More Profanity Please – Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children?

I was eleven when I read my first adult scene. And the only reason I was reading it was because I wasn’t meant to.

Judy Blume’s Forever is a story about negotiating family stress and pressures, what happens when your parents divorce,  bereavement and teenage relationships and contains a scene with – in the words of our teacher – “young people being bold”. Despite that scene, it’s not really what you could call pornographic. It’s a touching story, written for younger readers, about negotiating the hormonal and emotional teenage rollercoaster with some maturity and forethought. So, thinking carefully of our welfare, they banned it.

And now we were all trying to read it, passing one dog-eared copy around the class. Now, lets be clear here; we weren’t sure what the book was about. We didn’t know if it was any good. All we knew was it had been banned and that meant that we absolutely had to read it.

For much the same reason we ended up sneaking around Flowers in The Attic a year later, not for the story or prose, but for the incest scene that scandalised our parents and teachers. Thanks to someone deciding not only should their child not read it, but an entire task force of teachers needed to be mobilised to combat the threat of us reading it, they succeeded in running a publicity campaign that turned a mediocre horror tale into that year’s in-school must-read. Same with the horror that was the Sweet Valley High books.

I may never forgive them. If you’ve been forced to sit through any of the Sweet Valley High books, I’m sure you’ll understand. But they were banned, and so I had to read them.

Which pretty much suggests that the ideal way to get kids to read the classics may not be to extol their virtues but to shove in a few swearwords and stick “Adult Themes” on the front. That big red “Over 18‘s” label might as just read “PICK ME”.

Music, of course, realised this years ago. Many rock and pop musicians in the nineties found that if you hadn’t some swearing in your album, and this earned the “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics” sticker on the cover, your record label would ask you to put in a few choice words.  Nothing sells to kids and teenagers like being told they shouldn’t buy.

Literature in Australia does have a classification system but books are rarely labelled. Books only have to display it if they are classified Category 1 or higher – basically for pornographic work with no literary merit (hallo again, Ms Andrews). Books that exceed the censor’s limit (racist and terrorist propaganda, for example) are not banned, but refused classification. Which is pretty much the same thing only a nicer way of saying the same thing – think retrenched rather than fired.

But maybe we need to get banning and labelling. Without those huge red labels, teens are missing out on the huge amount of controversy and smut that a classical education in literature can give you. Think of Othello, with murder and madness and racism and sex. Think of Wuthering Heights; physical and psychological torture that shocked readers when it was released, as well as a hint of possible incest.  Treasure Island, with the pirates being old school as opposed to Captain Jack- less swashbuckling, more murder, blasphemy and betrayal.

Perhaps it’s time to rude up the reputation of our classics. Update the rude words in Shakespeare so they resemble their contemporary counterparts. Highlight the fact that novels such as Lord of the Flies and On The Road, with their themes of war, torture, sex and drugs, are completely unsuited to younger readers. Cover the books in stickers labelling them immoral, profane and for adults only, thus making them irresistible to anyone under the age of 15.

After all, won’t someone please think of the children?

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

5 thoughts on “More Profanity Please – Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children?”

  1. Hee! I had almost the exact same experience of reading Forever! In fact, pretty sure it was my mum who set the ball rolling on the banning (she confiscated my copy – still managed to read it at least three times that year).

    I’m a secondary school TL, and I made the decision last year to get rid of the “Senior Fiction” category of the collection, as they are, as you say, just a red flag to a bull – kids will deliberately seek those books out, thinking there must be something smutty in them! I’ve come back after three terms off on maternity leave to find the category sneaking back onto the shelves, so am slowly undermining the system again 🙂

  2. “pornographic work with no literary merit” – I’m surprised that half the Anita Blake series don’t fall into that category.

  3. Tehani, I remember looking up sex in the dictionary repeatedly. Teens can find smut anywhere, I suspect. A Senior Fiction area would have totally got my attention to, I admit.

    …and I had originally typed Anita Blake there, but decided to swap with a book I had already mentioned in the piece. 😀

  4. Oblivious to the virtues of girls as I was as a young man and confused by their wily ways (I’ve made up for time on the oblivion but still just as confused). I didn’t know that Sweet Valley High were banned. The hilarious thing is that in 6th class (last class of primary school) all of the girls had these books. My resounding memory is of my teacher. Mr Geraty was an overall lovely man that enjoyed playing Frisbee with my exercise books due to the sloppiness of my handwriting. Many times I watched it sail across the room as he roared at me and called me all sorts of things all while his face went all sorts of fabulous colours.

    None of those colours match, however, the hue he went as he read a passage out to the class from a Sweet Valley High book. The young lady heroine was enjoying her first bout of teenage sexual fumbling and recalling that she needed to alter the angle of her hips. He kept reading it out going all sorts of red! Yet still he read. I believe there may have been a car crash mentality going on in that he couldn’t stop himself from the horror that was 30 twelve year olds looking at him. The boys looking at the girls in a whole different way and thinking they need to read these books, but only the good bits!

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