One Man’s Porn…
I know, I know. With a title like that, one might wonder what the rest of the post will be about. Could it be that I’m going to launch into a list of favored porn sites? Or perhaps I’m going to announce that I’ll be adding explicit scenes with favorite characters to stories I sell, offering you a chance to purchase XXX-rated versions instead of the simple PG-13 editions I do now. Or maybe I’m going to complain about the sexual content in some book I’m reading, excoriating the author for writing such stuff.
None of the above. I just read a news story about Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State University, who published an article labeling books on a Missouri high school book list as “soft-core porn.” Some of the books were YA—I don’t think Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five fits that label—and all had sexualized content of one sort or another.
The reason for the post’s title being vague is that a lot of pornography, like the title, is open to interpretation. Everyone draws the line somewhere, and a lot of us draw it in different places. I’ve read romance novels and crime story novels where there have been some decidedly explicit sex scenes—real Tab A into Slot B plumbing stuff. It’s the same sort of material one could find in Letters to Penthouse, but because it’s not labeled or sold as sexual, it’s not generally seen as porn. I do recall reading a science fiction novel that had a lot of explicit sex in it, but the author there had committed a mortal sin—he made the sex boring. (I’ve not seen much since from him and it’s been over fifteen years. No great loss.)
I’m sure Scroggins figures he’s saving the world, but I find a vast difference between someone being a Moral Guardian and a Moral Arbiter. An arbiter is someone who goes into your garden and starts pulling weeds—defining weeds as plants he doesn’t like. But, it’s your garden, and maybe you like radishes and wanted them there. He doesn’t, so they were going away. A guardian, on the other hand, would point at your garden and say, “You might want to take a look at those weeds and pull ’em.”
I’ve looked at YA books that have sexual content. I’ve looked at the content in some of my books and have suggested that parents might not want to let a twelve year old read them. The point being that while I might be uncomfortable with content in some books, I can only point at them and suggest that parents take a look and be the arbiters for what their underage children read. That is, after all, their duty and responsibility. Declaring books to be porn, on the other hand, does not encourage parents to make an informed decision and participate in their childrens’ education.
Some folks might point out that a lot of parents don’t have the time or inclination to read such things. They rely on the considered opinions of their community and spiritual leaders to make that sort of judgment for them. My counter would be that by ceding such decisions to others, they’ve abrogated their responsibility to their children. No matter how much they trust and believe in their leaders, I don’t think that’s good parenting. It doesn’t promote communication between child and parent, and that sort of engagement is, in my opinion, the soul of outstanding parenting.
In general I stand against censorship. I am dead set against ignorant censorship. If someone wants to deny their child the right to read a book, or watch a movie, that’s their right and duty. I would hope their decisions are informed decisions, and informed through personal experience, not relying on a surrogate. The more parents are involved in their childrens’ education, the better.
Content in some books may be uncomfortable and disquieting. Discussion of that material between responsible parent and child can provide perspective, and open up whole new worlds of understanding. And that, in part, is one of the best reasons for reading books.