Category: Reader Response

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.

Women and Censorship

Response to “Gilded-Age Consensus, Repressive Campaigns, and Gradual Liberalization:The Shifting Rhythms of Book Censorship”

In this chapter by Boyer, he is discussing the sort of cultural censorship that occurs without the need for laws. The morals and beliefs of the people often affects the literature we get more than people think about. What really stood out to me, is when discussing the changes that happened in the 1870’s and 80’s, a lot of the censorship was a result of women becoming increasingly literate. This had a significant affect on what was published:

“Racy books and bawdy tales once savored by gentlemen in their libraries were now deemed inappropriate for pious middle-class men and women, not to mention their children.”

pg. 277

Obscenity and Why it Mattered

The legal definition of obscenity was determined in the 1868 case of Queen v. Hicklen, and is as follows:

“The test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

pg. 282

This covered a wide variety of topics, such as crime and sexual content. In 1885, Massachusetts made it illegal to sell any obscene literature to minors. Many news stands in the area were prosecuted. It is interesting that this issues comes back to parents (mostly mothers) wanting to censor their children. The culture of feminine values at the time really pressured women to put virtue and protecting their children above anything else. Hence why their interest into the world of literature sparked such a significant change. The genteel code was in place for fifty plus years, quietly controlling the type of print mostly minors had access to.

Women since then have constantly tried to break this stereotype, but it often times still exists. This type of female fragility that suggests we are too pure, and must be protected from obscene literature like children is something feminist activists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman fought against at the time and now.

How This Applies to Our Research

While we do not know that name of the complainant in our censorship case against Ellen Hopkins, we do know that she was the mother of a student. This happened in 2009, not the 1800’s, so it is interesting how the role of mothers has not changed in that regard.

In her Request for Reconsideration, the complainant includes three and a half pages of quotes she deems inappropriate (which relates to obscenity) and ends her list by saying “This is not a complete list of age inappropriate content in this book. . . just a small portion.” The type of time and energy it takes to research this material, shows an intense amount of care into the type of content her child is consuming. She did not only want her child not to read the books, she wanted to restrict access from all kids at the school.

Overall, I think the things discussed in this chapter are just an interesting parallel to the possible motives the mother in our case might have had.

Understanding Censorship Motivation

Response to “Politics in Children’s Literature: Colliding Forces to Shape Young Minds”

Personal Experience

I have always loved to read. I had really supportive parents, who allowed me access to pretty much any book I could get my hands on, as well as encouraging me to engage with the content of the books, whether it was negative or positive. My mother, grandmother, two aunts, and sister are all teachers; they all understand the importance of literature beyond the scope of test scores. While reading the chapter in Belinda Louie’s book about politics in children’s literature, I was struck by the reality of censorship, and the way it aims to stop critical thinking in children. As an English major, literature for me is about more than just reading text off a page. Authors, as Louie says, write to bring their own perspective into the world, and to not engage with them because they make kids/parents uncomfortable seems more harmful to social development.

Censorship as a Parenting Tool

Mikhail Bakhtin, when describing his idea of the chronotope, argues that any texts with a woman as the main character is inherently political. To many people, this logic works for children’s literature. Any underrepresented character becomes political. According to Louie, if an author rights to express the view point of someone homosexual or a person of color, that is a political choice made by the author. She goes into this in the section about parents, and their reactions to texts without the non-controversial “white male” protagonist.

Some parents want to protect their children from unpleasant realities. Most parents prefer education that favors their particular worldview or that refrains from exposing their children to certain realities of life

page 7

The “certain realities of life” are themes like the racial tension present in To Kill A Mockingbird, which she uses as an example of parents banning successfully from a classroom. Parents not wanting their children to engage in critical thinking about the text, has a ripple affect on all other stakeholders in censorship politics.

Effects of Parental Censorship

According to Louie, the only political stake students have in the politics of children’s literature is their basic enjoyment of the materials. While I don’t think this gives enough credit to students, in her experience that seems to be true. What really runs the political game of the types of things read in school is the parents. Their opinions influence teachers, school administrators, and publishers. There is a culture in schools that pages read is more important that critical thinking and understanding of what was read. The books most commonly censored are the ones that address hard questions, and in turn advance the worldview of the students.