Censorship revisited via the DNF
In 1497, Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola inspired the populace of Florence, Italy to burn their vanities. He was not the first to attempt to impose his ideas of what was right and good upon the people. Since history began, regimes and religions have sought to direct and restrain ideas and thinking by controlling what people read and see. Many classic books schools now often require students to read include formerly banned books.
Digging a little more deeply into Monday's LinkedIn post on this subject, I repeat the opinion that censorship is alive and well, even in the USA today. The general concept of censorship hinges upon the idea of access to words and ideas being restricted by an outside authority or force. With the capabilities afforded by social media, people today exercise even more thorough censorship upon themselves.
We use social media to filter the news we receive so that contradictory ideas and controversial concepts might disturb us. We're happy in our little ruts of thought; change and expansion hurt. Echoes of our own opinions and convictions validate them and comfort us. I'm guilty of that and so are you.
One easy and frequent method by which we exercise self-censorship is through the DNF ("did not finish") of the books downloaded to our e-readers. We justify deleting unfinished books from our e-readers because of poor writing, poor storytelling, disjointed or nonsensical plots, factual errors, displeasing protagonists, or abhorrent themes. Some readers cannot and do not tolerate explicitly sexual material. Others clutch their pearls when faced with profanity. Disappointed or appalled readers self-censor their reading by removing offending material from their e-readers and then attempt to dissuade others from those same books by leaving reviews warning potential readers of the objectionable or lackluster material. I'm guilty of that and so are you.
In short, we hope to influence others to our ways of thinking even as we protect our own fragile minds from the material that disturbs, disgusts, or offends us.
That said, I do not consider every book I download and open to be worth my time. My time is valuable and my limited leisure time even more so. It's mine to do with as I wish, just as yours is. We exercise choice which lends itself to self-censorship.
To make self-censorship palatable and at least rational, one must engage in critical thinking to evaluate the verbiage dumped into our minds. A former coworker once accused me of being close-minded. An open mind is like a ditch, it accepts everything that falls into it, I rebutted. I have filters. I judge the ideas and words flung at me and then decide whether they're worth keeping. Not ever idea has worth. Not every concept withstands critical evaluation. Some we accept anyway, because they entertain us or make us feel good or for whatever other reason. As long as we know why we accept such things, we understand the influence they may (or may not) have upon our thoughts and actions. Those we determine as unworthy and unacceptable, we toss, but it's important that we know why we discard them.
Humans mostly make decisions with their emotions or gut feelings. We are not always, mostly, or even necessarily rational creatures. Like our pets, we prefer comfort and toss into the bonfires of our vanities that which discomforts us.
What are we discarding that, perhaps, we ought to reconsider keeping?
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As stated in previous blog posts, I don't make New Year's resolutions. There's something inherently wrong about revolving to do something in the dead of winter when all I want to do is hibernate. I'm certainly not in any mood to promise to do something (or not do something).
For those who don't know, January is derived from Janus, the Roman god of entrances and exits. He's considered a two-faced god. In fact, it was Julius Caesar--yes, that Roman emperor--who decreed January 1 as the start of the new calendar year. Of course, January 1 in central and southern Italy isn't quite as dismal as it is in snow country. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day combine to bid goodbye to (exit) the old year and welcome (enter) the new one. We look both forward and backward, toward future and past, in our own version of being two-faced.
Perhaps the two-faced nature of making New Year's resolutions translates into promising oneself to do (or not do) something and then breaking those promises. New Year's resolutions highlight one of the more common and less attractive aspects of humanity.
I don't make New Year's resolutions. Some years I make "spring resolutions." Spring makes more sense to me, because lengthening days and warming weather transform a dismal, brown and gray landscape into one growing green with life and promise.
Happy New Year!
What's up with children's literature?
I've not felt particularly festive this holiday season, but with time growing short, I finally went Christmas shopping for a nephew Dominick and a grand niece Talia. Because I'm Auntie Karen who always gives the worst gifts, I bought books. (Yeah, I do take pride in that.)
I make the effort to find books that will appeal to the recipients. However, today's blog isn't about the importance of teaching children to read or even to enjoy reading. It's about the type of literature commonly available.
Dominick is around 12 and Talia turns three years old. I discussed with my brother (Dominick's father) as to what he enjoyed reading and learned that Dominick reads at a high level, but doesn't necessarily comprehend what what he just read. He reads the words, but doesn't understand what they mean. "How about a graphic novel?" I asked, thinking of Archie and the Gang comics or the old-fashioned superhero comics. I thought maybe words accompanied by dramatic pictures would help him learn to enjoy reading with the pictures helping him to understand what he read. My brother allowed that a graphic novel might interest his son.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, let's try.
I headed to Dark Star Bookstore in Yellow Springs, OH. (I love shopping in Yellow Springs.) The bookshelves stocked with graphic novels revealed an interesting array of work, much of which I consider unsuitable for children. Several done in the Japanese manga style read right to left and began at what we in the Western World would consider the back of the book. Some of those looked suitable, but featured female heroines--Ruby ("RWBY") and Zelda--which I wasn't sure would appeal to Dominick. Boys tend to prefer male protagonists in their literary adventures. (I know, because I raised boys.) However, I found another that offered a collection of stories in graphic novel style. It looked along the lines of R. L. Stein's Goosebumps tales.
One present down. One more to go.
I figured Talia would be easier to buy for. Not necessarily ... and here's where the rant begins. With very few exceptions, the literature I found for young children focused on morality tales. Every story beat the child (and the adult reading it) about the head and shoulders with lessons in morality and tolerance.
Don't talk to strangers. Don't judge those who are different. Be kind to others. Share your most prized possessions. Those aren't bad messages, but not everything children read (or is read to them) needs to thump them over the head with public service announcements.
Does no one writing children's literature write just to entertain them? Is engaging a child's imagination and delighting him or her with sing-sing rhythm and delightful absurdity anathema?
What did I find that existed merely for the enjoyment of children? Nursery rhymes and fairy tales. You know, literature from centuries ago.
Talia's only three, so she should like the sing-song rhyming schemes of Mother Goose: "Sing a song of six-pence, pocket full of rye ..." Also being only three--and a girl--I thought that the more simply told fairy tales would appeal to her: The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Puss in Boots. There's no flogging with lessons on morality, just good stories that have entertained people for uncounted generations.
Have we lost sight of the need for just good stories?