something so dark or twisted that I find myself wondering if I should report them. I think it's a problem with being an English teacher in that students test boundaries and write evocatively, but you just never know when someone is being creative and when it's actually a big giant warning sign.

  2. Ah yes, I forgot the teacher aspect. My poetry teacher in high school talked to us about this before we started writing. She told us if we wrote anything she was worried about she might take us aside, but she wouldn't run directly to the principal. She was a pretty awesome teacher.


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