Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Defining Censorship

Okay, it was inevitable. After 616 posts, I was bound to tick off someone.

And I'm probably going to tick off more people with this post.

I'm postponing my blogging plans for tonight to address the individual, who identified him/herself only as SafeLibraries.org, when s/he posted the comment to my blog of Saturday titled "Controversy Over An Award."

In that blog, I wrote about the uproar over the Newbery Medal winner for 2007. A number of librarians are refusing to order the book because the author--herself a librarian--used the word "scrotum" in a book intended for children.

I would have considered the entire affair silly if I didn't find it so sad. The scrotum is both a part of the human body and a perfectly legitimate word. I'm unclear as to how its use/knowledge could harm a child. Actually, I find it pretty amazing (and one of God's many miracles) how the scrotum serves as the cooling system for the testes, preventing sperm from overheating and becoming sterile.

When we begin to fear a legitimate anatomical word simply because it's part of the reproductive system, we are--in effect--placing a value judgment on scientific knowledge, and we're in trouble.

Oh, wait, some states/schools/administrations are already placing value judgments on scientific knowledge. Things like global warming and evolution. We ARE in trouble.

While I have had a policy of not permitting anonymous comments on my blog, I'm going to leave the post on Saturday's blog in place. However, I am not going to permit the poster to hide behind an organizational name that implies an army of support. I'm going to refer to him/her as S.L.

S.L. started out innocuously by stating, "I did not think the inclusion of that word [scrotum] and nothing more is a big deal."

Then, s/he gets down to the real reason for posting, which completely belies the earlier comment: "Keeping sexually inappropriate books away from children is NOT censorship."

S.L., I beg to differ. The last time I checked the definitions for "censorship" and "censor" (about ten minutes ago), that's EXACTLY the definition: "to supervise public morals; hence, any supervisor of public morals; person who tells people how to behave. A person whose task is to examine literature, motion pictures, etc. and to remove or prohibit anything considered unsuitable."

I doubt anyone would argue that children should be protected from inappropriate material. I do find it interesting that S.L. is totally focussed on "sexually inappropriate" material. I would include violent, racist, sexist and hate-mongering among the inappropriate materials that concern me.

In addition, I'm concerned about a bigger question: How a community at large decides what IS inappropriate material. In China, anything that the state deems inappropriate is banned. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was once banned in this country because of Huck's character (or lack thereof). Catcher in the Rye was once banned for use of the word "hell." Some Americans even objected to The Diary of Anne Frank.

I mention these books because once you start censoring, it's difficult to know when and where to stop. How do you draw the line? And, more importantly, who do you trust to draw that line? I keep remembering that old adage about power corrupting.

I am not in favor of censorship. I AM in favor of parents supervising their children and the books, movies and games used to entertain those children.

I am in favor of free speech--including the right of S.L. to espouse whatever position s/he chooses. I spent a few minutes--a very few minutes--reviewing the stuff on S.L.'s website. Frankly, it felt like the lurid, wild-eyed newspapers that decorate the checkout line in my grocery store. (Note to S.L.: There's nothing wrong with a little white space on a website. It's restful for the eyes. And using a larger font and color does not lend weight to your arguments).

I am second to none in my respect and admiration for librarians. I once considered entering that profession myself. The challenges librarians face in a fast-moving digital world are enormous. Fortunately, the vast majority of them recognize that it is not their job to decide what constitutes "morality" in a community.

And, when in doubt, they (and us) can always refer back to that flexible document known as the U.S. Constitution with its 45 little words known as the First Amendment.

P.S. While I do not plan for this blog to become a political forum, in the interests of full disclosure, I want to point out that I consider myself a moderate Republican. A moderate Republican who, since I had the benefit of observing George W. Bush's performance as governor of Texas, did not vote for him for president either time.


B.E. Sanderson said...

Thank you. This was a very well written and intelligent post (as usual from what I've seen) and it definitely needed saying.

lainey bancroft said...

Ack! Slightly off the BIG topic, but when people get hung up on a single word, used appropriately, it makes me CRAZY.
My MIL (now in her 80s) never particularly cared for me, but she quit talking to me altogether when my kids learned to talk. This is because my 3 YO son knew he had a 'penis'. I am lewd and obscene for providing him with this language. He should have had a 'wee-wee' a 'pee-pee' a 'worm to hide from the birdies' a 'stick and basket'. Pardon my politically incorrect WTF???
Scientific names for anatomy is not 'sexually explicit material' With the predators running amok, we're doing our children a disservice by not informing them how to properly identify their bodies.
We've always been more open with our kids than what either side of the family deem appropriate. But like you, I believe if they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to receive an age appropriate HONEST answer.
I might add I have 2 healthy, confident teenagers who never went through a phase where they called anyone 'dick-head' or 'scrotum-face'.
Rant over.

Well said, Maya!

Maya Reynolds said...

B.E.: Thank you. I obsessed for some time last night about whether to post this particular entry. This is primarily a writer's blog, not a political blog.

I justified the post on the basis that words are a writer's only tools. When certain words (or books) are deemed "inappropriate," we start down a slippery slope that scares me.

Again, thank you for visiting my site.

Maya Reynolds said...

Lainey: I could not agree with you more.

Because my parents were not comfortable talking about sex in any form, I relied on the older kids on the street for my sex education. I picked up a bunch of misinformation along the way and it took years for me to shake the silly myths/horror stories I'd been told.

Children are naturally curious. If their parents do not satisfy that curiosity, they will find other ways to learn.

Having said that, I think it is the parents' job, not the school's or the library's, to monitor the material a child reads.

Just one writer's opinion.

Thanks, as always, for your insights.

Sherrill Quinn said...

Amen, sistah! When did parents turn over the raising of their children to the state (i.e., school system)? And they seem happy to do so. The founding fathers are turning over in their graves. I firmly believe that, when they crafted language to separate the church and the state, it was to keep the state out of the church, not necessarily the other way around (that's my conservative background talking). However, that being said, no one has the right to tell me what I can and cannot read, or what my children can and cannot read. That's MY decision to make and not anyone else's.

Very well said here, Maya. As usual. :)

Maya Reynolds said...

Sherrill: Actually, you're correct. While our modern interpretation of the Constitution tends to be that the founders were trying to keep the church out of the state, it is probable that they were trying to keep the state out of the church.

Having said that, the genius of the document is that it drew clear lines and boundaries between the two that should have been drawn. I remain concerned over the willingness of some groups today to blur that separation. Frankly, it frightens me.

As we become a globalized world, we need to practice MORE tolerance of others, not less.

SafeLibraries.org said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maya Reynolds said...

S.L. respond with an absurdly lengthy post. This blog is not a podium for an anonymous blogger to seek an audience.

S/he is welcome to post whatever material on his/her own blog, not mine.

SafeLibraries.org said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sherrill Quinn said...

And now S.L. is emailing the people who commented here on your blog to further make his/her point.

Sending me an unsolicited email... Can you say SPAM?

Brings to mind the old Monty Python routine. *G*

Maya Reynolds said...

Sherrill and Lainey: I do apologize most sincerely.

I suspected from S.L.'s skewed argument that s/he was a zealot. Best approach is just to ignore and not give him/her a forum from which to spew.

SafeLibraries.org said...

"Statement regarding the true value of "Higher Power of Lucky." American Library Association. 2007.
http://www.ala.org/ala/pressreleases2007/february2007/hpls07.htm (Accessed 25 Feb, 2007)