A Response to Bobbi Swiderek’s “Censorship”

This article is rather interesting, and is certainly useful from my perspective as a future secondary school teacher. There is certainly something appreciable about the fact that swaths of Swiderek’s middle schoolers would be confused as to why a litany of books were being promoted by the school library as having been “banned,” and therefore encouraged reading. Of course, this is a rather nebulous category. The American Library Association’s list, for instance, includes a variety of actions from all-out bannings to the most minor and quickly rejected of challenges. Still, the fact that we are encouraging students to read “controversial” material is certainly a good thing.

Still, it is worth noting the problems that come with celebrating and encouraging the reading of banned books. Certainly, there will be much of value in such a collection. But, considering the publicity that can come with such an endorsement from the ALA, it is also worth being wary of books, like actors or any other form of media, who stir up controversy just to benefit from the attention. Certainly, one would imagine most do not write books with the goal of getting them banned, and one would hope most authors, especially children’s authors, to not be so conniving as to deliberately get their book banned for the free attention. Still, such a list and celebration of books that were challenged or banned, by nature, will be open to exploitation and must be something we are cautious of. Just because a book is challenged or banned does not mean that ti has something valuable or significant to say or portray.

To return to Swiderek, she expresses an appreciable astonishment about just how many different things in books parents and the like object to. Swiderek’s observation that the two “m words” of masturbation and menstruation are the most frequently objected to certainly seems to have truth in it. The urge to protect one’s children from the outside world is certainly an understandable and natural one, but, considering the inevitability of puberty and of growing up more generally, such objections are slightly curious. Of course, this is likely a cultural issue. As we can certainly see with the likes of film ratings, themselves a form of censorship, Americans are very much averse to allowing their children to witness any development of the body or sexuality, while having relatively few objections about gruesome violence. That is not to say that Americans are perfectly content to allow their five-year-old to watch a fictional dismemberment, but our culture as a whole vilifies the relatively natural acts that accompany physical maturation while offering relatively few objection to fictionalized violence, which, to me, at least, seems rather backwards. From what I am familiar, European countries such as France tend to have things the other way around, being much more apt to censor violence than sex.

This is illustrated well by one of the most laudable acts Swiderek shares in her piece. There was a book that a parent was refusing to allow her child to read and refusing to return the copy she had checked out because of a passage of swearing that both parent and child had focused on, neither actually reading the book. The novel was about a World War II bombardier, and the cursing section was directed at the main character after he froze up and failed to drop the bomb he was meant to. Swiderek explained the book and got the copy returned, but it is worth noting that the violence of dropping a bomb was not what was objected to, but the cursing in this passage.

Ultimately, one will not be able to change the culture and cognition of the United States to exchange our general positions on the acceptability of violence and objections to sex. Bobbi Swiderek’s article was certainly useful and impressive, and helped illustrate this problematic tendency among the American public.

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