Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comin' Through the Rye

OK, I just can't help myself. Have you seen LiLa's blog today? Their post about the F-bomb in teen lit sparked an amazing discussion about everything from parental rights to censorship. This is a touchy subject, but if I don't take it on I'm going to bite a hole in my tongue.

Let me get this out of the way first: I am a parent. I believe authors using the F-bomb just to shock are basically lazy, irresponsible writers. I teach literature for a living, sometimes to teens.

(Caveat goes...)

On LiLa's post, I saw a lot of commentary mentioning parental rights, as in, it is my right to not buy books that contain the F-word for my teenager. Of course this is your right. But should it be the determining factor?

What is the motivation here? To shield a 13 year old from this word? Guess what? Unless she's been raised in an arctic commune in Greenland, she's already heard it, knows what it means, knows the variations of grammatical usage, and has probably, if not spoken it aloud, thought it when she dropped her cell phone on cement or missed a major homework assignment.

I can understand the powerlessness parents feel as their families are chronically assaulted by reality television, violent video games and predatory marketing. Because of this I can almost understand parents taking advantage of opportunities to protect their children from vulgarity and unpleasantness until they are old enough to take it on. Almost. My fear is this leaves the child wholly unprepared for that "real world" we're always telling her about. Art helps us learn about ourselves and the world around us. It helps us understand what it is to be human, and celebrate the qualities we share and the ones that make us unique. Denying exposure to great art because of one bathroom stall word is short-sighted at best. It denies opportunity. To me, that is a worse parental crime.

While reading the comments following the post, someone mentioned The Catcher in Rye as an example of profanity used within literature deemed classic. The first thing that came to mind was, there was swearing in Catcher in the Rye? I was fifteen when I picked up Salinger's book. I remember identifying with Holden's loneliness, anger, and almost rigid morality. I remember feeling a rush of relief, grateful I no longer felt like the only weirdo in the world. I remember thinking about the book for days, weeks, years.

What I don't remember, is any swearing.


  1. I have a huge smile on my face right now. Well said, my friend. We'll be posting a link to this post tomorrow.

    And here's one more thing, I think that not censoring your kids helps foster a love of books. Our parents were really strict growing up. We weren't allowed to watch R-rated movies or even some television shows, but when it came to books we had complete freedom. I think we have a short window of time to create a love of literature in our children and we should allow them to read whatever strikes them. Personally, I'll be happy to see my kids reading, regardless of the content. I'd much rather them read about it in a book than watch it on Gossip Girl.

  2. I wholly agree. My parents didn't let me watch Saturday Night Live, let alone R-rated movies. They never paid attention to what I was reading, though. Neither one is a big reader, so I don't think it occurred to them to check up on me in that area. Ultimately, this meant I read everything I could get my hands on, appropriate or not. But this was not a bad thing! It helped me grow, intellectually, because if I didn't understand something I had to figure it out through context or research or, um, experience...

  3. Woot woot! Great posts on BOTH blogs! I'm right there with you on being censored when I was younger as far as TV and movies were concerned, heck, my dad had to sneak my sister and I view time of Andre the Giant vs Hulk Hogan in their epic match. But when it came to books, well we were allowed to run rampant. It was the best thing that could have happened. And now here I am writing everything from epic fantasy to YA, determined to get stories out there for other kids to read, and grow up remembering so that they can write stories for other kids to read, and remember, yadayadayada.... :)

  4. Great post! I didn't read much when I was little, but it was during a bout of boredom one summer when I was 11 that my dad gave me Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" to read. Then I read "It" and "The Stand" in the same summer. I couldn't get enough! My parents didn't really censor anything I watched or read, and I think I turned out a fairly decent human being. And while I have qualms about some of the things my own kids might want to see on TV or read about in a book, we usually sit down and talk about them first. I rarely give them an emphatic NO.

  5. Here, freaking, here.

    Nothing makes me sadder than when a book like LOOKING FOR ALASKA gets censored and banned from schools/libraries because of the content/swearing--then I go to conventions like NCTE and teachers are telling me it's the ONE story they could get their students (boys included) to read and actually discuss! And I guarantee the kids didn't read it for the swear words--let's be honest. I heard more of those from my actual parents/family when they didn't think I was listening. Kids don't read things for swear words. They read things because they connect with the characters and how they feel. And why would anyone want to stop them from reading something for that???


  6. Jo-

    Argh is right.

    That bj scene some people have a problem with in Looking for Alaska is sooo well done I'd want my older teen to read it. I think Green's making a statement about the emptiness of casual sex, and the cluelessness and awkwardness we all feel. I'm sure kids can see this...even if some adults can't.

    Melissa--Welcome to the blog! And, I totally agree that communication is key when dealing with issues like this.

    Miss Grey-I was a Rowdy Roddy Piper fan myself!

  7. So well said Loretta. I HAVE been biting a hole in my tongue!