Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Here's a fun little quiz to share with your friends and family.

What do all these classic pieces of literature have in common?

The Arabian Nights
The Diary of Anne Frank
Black Beauty
Call of the Wild
The Bible
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Doctor Zhivago
All Quiet on the Western Front
Fahrenheit 451
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Tropic of Cancer
and Harry Potter

---The answer is that they have all been targets of censorship by a group, government (including the USA) or religious organizations. And when you consider that Fahrenheit 451, (written by the sci-fi pioneer Ray Bradbury), was about censorship and book burning…it's the most ironical of the list!

Censorship is defined as: The removal from public viewing, or the prevention of circulation of information, where it is felt best by some controlling group or body that others should not be allowed to access the information, which is being censored.

Typically censorship is undertaken by governments or by an established body (religious or mass media). By it's very nature censorship recognizes that there is some person or body of persons that can determine for the majority of a society what information or forms of entertainment it should have access to. In the seminal work dealing with loss of freedoms, (including censorship), 1984 by George Orwell, the term was coined "Big Brother" to describe these people or groups who would be making these types of decisions for us.

Censorship is generally found in societies whose freedoms of speech are repressed, (communist countries and/or dictatorships) or are leaning in the direction, but it also thrives ironically in bastions of freedom, like the United States, where groups can and do use fear and ignorance as the motivating factor in their drive for censorship.

Case in point: The children's book The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. This book just received the coveted, Newbery Award for children's literature…which is basically the equivalent of receiving an endorsement by Oprah, within literary circles, with book buyers and librarians. So needless to say, there are people out there that feel this is a pretty powerful and effective piece of literature designed for children (whom the author says is the 9-12 age group). That is, all but a couple librarians, who have taken to the blog-waves to share their discontent over the fact that the author uses the word "scrotum" in the book and are making it their mission to alert other librarians and parents, all over the country about this terrible occurrence and encouraging them to have the book removed from the shelves…. before it too late, (you know…that time when we'd have to discuss with our kids what a scrotum is).

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, (and you can admit it…I had to think it over for a few seconds ma'self), it is defined by Webster as, "the pouch of skin containing the testicles." And if you don't know what they are…sorry you're going to have to look that one up for yourself!

One of the librarians in question stated on her blog, "The word scrotum does not often occur in polite conversation or children's literature for that matter." Dana Nilsson, a librarian in Durango Colorado writes, "This book included what I call a Howard-Stern shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope." A Howard-Stern type shock-treatment? Let's see, how many more descriptive and disgusting names can I think of, that Stern would use on his show before resorting to the official medical term of scrotum to describe this part of the male anatomy? Okay, so Dana doesn't get out much!

Another one of the blogger librarians write, "I don't want to start an issue about censorship, but you won't find men's genitalia in quality literature." And there it is gang! We (the offended librarians) feel in our judgment that any description of the male genitalia (which sounds like your discussing some sort of single celled creature discovered under a microscope… but I digress), is inappropriate, even if it's done using only the specific medical terminology to do so…but that's not censorship! A rose by any other name, my friends, would still smell as sweet. One of the common threads of all censorship is that the censor will usually claim what he is doing is not censorship…they're just trying to help us out by keeping harmful information and words away from us and our children. Aren't we lucky?

What they are doing with their 21st century styles cyber-assault on this highly decorated book, is exactly what censorship has become in this information-highway-age we now find ourselves. But you want to know what really makes this whole thing even more ridiculous? The use of the word scrotum, (it's actually kind of fun to say, try it...scrotum, scrotum, scrotum, scrotum, scrotum…. there, got that out of my system), it's not even used to describe any man or boy anatomy in the story. It's about a dog that got bit in the scrotum by a snake, (which was actually a true anecdote the author was sharing).

Ah-ha…now it all makes sense to me now! The librarians in question were protecting our children against possibly reading about dog genitalia in a children's book.

So how does a free society deal with this kind of garbage? By doing the same things they are doing…voicing our opinions against anyone telling you or your children what books are appropriate for you or your children to read. That's not their job. They select from the thousands of books that come out every few months and make choices based upon, marketing to them by publishers and distributors, critical reviews, (in publications like Publishers Weekly and Forward Magazine) and watch book awards lists to see what books have been deemed by those who have proven to be experts in culling out books of note from the masses published.

Their job is not to make reading judgments for their patrons based on their subjective personal tastes…like does a book have or have not words describing male canine genitalia included…(ha, ha, ha…sorry I can't even write that without chuckling). So, let you local librarian know, you'd prefer they just concentrate on making books available and let the parents or teachers make the call on what their children will or will not read. Heaven forbid a parent or teacher would have to engage their children in a conversation about what a scrotum is!

Their next target of the cyber-librarian assassins…a book about the little kitty's uvula getting caught in the mouse trap...discuss!

Robert Luedke
Head Press Publishing

copyright R.J. Luedke 2007

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