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Common sense isn't censorship

Posted: November 30, 2011 - 12:06am

To paraphrase Hillary Clinton’s paraphrase, it takes a village to corrupt a child.

And it takes a village full of jerks to publish a book that looks like a children’s book, yet fill it with R-rated content and use an expletive for the title.

I’m the last person to advocate “censorship,” and frankly think the word is tossed around too much by people who generally have no idea what it means. They just don’t like it when someone asks them not to say something stupid.

These days, though, far too many people say and do and blog anything that comes into their empty heads, pretty much without fear of having so much as their ear pinched or knuckles rapped. Let’s face it: All of us have heard the loudmouthed foulmouth in the next booth or checkout line sharing his limited, profanity-heavy vocabulary, but how many of us have spoken up to shut him up?

Too few.

That’s pretty much what happens, on a grander scale, when someone like Adam Mansbach publishes a book like Go the F**K to Sleep. Oh, sure, it’s hilarious. And independent publisher Akashic Books has a certified hit on its hands, with the book hitting the New York Times bestseller list.

But did anyone speak up during the publishing process to say, “You know, guys, the book is just fine for grownups, but should we really put a children’s book illustration on the cover?”

If you haven’t seen it, the cover – with the middle two letters of the objectionable word blanked out by a moon – depicts a child sleeping with tiger cubs and a mother tiger. Awww.

A mom from Lincolnton complained about the book when her child picked it up at the Columbia County Library. Librarian Mary Lin Maner’s initial defense was that the kid was wandering in the adult section unsupervised when he found it; I’m wondering why it’s a bad thing for an otherwise well-behaved child to browse around “unsupervised” in a library. If a kid – again, one who isn’t misbehaving – isn’t free to walk around in our library, then that would seem to be a pretty sad commentary on the facility’s atmosphere.

After the complaint, library staffers did what they were supposed to do: They pulled the book off the shelves until it could be reviewed. It was, and it went right back on the shelves.

Great! It should be available. It’s hilarious. The audio version even has Samuel L. Jackson’s voice, which has to be a hoot.

But just like asking the vulgar loudmouth to take it down a notch, would it be too much to ask that the cover be obscured so no child mistakenly thinks that’s a children’s book he’s carrying to mommy?

That isn’t censorship; that’s common sense. Disagree? OK, so when’s the last time you saw a cartoon character advertising liquor or cigarettes? “Hey, mom! Can I have some of this Spongebob Squarepants beer? It was next to the Bugs Bunny wine coolers.”

Didn’t think so.

All it takes is a few jerks to corrupt a kid. But it takes vigilant parents and a whole lot of others to help protect them from society’s increase in casual vulgarity.

Just because the good guys are losing ground to the jerks doesn’t mean the good guys should give up – or be intimidated when a vulgarian cries “censorship.”

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/
barrypaschal.)

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Comments (3)

Local Interests

Doesn't compare to cigarette ads.

I was pretty well with you on this editorial until you compared brown-wrapping a library book to getting rid of Joe Camel.

Joe Camel was specifically designed to get our youth hooked for life on the deadliest drug in our society.

I don't like excessive cussing and view it as failed communications but it typically doesn't literally kill people.

Barry Paschal

The problem is the cover, NOT the title

Local Interests: Actually, the issue isn't the title or the "excessive cussing"; it's that the cover - and even the size and the wide, horizontal format of the book - makes it appear to be a children's book. Joe Camel, et al, were banned from use on "adult" products for that specific reason: They were thought to attract children to use those products. That is literally what happened in this case, when a child (who can't read) saw a book that looks like a children's book and took it to his mom.

Little Lamb

Joe Camel

I was reading this column last night at the dinner table and laughed out loud when I got to the Spongebob and Bugs Bunny paragraph.

Libraries do have binding techniques to change the covers on books. They do it all the time.

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