Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Books Week Day 4: @#$%ing Banned Books

According to ALA, the second most common reason a book is banned, after being “sexually explicit,” is offensive language.

It’s hard to defend cussing and racial slurs.  I’ve heard it said that profanity is used because of a laziness with language, and I agree.  I tend to cuss most when I’m tired, which makes me believe this all the more to be true.  For every time you use a cuss word, there are probably ten better ways to say something, but who has the energy, right?

Don’t take this to mean that I’m a goody-two-shoes about profanity, just that it’s not a terribly savory thing to stand up for.  Racial slurs are certainly even more difficult to defend.

Still, just because I would prefer not to use a word on a day to day basis, doesn’t mean a character in a book wouldn’t.  Profanity happens in YA a lot because Teenagers like to cuss.  What better way to prove you’re an adult (which teens are desperate to do) than to use “adult language”?

In some situations, using profanity is almost a survival technique.  “Why do you talk like that?  You think you’re ****ing better than us?”  Sometimes, its just all about the kind of character you’re reading about.  Sometimes a character just swears like a sailor.

By protecting kids from words, we're not just giving those words power, but we're also depriving them of stories about characters who might just be going through what they're going through. The teen years are hard and books have time and again helped kids see that they're not alone. Just read the #YASaves thread on twitter. Why throw away the story over a few words within it? Why not trust in parenting, schools, and society that they'll eventually learn not to use cuss words at certain times and a book isn't going to change that?

Actually, bans on books with racial slurs are more upsetting.  No one denies the words are hurtful and awful, but is the way to combat racism to ignore that it ever happened?

Banning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for their use of racial slurs is the epitome of “not getting it.”  Mockingbird is one of the most powerful indictments of our culture; and is firmly against racism.  This is not some hidden meaning in the book, anyone who has read it knows it immediately. To call it racist, to ban our children from learning its story, is a far greater crime than its use of the “n-word.”  Are we expecting our children to believe that racists who unfairly lynched a man would not use this word?

Earlier this year, NewSouth Books released a version of Huckleberry Finn that replaced all instances of the “n-word” with “slave.”  This was done with the best of intentions.  The scholar and publisher behind this book wanted more readers to experience the literature of Mark Twain, but its so frequently banned that they hoped this version would make its way into the hands of more children.  But what can be gained, really, by sweeping this part of our history, dark as it is, under the rug?  How can we ever hope to grow past it if our children never see that there was something wrong?

So &^@% it.  Celebrate your @#$%ing right to read and read one of these @#$%ing Banned Books today!


  1. Agreed! I do not read books with a lot of foul language in them... for the most part there is no point, and it is not a preference of mine.

    Occasionally - I will find a book where the word - or words... are somehow appropriate the situation... does that make sense?

    Like you, I can choose not to read something I dont agree with - but it is not my place to tell others they can not read it either.

  2. Thanks for commenting Sheila!
    I wrote a paper Freshman year of college and someone said I was "lazy" with my language. I remember being really angry about it, then going back and reading it and finding they were right. I think its a bit different with characters, author's have to be true to them. If they would swear, then have them swear. Still, it can turn an audience member off to a character in the same way people get turned off by people who swear too much in real life.
    Ultimately, however, free speech covers everything, even, and especially, expletives.

  3. Nicely put... there are movies that turn me off because I swear (no pun intended) that they throw the words in just because they can - they add nothing to the movie... if anything, they take away... yet in some cases, the actor swears - and it right to do so.