Month: March 2019

The Question of Obscenity in Censorship History

Response to Government Censorship Since 1945

Who Controls Morality in Literature

Censorship has been around for a very long time. One of the main themes that people try to censor is sexual content. In this article, Downs talks about “the paradox of eroticism” very early on. This is the idea that humans will both seek out sexual content, while simultaneously seeking to control and censor it. We deem it as bad, allowing the government to control it based on religious ideology. Early on, the laws about censorship were very vague, encouraging artists of all kinds to steer away from anything controversial. Anything sexual was controversial.

The complainant in the case we are researching cites extensively in her complaint form about the sexual content in Glass. Included in the list of themes she dislikes is “Sex- multiple-partner (even in the same bed).” She does complain about the drug abuse in the book, but I think the distinction she makes with this is very interesting. In the scene that she is talking about, Kristina was living with, and sleeping with, her boyfriend’s cousin. When Trey comes home, he and Kristina have (consensual?) sex while his cousin is asleep. The point Ellen Hopkins is trying to make, is the degree at which drug addiction can lead your life off track. She is critical of this behavior, and it is not meant to be erotic in the novel.

We’re Still Having the Same Conversations

In 1957, the U.S. government was faced with officially making a decision involving the first amendment and the censorship of obscenity. In the case Roth v. The United States, The Supreme Court ruled that:

Justice Brennan held that the First Amendment protects all literature about sex possessing literary or intellectual merit but not obscenity, which is “prurient according to contemporary community standards”—appealing to sex for sex’s sake.

Downs, page 140

While this is no longer the standard for how literature is censored, this type of language is still used today. The committee in Norman decided that Glass had enough literary merit to overcome the parent’s issues with the sexual content. While they were able to state that they thought content about drug abuse was positive for the students reading the book, they phrased the issue of the sexual content as:

The powerful message on teen drug addiction far outweighs the concern about the sexual content.

Carla Kimberling

This really interests me. We still consider sexual content to be widely inappropriate, but the committee allowed it to slide because of the intellectual merit of the book itself. In a way, they are avoiding addressing the issue of obscenity at all. Despite the fact that on the committee’s report, they state that as the main complaint of the book.

In her original complaint form, the parent outlined many areas of concern with Glass that were not about the sexual content. This is just an interesting section, and there are multiple distinctions made about it throughout the case that I was reminded of as I read the article again.

Preparing for the Interview

Choosing a Candidate

Choosing the person we wanted to interview was really easy for us. We had Karin Perry, the librarian at the time of the case, in mind from the second we started our research. She is the closest person to the case besides Ellen Hopkins herself. We sent Ellen Hopkins an email asking for an interview, but we knew that was a long shot. We also tried to reach out to a teacher at Whittier who was there during the case, but she did not get back to us in time due to personal reasons. We might still choose to talk to her later on, but this week our focus has been on curating interview questions for Karin Perry.

Reaching Out

A few weeks ago, I emailed Karin Perry to tell her about our project and assess how interested she would be in helping us work on it. She replied very quickly, and was willing to answer any questions we had. I asked about an electronic interview, and she replied with, “Send me questions and I will answer them for you.” I told her we would plan on compiling a list of questions to send to her soon! This week for us has been about getting started our website, making adjustments to our project contract, and decided on the questions we think will be the most useful to our project.

Writing the Interview Questions

We wanted a couple different results from the questions we ask. First, we would like to get exact information that has not been made available else where. Second, we wanted to her opinion on the issues that she did not post on her blog, or in the chapter from the book on censorship, True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries . We worked together to ask questions that will get a good response, without giving away too much of our own opinions on the matter.

We chose the following questions:

  • What are your feelings about the suitability of Glass and the rest of the Crank series for middle school audiences?
  • Were you surprised by the complaint? How often did books get challenged while you worked there?
  • Were students and parents at Whittier Middle School aware that Ellen Hopkin’s books and visit were being challenged? If so, how did they seem to feel about it?
  • To what extent do you think the complainant’s issues with the book reflected concerns of the Whittier or Norman communities? Do you feel as though it was an isolated incident, or indicative of larger trends?
  • Do you feel like the administration of Norman Public Schools and Whittier Middle School handled the Ellen Hopkins case effectively and fairly?
  • How did Ellen Hopkins handle the situation once her talk was moved?
  • What effect has this case had on the overall discussion about book censorship? Do you think censorship issues are important and still worth talking about?

I plan on emailing her back with a GoogleDoc of our questions, so that she can answer them easily at her convenience. We will send them out after class on Monday. I will encourage that she send us a response within two weeks, as well as sign the form and email it to us, so that we can use her answers on our website. We are on track to have our interview completed very soon, and we are excited to see how she responds to us!

Survey of Technology

Genevieve and I are really excited to start working on our website covering the censorship debate we chose! Neither of us have done anything like this using technology, and we are interested in learning how to use all of our resources as we go. As English majors, we have a handle on the type of content we want to put in our website, however the visual and technological nature of this project is going to be a fun challenge.

How the Site Will Look

In WordPress, we chose the parabola theme. We want our website to have multiple tools for navigation, and the theme allows us to choose where we want them. We can link to our social media accounts if we choose to do that, which gives anyone on the site a quick way to contact us. I am interested in the idea of having a scrolling header on our home screen, which is what the theme example had. It would be an easy way to display some our major pages, such as our page detailing the case, and our page giving context about young adult literature and it’s history of censorship. There are a lot of really cool ways to organize the site that we will explore.

I’m really excited about the idea of a “Key Players” page. Almost all of the pages on the site will connect to it. It will be a really good place for us to share blog posts and primary sources that we have. I would really like to use one of the sidebars in our theme to have all of the people listed, so that they can be found at anytime.

Outside of WordPress

We both strongly agree that a TimelineJS is going to be a great tool for us in creating our site. Since the case is so influential, we will have, not only the events of the case, but also dates where people have talked about it on the news, or wrote about it in books. Karin Perry and Ellen Hopkins both blogged about the events, and we could link those there.

We also found to be a really helpful tool that we would like to use in our website. Copyright might be more of an issue with this, but I think we could upload small sections of the articles to be both informative, and show the relevance of the case. I have thought about doing a StoryMapJS over an article to add another interactive feature, but we would have to workshop the idea.

There are a lot of infograph makers available on the internet that we might chose to use in our website. LucidPress seems like it would be easy to use to help build our own graphics for the site.

Charging Ahead

After doing this survey, Genevieve and I both discovered that we have more of a grasp on this technology thing than we thought we did! There are a lot of resources out there that are user friendly, and will help us to present all of the facts about our case that are available in a user friendly and visually appealing way.