Friday, September 02, 2022

Banned Books

Think age-appropriate.  That's where we're going here.

There are library controversies in Jamestown Township, MI; Llano, TX; Vinton, IA and elsewhere. The disagreements are about LGBT books being available to children. The reporting you will see on this will come from either the elite media perspective or the expressly conservative perspective, so you have to fill in the missing pieces.  I know little about any of these particular situations, but we have followed this for a long time, as my wife was an elementary school librarian and a city librarian before that.  My new daughter-in-law is a children's librarian.

The conservative media will focus on the worst few titles they can find, especially those that can be described easily. The elite media will focus on the dumbest aspects of the complaints they can find, so that you know these rubes just don't want to deal with reality. This is apparent if you have been following the ALA's Banned Books week over the decades.  Who wants to ban books? My goodness, only nazis, right? Who are these terrible people harassing these gentle professional librarians?

Let me be clear that there are indeed terrible people who harass gentle professional librarians, and it is ongoing. Stupid and unreasonable, many of them, who have unrealistic opinions about what should be in American libraries.

However, there are some missing pieces from the ALA and the elite media reports. The ALA includes any book that was challenged in its list, so its lifetime list includes the Bible, Koran, much of Shakespeare, Civil War histories from all perspectives.  It doesn't mean that any of them were actually banned. Secondly, a lot of times the challenge is from parents, because sexual (even borderline pornographic) or pro-LGBT material is available to young children. While you can find people who will stomp their foot and say they don't want this anywhere in the library because "I paid for it," the newspapers love those quotes, the reality is that the parents don't want some of the books available for third-graders, and if the libraries move them to junior high, high school, or adult sections they are fine with that. 

One would think that the solution is simple, then, right?  Get everyone together and work out what part of the library the book(s) should be in. Or have the librarians get a general idea of the terrain and just make that call on their own. That is in fact what usually happens with most challenges. It can get sticky.  Sometimes the librarians are quite liberal and think it is appropriate to make stuff available to young children or to engage in advocacy because they have believed some false ideas about sexual orientation and development. Sometimes the parents complaining include a few people who want to run for office or make a big splash and actually like wrestling in the mud. LGBT activism has tried to push such material to younger ages for years, largely because of their own false retrospectives of "when they knew." It is part of the current received wisdom that many children know from earliest years that they are homosexual or trans. It is true that many know they are somehow not like the others, but this this can have many outcomes. LGBT activists push that there is only one possible eventual outcome partly because of their own psychological need to rewrite their past. Sorry, it's just true.  I have taken detailed histories from people who said "I knew I wasn't like the other boys.  I wondered if I was gay. But I don't think that now" and similar sentiments.  Children pick up what is in the air as possible explanations for why they feel different.

In fact, so do adults, and feeling different from others you might be expected to be similar to is actually a fairly common experience. Not like other boys/not like other girls is a big category, likely a majority of us if we take a whole-childhood perspective. Lots of answers to that.

Thirdly, even if we are speaking about a child - I say this reluctantly and only for sake of argument - who actually is the wrong gender, that does not mean that sexual material presented at a young age is appropriate. As with Freudian psychology, where Siggy insisted that these impulses were pre-sexual and not fully sexual until puberty but everyone wanted to see it differently and regarded them as sexual, so too the current advocate adults look back on presexual affections and desires that became sexual at 13 (or later - lots of kids know their bodies have changed but still have little interest for years after. We should not be regarding the sexually precocious as normative). Pushing sex and romance on eight-year-olds because you had feelings of loneliness at fifteen is not reasonable.

The books often capture sad, or at least poignant and complicated stories of finding one's identity, and librarians and readers, who can often recognise quality writing, sometimes feel miffed because a particular book is quite well written, or a particular author is very good and tackles lots of difficult subjects. It almost works, because it is similar to adults looking at artists whose beliefs they disagree with but seeing that the craftsmanship is good. I don't much like that one even with adults for reasons about to become clear, but I at least hear it offered from reasonable people.

Let me assure you that this would not be said about a poignant, superbly-written book about a lonely boy who realises that he wants to sexually mutilate girls and so feels isolated and resentful that no one will date him. (Such boys exist and I have known them.  Ditto teenagers who want to have sex with young children.) Smart, sassy girls who were victimised by bullies in German in 1929 because they wanted to join the nazis (or the KKK, or fill-in-the-blank about unacceptable groups) aren't going to get nominated for any Newbery's. Try books about hunting now - the topic used to be common in children's literature. The books would never even be accepted for publication, so librarians don't see the censorship that naturally occurs on such subjects, and used to naturally occur on sexual subjects until quite recently. It;s just that some people have changed in what they think is sexually appropriate. 

When you hear the argument that we should respect quality even if we are uncomfortable with the subject matter, know that this always means "subject matter that I don't think you should be uncomfortable about."  Reverse the poles and this becomes clear.

The parents operate noisily, clumsily and stupidly at times, because this is not their field. Those pushing from the other direction operate more smoothly, at the level of publication, reviews, acquisition, and placement to keep out what they don't like.  So the former comes off looking worse. And in truth, they often haven't thought it through and don't want to.  But when you frame it in terms of age-appropriateness you can get a lot of them - not all - to agree. And they often have a good point, that inappropriate material, even designed to be aimed at a particular age-group by art and vocabulary, is in the wrong place. 

I got my sex education from the library, trying to invisibly wander over to the 570's(?) in the adult section. I don't think that material should have been in the children's section, but it should be in the library.  And I now know that if I had told Miss Thorpe that my mother (a single mom whom she knew and liked) seemed to be afraid to tell me about sex, that librarian would have quietly brought me over to exactly what I needed.  She would have saved me a lot of time, probably as well.  I am very grateful to the Bartholin's Glands for all they do, but I have never needed to know much about their structure, y'know?

1 comment:

Korora said...

Pornographic materials are legit, but Narnia is a bridge too far. Tungsten-Tritium-Fluorine?