Thursday, February 3, 2011

Where does censorship begin?

censorship |ˈsensərˌ sh ip|noun
the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts
from the Merriam-Webster dictionary

I was watching American Idol with a friend the other night, something I'd never really watched until this year, and we got into the discussion about how many people didn't win, but went on to have better careers than the winners. This led to a comment from my friend, "When that guy came out of the closet, it hurt his career." To which I replied, "It shouldn't matter what the sexual preference is, it's about performance." This led to a few more comments to which I replied, "You're homophobic." She countered, "No, I'm just prejudiced."

Now, I have to give her credit for realizing what she is and admitting to it. I don't have to agree with her beliefs and she doesn't have to agree with mine, but the topic changed and she made the statement, "I wouldn't want a Muslim or homosexual teaching my kids." To which I replied, "What if the teacher worships the fairies in the backyard?" "Not them either." Whoa. Really? There are people who actually feel this way? Unfortunately, I was a coward and didn't ask this Bible-belt Christian how she would feel about a Jew teaching her children. I just didn't want to find out.

This discussion led to a discussion among a group of friends about "sensitive" subjects in books. I got railed about having the "token homosexual" characters to sell books. First of all, they aren't token characters, it's who they are. Am I happy that the guy I had picked out in my wip to be the LI is more than likely gay? No, I was half in love with him myself. But I found a better LI for her in the long run.

So this discussion, which began very benignly over American Idol winners eventually morphed into a discussion about "questionable books". Some of these women said they wouldn't let their teens read certain books with openly gay characters or other things that they disagree with AND would ask the library to remove them, thereby, pushing their views on others. After reading Deb's post about the Bitch Media list, I was reminded of this conversation. This is one of the places where censorship begins.

Where will it end?

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. ~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959


Josin L. McQuein said...

If person has a particular belief and chooses to voice it, that's one thing. Even if I don't agree with them, it takes guts to make a stand and do what you can (within legal limits) to foster than belief.

What annoys me (with "annoy" being kind)is when people ASSUME they know what a given book, series, movie, etc. is about without reading/watching it.

One of the single most dangerous phrases in the world is "I've heard that..."

Okay, you heard it. So what? Did you check it out? Did you consider the reliability of the source? Did you consider that, even if the source is rock solid honest and sincere, they may have misunderstood something or taken it in a way it wasn't intended?

There was a post last week (IIRC) about a couple of book covers that someone thought were inappropriate for YA books. Their contention was that a 7 or 8 year old child "might" wander over from the kids' section and see these... not naked people, not having sex. But, the blogger insisted, you "just knew" what was about to happen in the scene.

She neither understood, nor cared, that the author didn't design the cover. And she neither understood, nor cared that the scenes on the cover didn't necessarily reflect actual scenes from the book.

As to people who want to remove books from library shelves -- I think usually these are helicopter parents who realize that no matter what they "forbid" at home, the kid can still read at school. Therefore, the school must bend to the will of the parent because the parent's word is law in their world.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Wow, that post was longer than I realized. Sorry :-(

Nicole said...

What sad about most of these discussions is that they are just circular. You present a logical statement and there are some who just willfully disagree with reason.

J.S. Wood said...

I totally agree with you, Josin. This happened with The Golden Compass movie when it came out. I received e-mail after e-mail about its "inappropriate content" from people who NEVER saw the book. I thought it was so sad that an incredible series was boycotted so hard, that it affected the box office ratings, from people who neither read the book or saw the movie.

I think people should at least know what they're talking about when they form their opinions. Just because "Rush Limbaugh" says it's true, doesn't make it so.

Nicole, You're so right.

Michelle said...

Haters gonna hate, and censorship is the biggest hater of 'em all.

I try to take everyone's opinion in stride, even if I don't agree with it.

Great post!! <3

Becca said...

I'm fine with people having an opinion, but when they force it on others, that's when I start to get upset. We shouldn't be deciding what others read by banning books. We should be letting people form their own opinions.

Kathleen Peacock said...

Jenn, you brought up The Golden Compass. His Dark Materials was a series I picked up specifically because people were complaining about it and trying to have it removed from theaters and shelves. One the things I loved about Roger Ebert's review of the movie was the following: Their [the books] popularity in the U.K. may represent more confident believers whose response to other beliefs is to respond, rather than suppress.

erica and christy said...

Gah - I hate conversations like that! My uncle (a homosexual) won Teacher of the Year for his state several years back. So thank goodness some people can recognize talent when they see it!!

And at least where I live (and teach), schools do a lot because of parent comments, but they do not ban books. If they ever start, they'll have one pissed off parent (me) going around making sure everyone knows how ludicrous that is.

J.S. Wood said...

Thanks Michelle <3

Becca, that's where I stand

Kath, I did the same thing. It ended up being a series I enjoyed and would've never found without the "banning" aspect.

Erica and Christy, that's awesome about your uncle. My town has never tried to ban anything, but there is a certain lady who comes into the library and hides the "what your body is doing" books for boys and girls. I just shake my head, I mean, who really needs to understand puberty?

Debra D. said...

I totally agree with Becca--everyone is definitely entitled to his or her own opinion, but please, don't force that opinion on others. And that's what censorship basically is, right? People forcing their opinions of what constitutes unacceptable ideas on others. Because heaven forbid we, or our children, think for ourselves.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with Voltaire's statement wholeheartedly. I know people don't share my opinions on every subject, but I don't cram my opinions down people's throats. And I certainly don't try to censor or ban. I keep an eye on what my kids are doing. It's a personal thing. I wish more people would realize they're not the spokespeople for wholesome or moral.

Sounds like you handled the situation well.

I'm a converted Jew too, teaching children.

J.S. Wood said...

Deb: Exactly.

Theresa: Thanks! Seems we are alike in a lot of ways!

Morgan said...

I'm impressed you were able to question your friend. I'm always so awkwardly shocked in those situations that I can't ever say anything.

I HATE when people call diverse characters "token characters." I happen to have a really diverse group of friends, and that translates into writing as well. I can't imagine a book with all-white, all-straight characters. It just seems so unrealistic to me. It's strange how different people's views are on the subject.

What about how many publishers are replacing black characters in books with white characters on covers? That type of censorship annoys me the most. The author actually cared enough to cater to a minority audience without prejudice, but then the publishers changed the cover for marketing reasons.

Katie Ashley said...

Censorship makes me twitchy. I hate "all for one" kinda mentality on's too hard to box everyone, every book, every movie, etc into one box. I think it should be up to individuals.