Stephan King, Banned Books, and that Shady Guy from Sesame Street
Stephan King went viral for this tweet, because of course he did. He received a deal of backlash on Twitter for, from both sides. Some people were pissed off because he supported reading banned books while others claimed he was being tone deaf. An Open Letter to Stephan King, from Book Riot, sums up the tone deafness pretty well.
First, for those of you who want to ban books, in the name of “protecting children”, what the hell is wrong with you? Seriously? Things people are claiming are “obscene” are not. I am so sick of hearing the word ‘obscene’ thrown around to describe anything and everything someone doesn’t agree with.
The definition according to Merriam-Webster:
a. abhorrent to morality or virtue
specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravityb. containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage
c. repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles
d. so excessive as to be offensive
What one person finds obscene another person might not. I accept that. However, there is also a legal definition that applies to books, art, movies, video games, and a lot of other things. It’s called The Miller Test. In order for something to be considered obscene it must meet ALL THREE criteria as follows:
- whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (Is it meant to incite lust?);
- whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and
- whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
A word of advice. Get a grip and realize not everyone sees the world the same way. Yet, we all have to live in the world together. Just because someone does not agree with my reading choices does not mean they should have the right to take those books from me.
The irony of what is challenged isn’t lost on me. It’s totally fine to disseminate false information, even in school textbooks (here’s an article on errors in history texts, and one on errors in science texts). No one seems to have a problem with this, but educational books being called ‘obscene’, books with a foul word or two, anything on race and racism (it’s all automatically labeled Critical Race Theory despite most people not knowing what CRT is) is totally problematic. Who cares if a kid is taught that the 15th Amendment “guaranteed voting rights to all citizens” (if this were the case woman’s suffrage would have never happened and the 19th Amendment would not have been needed) or that Columbus reached North American in 1942 (that would have been the Caribbean islands and the northern coast of South America) but exposing a kid to a bad word, an anatomical drawing, or something discussing sex and sexuality frankly in an age appropriate manner.
Kids and teens have questions. Questions that deserve answers in a factual, educational, and age appropriate manner. Parents are not always a guarantied source of that information, especially if they don’t feel safe or respected. Banning books is taking information away from those who need it. Statistically, lack of sex education results in teen pregnancy. Also, the more “taboo” someone makes a subject, the more a kid is going to want to know about it.
So yea, I get what King was trying to say with his tweet. Someone somewhere doesn’t want you to know about gay people or penguins, or racism, or sex and sexuality, or a religious/political view point different from theirs. Yes, we should all know about these things, especially if someone thinks we shouldn’t know about them. I get what King was saying. It came from a well meaning place. But, as the Book Riot points out, it also came from a place of privilege. Book bans mean kids aren’t reading. They aren’t going to the library. It’s having a trickle down effect that benefits no one. Book Riot also reported on this, citing an article in the Washington Post (that requires a subscription to read). Not everyone has access to the library. Not everyone can afford to buy books. There is a good chance that the kids who need these books most won’t be able to get them.
At the end of the day, book bans hurt everyone and cause a decline in literacy.
Maybe that is what certain groups are going for. Maybe they don’t want kids to be able to read and think critically. Makes them easier to control. Makes better worker drones. Makes them gullible and more likely to believe everything they are told. Ensures continued racism and the propagation of conspiracy theories.
If you don’t want your child to have access to something, do your job as a parent and take the book away and explain why they aren’t allowed to read it. It is not a library’s job, or a bookstore’s job to police children and their reading materials.
A friend and I were discussing how, if we were librarians, we’d be giving out banned books to anyone who asked like we were conducting clandestine drug deals or like that shady guy from Sesame Street.