There is a sign on a shelf of my living room library bluntly stating that “Censorship is Obscene”. I’m guessing this may require a bit of explanation.
My mother, a pioneer in developing and implementing remedial reading programs, took every book-banning PTA or edict-issuing school board as a personal challenge. I have since learned that this societal struggle is never-ending, but it seemed to be particularly active in the Midwest, when I was in grade school and junior high (we won’t go into specific dates here).
At that time in post-war America there was a great flowering of literature (and the arts in general) which challenged previous norms and resulted in social upheavals on many levels.
Ground-breaking literary statements by talented writers produced works such as Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Franny & Zooey, Sometimes a Great Notion, Tropic of Cancer, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies – to name just a few. While authors pushed the envelope, there was an equal and opposite push-back by others who resisted change. As if that wasn’t enough, it was also a time when wholesome, all-American classics such as Huckleberry Finn and Alice in Wonderland were re-evaluated and deemed to represent heretofore unrecognized dangers to impressionable minds.
So I was a personal witness to the age-old struggle between moral demagogues on one side and their equally stubborn opponents to any and all restrictions on reading materials. And Mother was right in the thick of it. If it was banned, Mother read it – and made sure that I did too! If it was merely controversial, we read that too! We discovered the best banned books of the twentieth century together!
In retrospect, this was one of the rare subjects in my childhood years on which we agreed. My mother and I had our differences. But she left me a priceless legacy that I wholly embraced, and have passed on to my children, and grandchildren. As a parent myself, the emphasis was more on performance arts, but the concept is the same.
A little background here. All of our children appeared on stage for the first time at the age of three months (as did their father and uncle). They spent summers doing summer stock, along with their parents, and during the school year we dragged them to every movie and stage presentation within a fifty mile radius. But it didn’t end there. After each show we thoroughly discussed the film or play. What did they like best? Why? What was the playwright’s intent? Did it succeed? We made them sit through every single credit of every single movie to give them an appreciation of just how many people it took to create a theatrical film or documentary. They became very sophisticated critics.
The goal of course, was to expose them to enough movies and plays to recognize the difference between good and bad – and know the reason why. I’m proud to say that this philosophy has survived into the next generation.
And all this nurturing produced one of my proudest moments as a parent. We usually sat through the entirety of even the most egregiously horrible productions – just on principle. But there was one play that was so badly directed and acted that we took the unusual step of exiting during the intermission. We didn’t make a big deal of it (but we did learn later that our departure was noticed). And on the way home our middle son, who was about three or four at the time, summed up the evening (and validated my entire philosophy of child-rearing) when he asked us, “why were the actors making fun of the lines?”
Respect comes in many different forms, and this pre-schooler saw right through the actors’ disdain for the material, and conceit that they didn’t owe their audience the simple courtesy of making an effort.
Out of the mouths of babes…..