Tag Archives: censorship

So, Here’s the Thing.

Before I begin today’s rant blog post, I’d better preface it with a few things.

People are, of course, free to read whatever they want. I hate policing other people’s reading habits, and everyone should feel entirely free to read whatever it is they enjoy without threat of judgement, even if it’s something I’d find personally objectionable.

I don’t believe that only children should read children’s books, only teenagers read YA, and only adults read everything else. Of course. If I did, it would leave me immensely stuck, since children’s literature is my (literal) bread and butter.

People are fully entitled to their beliefs, be they religious or whatever. I’m a semi-practising Catholic, most of the time. Faith is important to me. It doesn’t run my life, and it doesn’t blinker me to reason, but it’s there at the core of who I am. I get it. Faith is a mainstay for a lot of people, and I’m not here to undermine that.

But.

Something I’ve seen people talking about on Twitter a lot lately is a sub-set, or type, of YA literature known as ‘Clean’. Clean teen reads seem to be big business, primarily in the US, but increasingly in the UK (and Commonwealth) too. And I have to admit that the whole concept of ‘clean reading’ sort of bothers me.

Not ‘sort of’, actually. It bothers me. Straight up.

Photo Credit: photos_martha via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: photos_martha via Compfight cc

Firstly, it bothers me because it makes judgement calls. It decides that certain books – ones which don’t include any sexual (and we’re talking anything from hand-holding up), and/or supernatural, and/or paranormal, and/or violent content – are ‘clean’. Which means, of course, that books which do include any or all of the ‘offending’ items are ‘unclean’. So, books about messy feelings and icky bodies and all the natural stuff that most people are doing during their teen years would all be considered off-limits. Unacceptable. Wrong.

Which sort of implies, doesn’t it, that the people who do these things are also off-limits, unacceptable, and wrong. Is this okay? I’m not sure it is.

I was a teenager during the 1990s, in Ireland, which is to say I may as well have been a teenager in the fifteenth century from the point of view of a modern youngster. No mobile technology, no computers, no instant this or high-speed that, and – despite the fact that I attended a mixed-gender school for most of my educational life – very little contact with boys. I was a lumpen, shy, ungainly and rather awkward adolescent, quite sweet in my own way, but certainly not adventurous.

Which is why I needed books.

I needed to read about heroines who were off doing the things I wanted to do. I needed to expose my brain to other ways of thinking, I needed to engage with media (including TV, which had a big part in forming my teenage – and, hence, my adult – mind) which challenged me and made me realise that not everyone was just like me, and that this was absolutely fine.

I had a place in the world, and I was happy with that. Stories existed about girls like me, too. But stories about girls who had sex with their boyfriends, drank and smoked and fell into and out of bad choices, who were growing up in complicated households, who were dealing with problems far beyond anything I had to think about, were so important. They wouldn’t have been considered ‘clean’ reads; I’m not sure such a concept existed at the time. But I’m glad I didn’t grow up in a household where my reading was policed. I’m glad I was allowed to read books which I chose for myself, and I’m glad I was trusted to decide whether or not something was too much for me to take at any particular time. I firmly believe that a child or young person will ‘self-censor’, by which I mean they’ll avoid something that they feel they’re not ready for, and that they’ll let things go over their head if they’re not able to process it. I know this is true because it’s how I was. It’s how I read, for years. I didn’t need to have my reading patrolled for me by an outside force who decided what was ‘appropriate’ and what wasn’t; I patrolled myself. I learned at my own pace. I was exposed to the world, other ways of thinking and feeling and being, and I am a stronger person for it.

If we only ever read books which reflect our own reality, how do we expect to be? We might as well read the same book, over and over, and expect it to give us a different story every time. Of course, I’m not advocating handing a six-year-old a copy of The Omen, or The Shining, or Fifty Shades of Grey. (They’d not be long about flinging it back at you, anyway – but that’s not the point). But children – after a certain age, at least – should be free to choose what they want to read. Parents do have a role, of course; they need to be there to advise and act as a safe sounding board if a child encounters something in a book which makes them scared, uncomfortable or unsure. They need to be there to explain, wisely and calmly, what the child has experienced in age-appropriate terms, and help them deal with any fallout. But they shouldn’t, in my opinion, be pressing for ‘clean’ books, ones which fit their narrow world-view, to be written and published. They shouldn’t be pressing for these books to be the only ones available to their children. They shouldn’t be clamouring for ‘unclean’ books to be removed from schools, and/or banned. Or is it just me?

A mother in the US recently took an author to task over a non-fiction book she wrote about Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose death from cancer has changed the world of science and medicine for untold millions of people. The book mentions the word ‘cervix’ and describes how Mrs Lacks discovered the tumour which would eventually kill her; the mother in question decided this was ‘pornographic’, and lobbied against the book. This, to me, is insane.

Women have cervixes. Sometimes, they get tumours. They have bodies which exist, and leak, and wobble, and give birth, and feed children, and which aren’t always perfect vessels. If you feel your child is too delicate – in high school – to understand concepts like this, then there’s a problem, all right. It’s not with the book, or your child. It’s not with biology.

Maybe there is a space for clean reads in the wide world of books. I’m prepared to admit that. But to think of a world where they are the only option? I’d rather not go there, thank you very much. And my choice is surely as valid as anyone’s.

 

Is it Just Me?

Simply because of the sheer ridiculousness of this news story, and how it made me laugh (nervously, while pulling at my hair and growing increasingly wild-eyed), I’m posting this image on my blog today.

Unredacted.

Uncensored.

Boobular.

Don’t you dare cover your eyes.

Pablo Picasso, 'Women of Algiers', 1955. Image sourced: pablopicasso.org

Pablo Picasso, ‘Women of Algiers’, 1955.
Image sourced: pablopicasso.org

The most expensive painting ever sold at auction, as of this week? Amazing. I love Picasso’s work, and if I had one hundred and whatever million dollars to spend on art, I’d probably spend it on something like this too, breasts and all. The very idea that someone would blur out pieces of a masterwork because they’re deemed ‘offensive’ just… offends me. Particularly when they’re representative of parts of a woman’s body, which means they’re close to my own personal heart – in more ways than one.

Unless, of course, the whole thing has been a symphony of genius on the part of Fox News (as unlikely as that sounds), who simply wanted to stir up controversy and keep themselves relevant. Maybe. I think that’s what I’ll hope for, because it’s preferable to thinking that sixty-year-old painted breasts on a Cubist representation of a woman are too offensive to be shown on a TV screen. It’s not just me who thinks this is utterly bonkers, right? I’m not the weird one here?

Actually, you know what – I think I’ll go and set up an island Utopia somewhere. Freedom, tolerance, acceptance, peace, and free cocktails on Fridays. Who’s with me?

J’écris

What happened last week in France was horrifying.

Perhaps it’s because France is part of Europe, the continent I’m proud to live in and be a citizen of, and perhaps it’s because Paris is a city I love, and perhaps it’s because my heart shattered at the thought of innocent civilians going about their daily lives who had their lives brutally ended, and perhaps it’s all of these things, but it hit me hard.

And perhaps it’s because I write, too, and I take it for granted that I can express myself as I see fit, and that if someone doesn’t like what I’ve said that they’re not going to break into my life and destroy me. I know I’m a million miles away, content wise, from Charlie Hebdo, but the principle is the same. I write. They write. I express my thoughts, and so do they. I might agree that their content can be objectionable; I might not even like all of it. But it is their right to print it. You don’t wish to see? Then buy another magazine.

If you don’t like my blog, you don’t have to read it. If you don’t like Charlie Hebdo or what it stands for, there are plenty of peaceful, but effective, ways you can exercise your right not to be confronted with it.

Photo Credit: Nemesi_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nemesi_ via Compfight cc

France has a long history of satirical cartooning, going back to the Revolution and before. It has always been crude, focused on the body, sexualised, and darkly funny. The cartoons which sparked off last week’s dreadful events have to be seen as part of that continuum and that particularly French tradition of speaking an opinion.

Opinions can be drowned out. They can be shouted over. They can be marched against. They can be argued with. They can be denounced. They can be discussed, debated, teased out, their nuances made clear. Perhaps, eventually, understanding and accord can be reached.

If opinions are simply destroyed along with the lives of those who held them (not to mention the lives of those who had nothing to do with them), then all that’s left is sterility and darkness. All that’s left is despair. There can be no learning, no growth, no furthering of human culture, no development of our species, no deepening of compassion.

Nobody has a right to kill another because of an opinion.

Everybody has the right to disagree, and to protest. Everybody has a right to respond, and to clarify, and to engage in debate, and to try to educate.

I am not trying to defend any particular stance, ideology, or opinion, but I strongly believe in the value of satire and of free speech. I also believe that with the right of free speech comes the responsibility of using that right, and I don’t believe in hate speech or publications which call for destruction or genocide or discrimination, but I accept that I live in a world where such things are possible, and I hope there will always be counter-voices to balance things out. I sympathise with those who feel offended because of something another has said or drawn or done, but I do not accept that the logical next step is to bring lives to an end. There is nothing down that road.

I’m trying not to fall into despair at what we all witnessed last week, and I’m really trying to hope that intelligence, courage and humanity will win out over any further impulses to destroy.

J’écris. I write. I will always write. And I will always stand with those who write, bravely and without shame.

And I hope never to live through events like those of last week, ever again.