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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The issue of censorship

As a writer, I should be up in arms regarding censorship, but I sometimes find myself ambivalent, at best. However, in the wake of Banned Book Week (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1), I thought I’d belatedly touch on the subject. Basically, my personal credo is that outside of those books that are instruction manuals for committing crimes (and yes, they are out there, usually sold over the Internet), all books are acceptable for adult audiences.

The tricky part comes into play when the readers are children. I’m not a parent, yet I can understand why parents are hypersensitive about the types of literature assigned to their children. I know I wouldn’t want my hypothetical child reading passages with graphic sex and violence. And even as a non-parent, I still blanch at hearing about kids checking out Zane’s books from the library (for those not in the know, Zane’s books are sexually explicit and have found a ready audience). I write erotica and advocate the freedom to do so, but no way do I encourage young children (those under 17 – I say 17 because I figure by this age, you’re closer to adult than not) to read this type of literature.

And yet, I think parents overstep boundaries when they become extremists in their views of what should not be available to all children. If you have objections to your child reading an assigned book, you should take the matter to the teacher or principal to discuss alternative reading choices for your child – your child, alone. To seek to have the literature banned from libraries or entire school systems for all children based on your moral or religious beliefs is attempting to override the rights and privileges of others.

The American Library Association cites that the three most common reasons for banned or challenged (seeking to ban) books are (in descending order): sexual explicitness, offensive language, and "unsuited to age group." Other reasons include occult themes, violence, promotion of homosexuality, promotion of a religious viewpoint, nudity, racism, presentation of sex education, and books considered "anti-family."

Sexual explicitness is, as I said, a legitimate concern. But who gauges what is "sexually explicit?" I wouldn’t want my child reading the word "pussy" when it’s not an alternative to the term "cat," but would have no problem with said child seeing the word "penis" if there is no penile action going on. You’d be surprised how uptight people can get just about technical terms. Should the words "breast" or god forbid, "bosom" be banned?

Again, offensive language is somewhat relative. And again, a tricky issue. I curse. Sometimes too much. And I try to be careful around children because I don’t want them picking up my habit. Still, the world and media are rife with off-color language. And I definitely don’t want to go back to the age when the government can bedevil a comedian like Lenny Bruce because of his racy material. (I personally think the government is responsible for Bruce’s descent into hell, but that’s gist for another post.)

I would consider the context of the language. Words like "fuck" or "shit" as used as expletives in a passage should be off-limits to very young children (am I contradicting myself here?). Older kids, in junior high and beyond are hardly going to blink at the terms because by the time they have reached this age group, they are familiar with these words and there’s no use denying it. None of these kids are living in a vacuum.

Regarding the racially charged words, well, the situation is even trickier. Some African-Americans have an automatic hair-trigger reaction to the word "nigger" and I admit that when the word comes up unexpectedly in a text I’m reading, I do a double-take. And yet, in my own writing, to be true to the times that I am depicting, I readily use the term because I don’t believe in white-washing (pun intended) reality. So, for older children, where the term is within a "natural" context, I would simply explain to the child why the term is being used in the text and the history behind it. No way would I have been one of those parents asking to ban Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, maybe because I have read that Twain was anti-racist and his use of the rhetoric was an attempt to show the ignorance of its use. Besides, if kids haven't already heard the word in a rap song, they surely will.

I can’t get on board for issues such as occultism because I believe that unless it is a manual telling a child how to sacrifice a goat to Satan, and if the child is getting religious instruction at home, then what’s the problem? So leave Harry Potter alone. I know religious people who won't even watch reruns of Bewitched, a show I loved by the way.

Regarding the rest of the concerns presented for banning, I think they should be discerned on a case by case basis. Factors such as a book’s context, overall merit and moral, as well as its contribution to literature on the whole should be looked at. These factors should be weighed with a parent’s legitimate concerns and should never be subsumed by hysteria.

So, I’ve said my piece (or is that peace?) . To learn more about banned books, the website (click pic) below is a good place to start in addition to the American Library Association (link above).

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 10/05/2005 07:02:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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