I've been participating in a discussion online regarding teen books and profanity. I believed the premise of the discussion was based on a false dichotomy, and therefore, a lot of things that were said started to make my spidey senses tingle that censorship lurking was lurking somewhere in between the lines.
The question posed at the beginning of the discussion was this:
Profanity in Books? Necessary or Bothersome?
A false dichotomy is when someone is presented with an idea and only two choices on how to act or think.
Now while the original poster (who I much appreciate for starting this discussion) commented that she did indeed find some profanity in books as "necessary." However, I disagree. For instance, from my point of view, to have a book, it isn't NECESSARY to have profanity.
Required to be done, achieved, or present; needed; essential
Sure, a book could artistically be better off or a character could be better developed with profanity, but it isn't ESSENTIAL to a book. The book could still stand on its own. This doesn't mean a book would be as good, or even more insightful, but I believe "necessary" has the connotations of ABSOLUTELY CANNOT DO WITHOUT.
So a lot of posters began buying in to the original premise, and since most people consider the same thing I did, that profanity wasn't "necessary" that therefore, it must be "bothersome" as that is the only other choice presented.
And since I can't shut up, I will just share some of my postings in that thread, am replying to a comment saying "I don't think profanity is necessary in any book":
My First Attempt at the Soapbox
"I disagree. Wait. Let me clarify:
I think some of the disagreement I'm having with some of the comments in the group come from the headline:
Profanity in Books? Necessary or Bothersome?
To me, it is giving a false dichotomy. As if books with profanity have profanity because it is NECESSARY, which implies that the book could not do without it. Of course any book could do without profanity, so essentially to have a book it isn't "necessary" to have profanity. But the other choice given is "bothersome." Since it is obviously not necessary, therefore profanity of any kind should be considered "bothersome."
Yes. Profanity is bothersome to many, and it isn't always an indicator of sunshine and roses. But the way this discussion is framed, from the very premise and because of the nature in which the question is asked, things are said that make me a little leery
And truth is, many kids do talk like that. Where I grew up kids swore left and right. And it wasn't because we were reading dangerous books. It was because that's how Miami city kids talked. I'm not saying it's wrong or right, but the truth is, I heard way more profanity from my classmates (myself included) than I EVER read in books growing up.
Sometimes, kids who use profanity constantly are the ones who need to read a book the most. And sometimes protagonists can come off as too goody goody for them. Kids like to connect to characters much like themselves, and if some inner city kids can connect better with a protagonist because they talk like they do, it could be something that would get them reading.
As a librarian, I always get leery of where these kinds of discussions may lead (though having these kinds of discussions is extremely important), because sometimes things are said that give fuel to censors.
Frankly, I think we don't give teens as much credit as we ought. I remember picking out books at my public library that had "naughty scenes" in it when I was 15, and placing them back on the shelf because I didn't like it. They aren't without their own personalities, likes and dislikes, already. If they don't like it, they won't read it. But if they like a book with profanity, so what? At least they're READING."
"To each his own. Art and culture (and writing is an art), as part of our environment, have always served to shape a person's character, the way they think, speak and behave. This is the reason we have ratings for movies and TV shows. If more YA books are coming out with profanity, maybe we would need ratings for those as well. Or, should we just say at least they are READING? As an adult, some of the books I read contain profanity, and even there I don't see them as necessary, but I have long passed the impressionable age."
My Reply to that Reply
"Art and culture (and writing is an art), as part of our environment, have always served to shape a person's character, the way they think, speak and behave.
Very true, however, I think the artist should be true to themselves. Because, profanity aside, I think when one stops writing for themselves and their message, they do a disservice to their work with self-censorship. I'm certainly not going to write my YA novel to be a parent-by-proxy.
I'm going to leave the parenting of those 'impressionable minds' up to the parent, not the author, high school teacher, or librarian.
And yes, I think we should say, 'at least they're READING' or I wouldn't have written it in the first place.
And I'm not a fan of the MPAA either, so I'm probably not the person you'd want to ask. I frankly disagree with what the MPAA considers more immoral (murder and violence are considered less dangerous than nudity) so don't get me going there. But who determines what is appropriate and what isn't? I mean, I think we should just be aware that just because some parents don't like any books with profanity, some parents do like certain books that happen to have profanity and wouldn't mind their kids reading it."
Then, the person who originally started the discussion posted her thoughts, and she was very cordial. The only issue that concerns me is when she also advocated for a rating system for books like with "movies." Also, both posters didn't like my 'At least they're READING' statement. I honestly think that kids who are reading are in a much better place, even if the book has profanity, than kids who sit on networked games for hours on end, and hear people just mouth of profanity like neanderthals over the game networks.
My Penultimate Reply (Final Reply Summarized Above)
"I would recommend those advocating for a "rating system" check out sites like this one. Many organizations have taken it in their own hands to do the things you have mentioned, but I am against nationally mandated organizations telling me, or my family, what is and isn't 'appropriate':
It's real easy to use. Just search for the book or even film in question, and look at the reviews. I recommended this to many parents at my library, who didn't have time to read entire books before deciding if they wanted their kids to read it or not.
This is a good place to browse: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews
Ironically, I don't like centralized control and an organizational dictatorship over 'morality' as I find such a thing inherently immoral, as it begs the question, who has the authority to decide such a personal and SUBJECTIVE thing?
Also, just reading some reviews on amazon can give you an idea. I mean, we write book reviews here. The information is out there, but having one organization tell EVERYONE what is and isn't 'appropriate' is wrong."
So there. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share some of my musings I had there over here, since you all know how big of an advocate I am against censorship of any kind, which includes forcing or coercing publishers to use one standardized rating system.
Thoughts on a standardized rating system for books? Comments? Manifestos?
PS- I added this link in the comments but I wanted to share it here as well, please check out this article regarding profanity in YA literature by author, Chris Crutcher.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Home Books Censorship Radical Librarian Says Rating Systems Rating Systems, Censorship, and I CAN'T SHUT UP
Rating Systems, Censorship, and I CAN'T SHUT UP