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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Me, Too

To all the people out there who have ever had
their boob grabbed by a stranger,
their butt smacked in a bar,
something slipped into that drink you said no to
after he asked you four times because he couldn’t
possibly imagine someone saying no to him.
After he calls you a bitch for not drinking it.
Who have had someone call them a whore after
they don’t respond to a cat call.
Who have had their bra snapped open in public
because you didn’t want to talk.
Who have been told to go home and change because
their summer clothes were “too distracting.”
Who have ever felt like they were being raised as an object;
a small object, fragile, submissive.
Who has had to constantly look over their shoulders
when they walk down the street alone
and grab tight hold of a pepper spray key chain
when someone walks by.
Who had to ask a friend to pretend to be your significant other
just so others wouldn’t grab you on the dance floor.
Who has listened to their coworkers rate other girls’ asses
and they think the look of horror on your face is because
they forgot to compliment yours.
Who has ever been told their boobs aren’t big enough to make good tips,
whose boss gave them an unsolicited back rub
and then slipped them a hotel room key,
who felt like they had to take bad behavior just to keep their job,
to keep the peace, to stay afloat.
To all the people who have ever felt degraded,
violated, objectified, powerless, silenced,
I’m sorry.
Who felt like they had to keep everything suppressed
just to get through the day,
I’m sorry.
Who were told to stop making a big deal about it,
I’m sorry.
Who were told, “Don’t call it that.”
I’m sorry.
I’m sorry this is the world you were brought into,
I’m sorry that these ideas continue to be conditioned,
I’m sorry for the times I, myself, was apathetic,
For the times I thought, “Well, what do you expect?”
I’m sorry that this is still a fight against reality,
still an argument,
instead of just a plain right and wrong.
I’m sorry.
Me, too.

J. Awkward Prufrock and the Journey to Hogwarts

Harry Potter turned 20 this week! My how time flies. I’ll admit sometimes, even to this day, after school lets out for the summer, I find myself confused about why I still have to get up early and where my class schedule is.

Summer always fills me with that tremendous Harry Potter feeling, you know? That feeling of total wonder and excitement. I always make sure to re-read at least one of the books every summer, starting on July 31st: the date I spent every year, from ages 11-17, staring with unblinking alertness at the sky, waiting for my Hogwarts letter to come.

I was skeptical of Harry Potter at first. Even at age 7, I always found myself distrusting the majority. But I picked up the first book when I was around 10 or so, and after that, I totally understood the hype. Like millions of other kids, those books were my childhood.

However, there is one thing about the Harry Potter books that I simply cannot get behind. And that is the house system.

So, when students get to Hogwarts at age 11, they are sorted into four “houses” based on core personality traits.

To review:
You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart,
their daring nerve and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.

You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal,
those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil.

Or yet in wise, old Ravenclaw, if you’ve a ready mind,
where those of wit and learning will always find their kind.

Or perhaps in Slytherin, you’ll make your real friends.
Those cunning folks use any means to achieve their ends.

(Yes, I did type that from memory. And later today, I’ll have no idea where I put my car keys.)

You take classes with your house, you dorm with your house, you eat meals with your house, you sit with them at Quidditch games. Your house is your family. And you are pitted against other houses with a points system that, granted, promotes good study habits and behavior, but also promotes rivalry against those who are unlike you.

The history of this is supposedly the four Hogwarts founders couldn’t decide which types of students they would admit, so they decided they would take them all. But while they were there, they would ensure students would stick to their own kind.

How irresponsible!

So these students are supposed to spend some of their most formative years only hanging out with people who are like them? That seems like a really good way to stunt their brain growth. They say there wasn’t a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. Gee! I wonder why! That’s never happened when you’ve put a bunch of capitalists in one room. With sorting comes judgment, marginalizing, fascism. Maybe that’s why Voldemort went bad. Because he never had to talk to a Hufflepuff.

Also, who’s to say a Gryffindor at age 11 is still going to be a Gryffindor at age 17? When I first took the Pottermore test at age 21, I was sorted into Gryffindor. I took it again about a year ago when I made a new account, and I was sorted into Hufflepuff. But I’m fundamentally a bookish introvert. Does that make me a Ravenclaw? I identify with all the houses. Every time someone has asked me about my Hogwarts house, I legitimately do not know the answer. Which can make me feel even more out of place than I already feel.

And I know, I know: people are always going to have their differences. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were hardly the same on many levels. And the hat takes your choice into account and yada yada. A recent Atlantic article just discussed a study being done about how people were more likely to get Pottermore-sorted into the house they wanted to be in. But is that self-awareness, self-aspiration, or a testament to the malleability of the quiz? Quizzes are easily manipulated. The hat, seemingly, not so much.

Plus, what if you get into your house and it’s awful and you don’t get along with your housemates? Are you allowed to transfer houses the way you’d be allowed to transfer roommates at a university?  How are you supposed to bond with a whole group of people based solely on the fact that you’re “brave”? It doesn’t even seem like you’d be able to transfer schools without running into the same issue, as Ilvermorny, for example, uses the same system. Though that could be your standard U.S./British thing.

Maybe it’s best I didn’t go to Hogwarts. This is a lot of social pressure. Imagine those poor wizard kids losing sleep over whether or not they will make it into their family house, forcing them to adopt unnecessary personality traits. Or maybe, with a family like the Weasleys, the hat just throws them into Gryffindor for the sake of not having to think about it too hard. What are the implications of that? What does it do to the system?

J.K. Rowling, I adore you. You are my queen. You gave me the most precious gift I’ve ever been given, and I truly believe my love for Harry Potter has helped define me as a fierce proponent of storytelling. But this system is potentially hazardous to the youth of this fictional wizarding world. You can take that feedback all the way to the bank!

My Top 5 Good Things for Getting Through These Dark Times

Welp, Donald Trump is President of the United States.

I’m not going to get terribly political here but I’ll just say this wasn’t my first choice.

And with how quickly news spreads these days, especially considering the media’s got this guy under a microscope, it’s been pretty easy to feel bummed out, to say the least.

While I do feel called to fight much of this, fiercely and ferociously, sometimes you just need a quick fix of good things and good thoughts (provided you can temporarily turn off the thought of all the people who don’t have the good things).

Tasty Videos: Nothing better to put your mind at ease than watching delicious things being mixed together to make delicious food. Watching these videos is so relaxing! Seeing different things working together, complementing one another, into a giant melting pot filled with sense, reason, kindness, and acceptance. Imagine that!

Pictures and videos of dogs being dogs: Need I explain? We should all be more like dogs.

We’re due a messiah any day now! Whether you believe he already stopped by once or not, there is a chance we’ll get a savior very soon! And if you see a big, hairy guy with a pink umbrella or a very pale, winged person dressed in white, it could be you!

This is a terrific time for comedy. With badness comes satire and with satire comes laughter. I’ve been watching more Saturday Night Live than I have in my entire life. I feel like anyone could just go onstage at an open mic and say, “Donald Trump is our president,” and that would be enough material for a whole set. Guys, this guy is our president. Previous credits include host of The Apprentice and Orange is the New Orange.

Good exists. Fundamentally, I believe most people are good, and that if you encounter hatred, combat it with kindness. Be a citizen. Be a door holder. Be present, listen intently, research fiercely, and, most importantly, consider the lobster. Each one of us only gets one life and I think we should be doing our best to make it as easy for each other as possible.