Censor? I Don’t Even Know Her!

So lately, I’ve been doing some light research for a podcast on young adult media I’d like to start (“Hey YA!” Coming as soon as I stop fantasizing about being a podcaster and actually learn how to produce one. See you in 2055!).

I’ve found some pretty interesting information so far, but the most intriguing has been around banned books.

There is a part of me that understands I am not a parent yet and therefore cannot totally empathize with that experience. I think I can get why a parent might want to shield their children from violence or nihilism or scary things that most likely won’t hurt them, but boy will they think about those things as they grow into their anxiety!

But, does that make it go away?

When you look at the top ten banned books of 2017 on the ALA’s website, you can see the top reasons why that book was banned. You want to know why these books are banned? It’s not for violence or nihilism or “So you’re afraid your neighbor’s a cannibal.” The top reasons these books are banned are profanity, LGBTQ content, and sexual content. And banned doesn’t just mean banned from a household, it means a whole district or town—an entire community that has been denied access to a book.

I am not sure how one can successfully censor anything these days with so much information readily available (literally) at our fingertips. But there’s a real danger with banning books, even if it is symbolic. Banning books creates an apathetic society. Banning books is banning ideas; banning books is banning questions. Where there are no questions, there is no freedom.

I don’t even know where to begin with the LGBTQ stuff. I’m just gonna throw out there that if a kid can get through long division, they are probably capable of understanding that Joey has two dads.

And if the parents’ problems are with profanity and sex, they don’t need to be protecting their children from books.

They need to protect them from the bus.

Any curse word, any sex act, anything that could be considered amoral or depraved, I learned about it on the bus. The school bus is a wild, unstoppable conglomerate of all the things that would make grandma turn red.

The first time I ever gave the middle finger was on the bus, when I was six-years-old. Two boys who sat in the back came over to my seat in the humble front, where I’m certain I was staring at the leather in front of me in silence.

“Hey, mute, stick this finger up,” One of them said, and pointed to his middle finger.

I did it. Probably because I’d never read a book about the middle finger and thus I had no frame of reference. I was a lemming in a censored world.

“Oooooohhhhhh shit (see?), you are so busted.” They said and returned to their seats.

When we got to school that day, the two boys immediately told our teacher that I had given them the middle finger, just loud enough that the classmates in the front row would know. Word had circulated to the entire class by the time the teacher told me to come to her desk, beckoning me with those long, fake, blood red nails of the 90s.

The journey up to her desk was like being an inmate on death row. Backs turned to me; woeful cries of, “I trusted you!” echoed dramatically through the air; my best and only friend gasped and shook her head in disbelief. Many crayon drawings were crafted about that day: the finger heard ‘round the world.

Mind you, at that point, I still had no idea what it meant. It would be another year before I even learned the F word on the bus.

The teacher pulled me aside and tried to chide me quietly, but since the room was in a state of shocked silence, I’m sure everyone heard. Her adult son was visiting the classroom that day and I could hear him giggling at my circumstances. Great, I thought, now I’ll never get a job!

 “Jillian, that was not a very nice thing to do,” Mrs. Something-or-Other said. “That’s not something a person should ever do, especially a pretty girl like you.”

And the moral of the story is GUYS! SHE THOUGHT I WAS PRETTY!

No, no, that can’t be right. The moral of the story is I never gave the middle finger again. Except when I’m driving or when people annoy me.

That’s a little thin. Perhaps the moral is I don’t really know anything.

Maybe this is what I’m trying to say: you can’t protect people from anything. Not really. All we can do is listen and learn and work through things. And books and stories and art are our best gateways to learning about each other, whether they make you uncomfortable or not.

Besides let’s face it, these kids are going to grow up and profoundly disagree with their parents on everything anyway. My kids are going to read this one day and think, “Goodness gracious mother was perverse. How about another round of golf before we head back to Wall Street?”

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