What is so attractive about shutting down the ability of another to read, see, or hear what may be offensive to you but not to others?
I feel like we’re back in the 1980s when government attempted to shut down rap music, performance artists, photography by Robert Mapplethorpe, and books that had been banned in earlier decades.
President Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, established the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1986. It was commonly known as The Meese Commission. “At the end, the commission issued a bulky two-volume report, much of it consisting of detailed narrations of the plots of pornographic movies dutifully set down by FBI agents who’d been assigned to view them – at taxpayers’ expense, of course.” Not one of those FBI agents turned into a sexual predator. However, the commissioners believed dysfunctional predators who had testified to the commission that “Porn made me do it.” It was laughable. More laughable was the fact that former Attorney General John Ashcroft had blue drapes made to cover the bare breasts of Lady Justice.
Recently, Toni Morrison’s book, Beloved, was the focus of a political advertisement in the campaign for governor in Virginia. The novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an “unflinchingly look into the abyss of slavery.” A woman in the advertisement “describes how her 17-year-old [white] son was traumatized” by reading the book as it was assigned in a high school class. The boy’s mother wants the book banned from the Fairfax, VA, schools. Well, slavery wasn’t exactly as honorable as you might think. It goes to show that not all books are banned because of sexual innuendo or content. But most books are banned because of embarrassing sexual information.
Waukee, Iowa, parents are upset that books found in a school’s library are inappropriate for students of all ages [Des Moines Register, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Section C, Metro & Iowa]. Librarians choose books for a variety of reasons. The Register article did not indicate where the questionable books were found. It is very possible that the books were in the reference section. And if you remember from high school, or even notice at public libraries, reference books are not available for check out. Books that depict graphic images, explicit sexual content, and violent passages should be considered for viewing with assistance from an adult that can intellectually serve as a guide to the adolescent.
There are many ways to deal with printed material, movies, and music that may raise an eyebrow. Adults are responsible for talking to their children about sex, their bodies, respect, and boundaries. It’s not an easy task, but whoever said being a parent was a breeze? In my day, we had to learn everything on the street. And it wasn’t always pretty, nor was it explained in terms that were educational, respectful, and honest. This matter is not like telling a kid there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. No, snickering was an essential cog of the street learning process.
Curiosity has been around since cats evolved. Adolescents should be able to bring questions to their parents without worrying about consequences. In the Register article mentioned above, a parent found a book in his son’s backpack “about a boy who lives with his grandparents and is searching to discover the truth about his family.” The parent said: “I cannot write what I saw but found 33 different pages that contained sexual and or slanderous/vulgar content that if spoken in my house would be grounds for immediate discipline.” [Emphasis added.] I pity that young man who lives in his father’s house and not his parents’ home.
When I was a young boy, a group of us (boys and girls) sat around a HiFi set and listened to a couple of LP albums found in a stack of a girl’s mother’s records. One was recorded by Redd Foxx. If you grew up in the 1960s you know how dirty Foxx could be, but funny. Another album we listened to was “Banned in Boston.” Funny as hell. None of us had adverse reactions to the material in those LPs.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart is credited with saying: “I know pornography when I see it, but I cannot define it.” He didn’t say that. It has been paraphrased to mean that, however. What he did say was “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [If you’re interested, the movie was The Lovers, a 1958 French film by director Louis Malle.]
When books, music, and films are censored, they go underground. When anything goes underground, it’s impossible to control. That’s where the devil lives, isn’t it?
I read Catcher in the Rye when I was young. I didn’t think it was that great of a book. I read it again later in life to see what I missed because it had been banned so many times. I still didn’t get it. Not only that, but once again, I didn’t think it was that great a piece of literature. I’m surprised no adult stopped me from reading Wild in the Streets around the same time. I loved that book, and it had more anti-authoritarian passages than Catcher in the Rye.
Decades ago, if a book, play, movie, or music was banned in Boston it was an indication that the material was on its way to being a best seller.
I’m sending my first book to Boston in hope that the Watch and Ward Society will recommend that it be banned.
Related blog: Censorship Sucks!