FlaglerLive editor Pierre Tristam and I are, in many ways, soul mates: we share a love for books and ideas. I think he would join me in saying that if I could, I would like to leave the company and become a full time reading hermit. Unfortunately, no one hires full-time hermit readers.
Pierre and I differ on at least one important point, however: while he developed acrobatic agility with the F word, as he demonstrated in his recent column about my opinions on “not all boys are blue” i avoid profanity whenever possible. Some might call me a Puritan, but I have company:
The Associated Press standard is to avoid profanity; when it seems necessary in a quote, use hyphens, like this: f – – -. Professional basketball players know that if they say the F word to a referee, they may be committing a technical foul. The “Saturday Night Live” singers censor the F word in their own songs. Radio stations do not broadcast the F word; they can be fined if they do. If a respectable adult accidentally lets an F word slip in front of a child at a social gathering, that adult will often apologize to the child’s parents. If a Hollywood movie contains more than one F word, it is rated R and therefore anyone under the age of 17 cannot purchase a ticket without a parent.
Pierre points out that teens hear the F word in school from their peers all the time anyway. Yes I know. It was like that in my high school too, and, as my teenage sons remind me, it was in the 1900s.
The fact that teens are surrounded by profanity, however, is a bad argument for providing even more. And just because “Not All Boys Are Blue” by George M. Johnson, which “contains only” five F words, contains visionary ideas, it doesn’t have to be blindly added to a high school shelf. .
A high school library should be a refuge. Teens need to be sure that the books in front of them have been carefully selected so that they are not full of F words and graphic sexual material. If that means some other great literary works are being suppressed or placed on a tight shelf, so be it.
Compared to Hollywood or “Saturday Night Live,” the high school library’s standards should be higher, not lower.
Aside from the F word, the sexual graphic material of “Not All Boys Are Blue” should also disqualify it from high school libraries.
We don’t have a rating system for books like we do for movies, but if we did, Johnson’s sexual descriptions would definitely make “Not All Boys Are Blue” Rated-R. Pierre says that my comparison of books with R-rated films makes “sloppy” logic because a film is the director’s vision, independent of that of the author of the book. But if a page is devoted to the detailed description of a sex scene, the author certainly intends the reader to visualize it, to experience it. Pierre would agree with me that reading is often a more deeply personal experience than watching, which means books have to be scrutinized even more than movies.
The only way Gabrielle Union could make a TV-14 version of Johnson’s book is to skip the graphic descriptions. This is what we must also expect from the library.
I won’t cry if fewer F words and graphic sex material are available on the high school book shelves. I will cry, however, for those students who just can’t talk to their parents about sex and might think their only solace is in books like “Not All Boys Are Blue.” These students need more love, more support, more understanding. How will they get it?
Books are a good place to start. But who are the writers of tomorrow? Will they be likely to write important books that are suitable for high school students? Not if adults are constantly telling them now that F words and graphic sex material are perfectly fine, even in a high school library.
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