Another post celebrating Banned Book Week
In high school one of my friends had his own garage band, and my favorite song they did was called, "Ban This Record (It Will Really Boost Sales)." As teens we were well aware of the irony that banning something marked it as controversial, and therefore interesting, especially to anyone who wanted to seem free-thinking or rebellious.
Controversial is one thing, toxic is another.
Over the summer I attended a writer's workshop where our teacher told us that the film industry has made a science of manipulating people. They know where to put the humor, the drama, the violence, the sensuality, the horror, etc., in order to extract the most money from the wallets of the audience. As I listened to this, my eyes got bigger and bigger and finally I raised my hand to say, "You make it sound like this is all about making money. I believe that entertainment has the power to help people or to hurt people. Is there anyone out there who cares about that?"
"There's a lot of pirates and gangsters out there," he said, "But there are a few who care about making good art."
That's not what I asked. I want to know, do they care what it does to people?
In the past year, two of my dear friends had their marriages destroyed by pornography. I've seen up close what a sexual addiction can do to a man's personality. The people who sell that stuff don't care that they're hurting others, no more than the people who sell crack or meth care. Some things are too dangerous to play around with. Some things shouldn't be left out where anyone can find them and get into trouble.
Some books should be banned. I would like to trust the human race enough to say that no one would write a book that would hurt other people, but whether out of hate or lust or greed or ignorance, toxic words are published.
Question is, where to draw the line?
When my daughter was five, her best friend came over to our house one day, looked up at our prized collection of Harry Potter hard-covers, and said, "I thought you were Christians."
"We are," I said, wondering where this was coming from.
"Then why do you like Harry Potter? It's about witches and evil."
Oh. "Your parents told you that?" She nodded. "Have they read it?" She shook her head. "I want you to respect what your parents tell you, but I've read Harry Potter, and the magic in it is silly magic, like in Cinderella. You've watched Cinderella, right?" she nodded. "The magic in Harry Potter is bibbity-bobbity boo magic. Make-believe. When they talk about witches in the Bible they mean something entirely different."
There's a whole spectrum of toxicity out there, and in my opinion, Harry Potter falls at the "mostly harmless" end of it. I've only read the first of the "Twilight" books, and as a mother I didn't like the way Bella broke some fundamental safety rules of dating and got away with it, but I told my daughter she could read it if she wanted to, and then we'd discuss it afterward.
There are other books that I have banned at my house. "Captain Underpants," for example.
Which brings me to another point. What does it mean if a book is banned? It means that we, as a society, or a school district, or a library, or a parent, DO NOT APPROVE OF THIS MATERIAL. It sends a message, helps define the boundaries. I think boundaries are good, but they should not be posted ignorantly.
There's a difference between being offended and being harmed.
Some of the books I was assigned to read in high school English class made me uncomfortable, and so I would ask for alternate reading assignments. I'm very sensitive to foul language--it makes me feel like someone is blowing craters in my brain--so I traded "Of Mice and Men" for "Lord of the Flies," and loved it. One of my friends couldn't believe I did that, because in her mind "Lord of the Flies" was a horrible disgusting violent book and "Of Mice and Men" was great literature.
One book had offended me, the other had offended my friend. That was a huge eye-opener for me. Someone I liked and respected had a completely different reaction to the same two books. I don't think either book should have been banned simply because certain people found them offensive. It was good for my friend and I to be able to make choices about what we wanted to and didn't want to read.
But when does offensive become harmful? Harmful enough to take a book off the shelf?
This discussion will never be over. Should all offensive things be banned? No. Should all offensive things be allowed? No! This discussion will never be over.
So let's discuss it.