Thursday, September 26, 2013
When Words Are Dangerous
It is banned book week. I'm not sure how widely this is known outside the writing/library circles, but within that community, it is definitely shouted about. Which is why, even as an author, I tend to stay quiet on the issue. It occurs to me that when there is a lot of shouting, there is not a lot of listening.
Lately I've been listening more. And thinking.
This is what I think: we have become a society in which we scream a lot about free-speech and tolerance and acceptance, but in reality, we only want free-speech and tolerance and acceptance for the things for which we agree.
People like to throw the word censorship around because it is a heavily-loaded word. It reeks of Nazi Germany and book burnings and the red-scare McCarthyism that kept so many Americans from speaking what might be controversial. We pride ourselves on freedom; that is what this country was founded on - what our flag stands for - and to say that there is somewhere here a censorship on books seems entirely un-American.
But censorship, really, is just drawing a line in the sand. It is saying there are things that are right - either beneficial or neutral, and things that are detrimental or dangerous. I think nearly everyone draws a line somewhere. The problem is that we don't all draw it in the same place.
The thing is, words are powerful. They can be dangerous. They can offend. They can enlighten. They can rouse a person to do something he never thought of doing before, to say things they might not otherwise have said. People don't like to admit this, but it's true. The power of words is both good and bad. Let's be mature enough to at least admit this. This is why books and authors and poets are banned in other countries - because their words are powerful enough to cause others to rise up against the government, against the status-quo. This is why teens are committing suicide after posts on social media become reality in their heads.
Words matter, and no one should know this more than writers.
I've read two article this week that have been banging around in my head. The first was this one about an author whose YA book Eleanor & Park has received some pushback by parents over the language and content that they called "pornographic" and "sexually explicit." I haven't read the book, so all I know is what the article said.The author of the article says that the real profanity in the book is the B-word and P-word: Bullies and Poverty, that we need to read these themes, even if they are ugly, because they are real.
The other article is this one, written by the author of the American Girl of the Year books in 2005. He wrote, without the language and the "sexually explicit" content, about a family living in what is a well-known, dangerous neighborhood that wants to move to give their daughter a better place to grow up. This author was hounded by journalists and politicians because he shed a light on the more unsavory side of Chicago inner-city.
Both of these articles are well worth reading. And thinking about. And comparing.
In the meantime, I think it's also good advice to stop the screaming just a minute and listen to someone else. Really listen. And think about where they've drawn their line, and why. And maybe, just maybe, if you listen to them, they'll listen to you. And then there might actually be a conversation.