Since we cannot ban books, should they come with warning labels?

I have heard politicians talk about how books should have ratings like movies to warn parents about inappropriate content. Not an outright ban because that is not legal or moral or even Constritutional, but warnings. Should we allow or encourage this?  Hmm, lessee. This is a tough call.

No it’s not: the answer is a resounding NO. Any kid these days with his/her nose in a book is a good thing, regardless of the book.

But what is intended by this questions is to protect little Jenny and Johnny from what is perceived as “Inappropriate” while at the same time, getting them to read.

The problem deals with what constitutes “inappropriate content” and nevermind the old canard “I’ll know it when I see it”.

I personally love the legal definition for obscenity, the so-called Miller Test: Miller v California sets out the “modern” test for obscenity.  After years in which no Supreme Court opinion could command majority support, five members of the Court in Miller set out a several-part test for judging obscenity statutes: (1) the proscribed material must depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, (2) the conduct must be specifically described in the law, and (3) the work must, taken as a whole, lack serious value and must appeal to a prurient interest in sex.  What is patently offensive is to be determined by applying community values, but any jury decision in these cases is subject to independent constitutional review, as the Court’s decision in Jenkins v Georgia makes clear. See this webpage for more information.

So, by local decision, Penthouse Magazine is obscene and illegal to sell in the state of Oklahoma, while it can be found most anywhere else.

Yeah, yeah, we do not want the kiddos reading about Lady Chatterley or Fanny Hill or learning just exactly why Ulysses was banned in the United States in1921 only to be published in the 1930’s after the determination it was pornographic was overturned. The Lady was never really banned in the U.S., but Fanny Hill holds the record as the longest banned book in history: from 1821, to 1966.

My personal favorites as a kid were “Red Sky at Morning” by Richard Bradford and Herman Raucher’s “Summer of ‘42”, especially the copies in the school library with all the good parts dog-eared and underlined. What about (Gasp!) Dr Zhivago? Anna Karenina?

But wait, those inappropriate books deal only with sex.  What about racism? Dang, there goes Huck Finn, who was not really a racist in the purest sense, but did use racist language. The Diary of Anne Frank? Ah but, those just reflected society the way it was, right and is not/was not patently inappropriate, right?

What about the Exorcist?  The dang thing just permeates with a feeling of evil never vanquished. Surely this should be labeled also?

What about the Necronomicon? You know, the fictional book cited by H. P Lovecraft, the fictional book I was told in church the simple possession of which, could prevent the blessings of God Himself from being able to act in the house, a book so evil in character as to have no redeeming characteristics ( I Suppose if it were to be burned, the incense it gives off would somehow summon one or another demons), a book so vilified, I Searched and searched until I found a paperback with the title and a pentagram on the cover. I hid it for years, afraid to read it. Literary devise indeed.

What about murder mysteries? What about Crime and Punishment? While an undisputed classic, do you really want your kid reading this?

Now for more obtuse things.  I have friends who believe Mickey Mouse is somehow evil and anti-Christian and would not permit her kids to watch the Mouse on TV, in the movies or visit him at Mouseland. No, I am not making this up.

J.K. Rowling was criticized because of the sorcery in her books. And it is hard for me to understand how Stephanie Meyer has traversed the oft-byzantine disciple of the LDS church with her series of (almost) chaste vampire stories.

I hope by now my point of the absolute lunacy of determining what is appropriate has been made.

Should these, any of these books have parental warnings on them? No. No. No.

Should parents know what the kiddo’s are reading? Yes, yes, and yes.

Here’s the thing: anything, any writing which can get a kid to read is, in my opinion, a good thing. No kid is going to start reading about the perversity of main character in “The Catcher in the Rye” until they have mastered a few Cat in the Hats and maybe a Sherlock Holmes or two, right? Do you remember that the leading private investigator of all time was an opium or morphine or cocaine user? And while not illegal then, perhaps we had better make sure little Johnny doesn’t read this just yet?

If you are able to instill in kids the love of reading, the undeniable pleasure to be had from opening a book and disappearing into a fictional world, then you will not be able to stop the kids from reading anything their little heart’s desire. Nor should you even try.  Try to scare me off the Necrornomicon and it became an obsession. Little Jennie will read her copy of “Good Girls Do” if she wants to, regardless of how it is labeled and completely out of your sight anyway. Little Johnny’s Vampira books will be well hidden also.

A kid seeking a way to read Stephen King or Mary Shelly or James Joyce will find the book somewhere and read it without caring what label of appropriateness is on it.  And by not so labeling books, we can keep those who want to bowlderisze the Bible and other books out of the mainstream.

It’s a slippery slope really, this determination of appropriateness, not the least problem of which is who decides? Those offended or those not offended? Another tangent for another time.

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