Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sex, Drugs and Teen Literature

What do these three things have in common? They are all things that a parent fears their teenager is going to be exposed to. Teen literature has supplanted rock-in-roll and this is understandable, as Lady Ga Ga does not have the same sinister menace as did Black Sabbath or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In the June 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mega Gurdon reports in the article “Darkness Too Visible” on a Mother who was searching for a book at her local Barnes and Noble for her 13 year old. She describes the lurid and dramatic covers covering topics such as vampires, suicide and self-mutilation. Unable to find a suitable book, she leaves the store empty handed and questions the state of teen fiction. The author then asks the question “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens?” In a flash of journalist brilliance she answers her own question by stating “Darker than when you were a child, my dear”. Why ask questions when you already have the answers and why investigate when you can entertain with witty prose.

A quick look at the Barnes and Noble teen webpage shows “What happened to Goodbye” as story about a teen girl experiencing her parents bitter divorce and traveling with her dad as they leave their past behind and discover their new life. Clearly a story of such depravity could not possibly have any place on a bookshelf, and how could a teen possibly relate? “The Warlock” the fifth installment of the Nicholas Flamel series is also shown on the homepage. This is a fantasy story about how Nicholas Flamel has discovered the elixir of eternal life and has had it stolen by the evil Dr. John Dee. Yes, there is “Everlasting”, a clone of the Twilight series and maybe I am missing something but this hardly falls in the category of Ozzie Osborne biting the head off a dove.

Gurdon does state that there are many good teen books available, but doesn’t make any comment about the Mom who is unwilling to ask for help in finding her teen a book, neither does she make any comment about how ignorant the parent is on the topic of teen literature. The Mom appears to be quite content to judge a book by its cover and to leave the store with moral outrage, but without a book.

The author states “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” I agree with this statement but from another viewpoint, that this is not bad. Dark is just dark and doesn’t mean that it will cause harm. I would argue that teens and adults like to be scared. It’s the reason we have roller coasters, scary movies and why a monster lives under your bed. If we continue to try and wrap our children in a protective minivan cocoon they will still crave excitement and adventure and it is not a shocking to hear adults protest. Just think of the downward spiral this country has been on since we watched Elvis wiggle his hips.

Yes the language in many teen books is profane, but have you listened to the average teen or American idol judge? This is the language of today’s culture and bringing out the censor’s whip or attempting to return us to the good old days is impossible. What good old days are these exactly? The good old days when women didn’t have the vote, when there was segregation or the McCarthy/Hoover years? Or should we dial the clock back to idealized and formulaic Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I feel that publishers should have the freedom in an open society to publish whatever they choose. The parenting role remains unchanged and limited in its scope in the sense that you only get to parent your own child and not society.

Works

GURDON, MEGHAN COX. “Book Review: Young Adult Fiction – WSJ.com.” Business News & Financial News – The Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 June 2011. .

The Two Faces of Facebook and Friends

You would think that the Internet and Intellectual Freedom would go together like peanut butter and jelly and you would be both right and wrong. The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was formed to protect and advance the freedom of expression but only three of major Internet players have signed up (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft). Those standing in the wings are Facebook, Twitter and pretty much every other Internet social media start up. The GNI was started in 2008 after a human rights organization brought attention to some of the practices of these companies. Yahoo in the past has released information to the Chinese government that resulted in the imprisonment of dissidents. Google and Microsoft have both limited search results to meet China censoring laws although Google has since changed this practice. Facebook exercised its censorship muscles by removing pages and content that it thought was inappropriate. Facebook removed a picture of two men kissing.

The follow letter was sent.

“Hello, Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook. This message serves as a warning. Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation. The Facebook Team”

 

The photo was of two fully clothed men kissing is a public setting. It is interesting to note that the photo does not violate their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” or their “Community Standards” policy yet it was still censored. As a counterpoint, Facebook has been used by groups to organize protests against the Farc in Colombia and Facebook did help President Obama in his political campaign of 2008. So the answer seems to be, if it is in the interest of Facebook it stays and if it is not, it goes. So, is free speech protected on the Internet? In a recent case, the National Labor Relations Board has stated that an employee is legally protected under the first amendment to post negative comments on Facebook about their employer and that employees have the right to talk about wages and working conditions. They went on to say that not all speech is protected but this finding does show that even though a company has a social media policy that prohibits negative comments, it is not necessary legal to terminate an employee because of those comments. The social software side of the Internet still seems very much like the wild west with companies like Facebook making up the censorship rules as they go along with little real regard to the First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom. As this technology matures it will be interesting to watch how we as a global society deal with these issues.

 

Cited Works:

” Facebook Criticized For Censorship.” All Facebook – The Unofficial Facebook Blog – Facebook News, Facebook Marketing, Facebook Business, and More!. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

“For Employees, Facebook Counts as Free Speech.” Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

“Global Network Initiative.” Global Network Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. . HELFT, MIGUEL. “Facebook Wrestles With Free Speech and Civility – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

Inappropriate Musings

Crisis, real or imaginary, allows for rapid and sometimes drastic changes. Governor Daniels signed an order on his first day on the job that ended collective bargaining with public employee unions and later, Governor Walker of Wisconsin launched his own version of public union-busting. These changes were all possible because of the need to balance state budgets and the economic downturn meant cuts needed to be made. While eating your young and your seed corn to fight off immediate starvation, there are long term effects.

Chelton looks at these changes and wonders of the effects it will have on school librarians. If you feel your job is under threat from both the state house and your local school district, how willing would you be to buy material that is controversial? Might you just duck and cover and wait for the economic storm to pass? Chelton feels that courage is needed and if the librarian is not going to champion intellectual freedom, then who is? While I agree with this idea, I don’t think in a tolerate society we should expect our librarian to gird their loins to do their job. When a librarian is asking the “Should I get this book?” and the motivation is that they want to keep their job then I think we about to take a strange journey down mediocre lane.

We are duplicitous in our desires. We want to have students that are innovative, creative and can think critically and solve big problems but we want them to do this in a prescribed manner. So we come up with code words like “appropriate” for material that is ok and “inappropriate” for work that might get us fired. Why not follow the lead of the Chinese and produce one little red book and have done with it. Economically is seems to be working wonderfully for them and since fiscal responsibility (another code word for I only spend money on things that will get me re-elected”) this is the only thing Governor Daniels and Walker appear to interest in I see this as a workable solution. After all one billion Chinese cannot be wrong.

As a result of this new environment school libraries are becoming more dependent on public libraries to provide a wide range of ideas and thoughts and to be the place where children and young adults can explore and discover. Chelton points out a couple of problems. The first is access. Not all children are able to get to their local library. The second is that many rural communities don’t have a public library. The third issue that Chelton doesn’t state but is the thousand pound gorilla in the room, is that if your kids have to go to a public library to get an education then you have a problem.

On the upside, every day I see the library profession fight against a very vocal minority and win. I see librarians respect the viewpoints of others and listen to their concerns but not waver from providing material that will meet every person in the community’s needs, whether that community is a school system, city or county.

 

Every move you make, every breath you take, I’ll be watching you.

It’s a great lyric from “The Police” and I could image it coming from some creepy villain in a movie as he whispers it over the phone to his next young teenage victim. It’s a little hard to hear from your government.

The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration, the same friendly looking guy who wanted to “Keep hope alive” is looking to make it easier for the FBI to force companies to turn over the Internet activities of individuals. There are a couple of tried and true lines of reasoning the FBI and other law enforcement agencies like to use. The first is “If you are doing nothing wrong then why would you have a problem with us watching over your shoulder as you search the Internet.” The other is that “We need every tool available to search, find and destroy terrorism”. You can go back to the 1960’s and replace terrorism with “communism” or go back to the declaration of independence and replace it with “the rebels”. Panicking a population in order to force a piece of legislation should always set off alarm bells. Think back to the bank bailout and post 9/11.

The FBI would like to be able to demand this information carte blanche by adding the words “electronic communication transactional records” to be included in the type of information they can demand without seeking a judge’s approval. This, of course, circumvents due process and many Internet Service Providers have fought these demands. The FBI has also included the provision that the Information Service Providers keep these requests secret, of course for national security reasons, but this stops any type of oversight or accountability.

On September 20th the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department says that FBI probes have been improper. The FBI had targeted left-leaning groups that were planning on protesting the Iraq war and placed them on terrorist watch lists. This meant that if you now practiced your first amendment rights in a way that the government found suspicious, you could be labeled a terrorist and placed on an FBI watch list. The practice of activism should not, in my opinion, be enough to warrant investigation or the assumption of guilt.

Intellectual Freedom doesn’t feel quite as free when you can be labeled a terrorist because of what you read and write. The Orwellian shadow of a watchful government has a chilling effect on the curious mind. Most of us understand that it is inappropriate to peer through our neighbor’s windows, is it too much to ask that our government do the same?

 

Works Cited:

Markon, Jerry. “FBI probes were improper, Justice says.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 June 2011. .

 

Nakashima, Ellen. “White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 June 2011. .

“Huckleberry Finn” or “Huckleberry dorsal appendage that is found on non fish like creature (Finn).”

This year, Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben partnered with publisher New South books to release a new, sanitized version of Huckleberry Finn. In this whitewashed version he has remove the N-word and Injun. His rational is that the work becomes eminently more teachable and that these words are negatively charged.

Alan Gribben, in my opinion, has performed a form of literary vandalism. He is not alone: the article, “A “sanitized” Huck Finn” in the March 2011 issue of the Newsletter of Intellectual Freedom points out that Thomas Bowdler cleansed Shakespeare to create a family-friendly version. These types of alteration are tantamount to me standing before Michelangelo’s David with the chisel thinking, “You know, I think I can make this better”. The artist has the right to have their work left unaltered. Twain picked these words, and by this I mean each and every word, thoughtfully and carefully. As Twain states in the explanatory notes, Huck’s speech is modeled after the Missouri rural dialect of the time. Vulgar and distasteful words and thoughts are part of our vernacular; can you imagine a language where these have been expunged?

Does Alan Gribben and others like him have so little respect for his fellow Americans that he believes we cannot tolerate our past and acknowledge the fact that we were a country that thought nothing of using derogatory slang? This type of censorship attempts to diminish the past and in doing so I feel is diminishes us. Intellectual Freedom holds the belief that we do not need to be protected by others from thoughts and ideas. That political correctness in literature is a form of social conformity that has the effect of limiting expression and creativity. Freedom is dangerous, but the alternate is to imprison yourself in a cage where you are spoon fed the thoughts of others.

 

Cited Works

” PostPartisan – ‘Huck Finn’ sanitized for your protection .” Blogs & Columns, Blog Directory – The Washington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2011

“A “sanitized” Huck Finn.” Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 1 Mar. 2011: 45-46. Print.