Librarians Defend Teen Gore

June 7th, 2011 at 8:58 pm | 75 Comments |

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An enormous Twitterstorm has arisen over a Wall Street Journal reviewer’s expose of the increasingly gruesome and sensationalistic books being targeted at teenagers–and their ready availability in school libraries.

On June 4, the WSJ’s children’s book reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, published an article in the Journal, noting the shift in teen fiction over the past few decades–a shift that she described as “so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.”

“Why is this considered a good idea?” she wondered, before detailing many of the current novels’ obsessions with rape, self-mutilation, meth addictions and murder:

Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail. Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it. If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.

As soon as the article was published, librarians and teen fiction people immediately cried ‘censorship’, and the debate over the material in Gurdon’s article rocketed to the number 2 topic on Twitter.  FrumForum talked to Gurdon about her article and the ensuing pandemonium.

“I did not expect this degree of hysteria,” Gurdon said. “And I really, really did not expect that people who work in the book industry would be so seemingly incapable of understanding a simple argument. As a critic, I am describing what is in the literature, and the fact that it is different now than it was, say, 30 years ago.  These are cultural developments that are worth acknowledging and worth noticing.”

The most critical review so far appeared in the School Library Journal, in which critics went so far as to slam Gurdon for being “against the very act of reading itself,” and “sensationalistic.”  Even the dame of edgy adolescent books–Judy Blume–took umbrage with Gurdon:

Judy Blume, one of the most banned children’s authors in the United States, says we all need to remember that reading is a good thing and that kids read what interests them. ‘If it makes them uncomfortable, if they’re not ready for it, they’ll put it down.’

But, Blume cautions, there is a danger in Gurdon’s article. ‘It will fuel the fire, encouraging even more adults to challenge books kids want to read,’ she adds. ‘They will wave it around claiming she knows what she’s talking about because she’s a professional book reviewer.’

“I come out ‘anti-reading’ because I have the temerity to criticize what is in some of the books that are being sold to teenagers,” Gurdon retorted. Indeed she believes that one of the roots of the problem in the book industry lies in incomplete and uninformative reviews: “One of the things that I think is missing from a lot of these reviews is that they very, very seldom address some of the more disturbing content that is in books.”

So this begs the question, if one of the fundamental problems is a lack of revealing information about teen novels, why not institute a rating system for books similar to the ones used by other forms of entertainment?

Jewell Stoddard, who works at Politics & Prose, a popular independent Washington, D.C. bookstore, established her own rating system when she created a PG-15 section of the store for those novels that might be too shocking for younger readers.

Movies have been rated since 1966, albums since 1985 and video games since 1994.  It seems only natural that with increasingly graphic novels being marketed to teenagers that a book rating system should be established as well.

Recent Posts by Tessa Berenson

75 Comments so far ↓

  • Houndentenor

    Would the author like to discuss specific authors and titles or are we supposed to discuss this topic only from broad generalizations?

    I’ll admit my ignorance on this topic. I have friends who have read the Twilight books but they didn’t sound like anything that would interest me. (I also haven’t seen the movies and don’t plan to.) Is there something in any of this more shocking than what teens are currently watching on television?

    • arvan

      The WSJ article linked (click on the word “noted”) gives some examples.

      Personally, I think it’s down to whether the violence and gore is tastefully handled. For example, the rape scene in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is tasteful, and important to the plot. The rape scenes in “American Psycho” are just torture porn.

  • COProgressive

    [i]“so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.”

    “Why is this considered a good idea?” she wondered,”[/i]

    It helps numb the mind of the human suffering in the real world. It helps those teenagers that enjoy this to become young conservative Republicans.

    “A compassionate conservative is someone who electrocutes juveniles but lets them have a last ‘make a wish’” – Garrison Keillor

  • rubbernecker

    I read the first Twilight book. It was both a page-turner and the worst piece of shit I’ve ever read.

  • anniemargret

    What about TV and Hollywood? The movies are awful…full of violence (almost always against women), and very few people are out marching against them. Our entire society is filled with gore, bloodshed and obscenities. We have moronic and puerile grown men doing distasteful and disgusting things while in positions of power and authority, and the kids are watching.

    We’ve got parents working two jobs to try to make ends meet, who barely have enough time to spend with their kids. Kids, especially teenagers, need supervision and guidance. Some adults are too busy to pay attention to their kids…the single greatest ‘job’ in the world.

    Libraries – the last bastion of freedom – cannot censure. No one forces anyone to read a book, or not read a book. There are many, many excellent books written for teens, and it is the wise parent who helps their child choose. That goes for the parent who watches what the child does in front of the TV, on the Internet, or cell phone, or Facebook or other social media sites, or what they go to see at the movies.

    • arvan

      TV, movies, and video games have ratings. Even music has parental advisories. Books do not, at least not that I’ve ever seen. And, indeed, authors sometimes put things in books which would never fly on TV, and which would earn movies the dreaded NC-17 rating. There are many books which meet the standard for pornography. While that’s fine for adults, people would rightly balk at a video rental store that gave free porno rentals to twelve year-olds.

      Claiming the Gurdon is is pro-censorship is a strawman (not saying you’re claiming that, anniemargret, but people in the article do). Never in her column does she call for any books to be banned. She only points out that these books are out there, and are increasingly being marketed towards children, and that parents should consider restricting what their kids are allowed to read. To quote:

      “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.”

  • paulw

    To my knowledge, books like “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” are kept in the adult section of public libraries. If the books are added to school libraries, they’re usually done so after a review by the school librarian/literature teaching staff in case said books are being taught in class.

    I had to read Madame Bovary (oh my, racy stuff) for 12th grade AP. Read some spicy SciFi books in high school. The planet did not explode because of it.

    If there is a problem with Young Adult lit today, it’s that there are too many damn sparkly vampires anymore. Sigh.

  • anniemargret

    Libraries have ratings for patrons. If a parent doesn’t want his/her child to read teen lit or movies that are too racy or violent, they can opt for setting up their library acct and restrict it to do just that.

    And what about the Internet? How many parents are taking the time required to make sure John or Susie Student is not browsing things they should’t be?

    Being a parent is a full time job, the single greatest job in the world. So parents have their work cut out for them today – with books, movies, TV, Internet, music…the list goes on. In the end, it is still the parental responsiblity to make sure their kids are not reading or listening or watching something that is inappropriate.

    Publishers will put out garbage if it sells. Perhaps that is where it should start – by not buying the books and put them at the top of the charts to begin with.

  • arvan

    Huh, I didn’t know libraries could do that nowadays. They certainly didn’t have stuff like that back when I was growing up. If the tools are there, then I agree it’s down to the parents to make use of them.

  • anniemargret

    arvan.. to be more precise….there are levels for libraries. There is the ‘adult’ level, the ‘young adult’ level, and the ‘children’ level…. parents can opt to make sure kids don’t take books out of an area that they don’t want. They can also restrict to whether or not they want their child to use the Net when they are not there.

    However, there *are* ‘spicy’ (for lack of a better word) teen books in libraries, I’m sure. Again, the responsibility still lies with the parent to make sure what their kids are taking out of the library. I made sure my three kids didn’t watch garbage on TV (and boy was that ever a full time job!) but I had to do it. I couldn’t depend on TV ratings (or the lack of them) to do that job for me.

    Being a parent is tough these days. And btw…I don’t disagree with the book reviewer…there IS a lot of garbage out there…. but right now ,there are no ‘rating’s on books themselves.. It is under the purview of the buyer/lender to make that decision for themselves.

    You know there are still some people who want Mark Twain taken off the library shelves or Judy Blume, etc… what is ‘good’ for one person or family may not be for another.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Is publicizing that these books are there just some reverse psychology trick to make teens actually think libraries are cool?

  • hisgirlfriday

    BTW, Tessa I wish you would elaborate on your rating system proposal.

    1. Why do you think a rating system would work and who is it for? Teens or parents?
    2. Who would be the raters? Private publishers or the government?
    3. Will the rating system be just advisory or will you get law enforcement involved if a 14-year-old kid goes to Barnes & Noble and purchases “Go Ask Alice”
    4. Will this rating system just be in place for new books or old books as well? Because it would be a pain in the ass to go back in time and rate every book known to man but if you’re not going to rate old books then if you cut me off from a new book and I want to read about rape then I’ll just go get a copy of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.”
    5. Will you force libraries to comply with this or just booksellers?
    6. Wouldn’t passing a law mandating this new rating system be another example of nanny state government and infringing on the enterpreneurial spirit of private businesses?

    Feel free to answers these queries if you like, but my hunch is you haven’t really thought this through.

  • Deep South Populist

    This is a sick society. No doubt about it. There shouldn’t even be a debate about whether kids should have access to this kind of depraved filth.

  • Rabiner

    Are history books discussing genocide going to be rated also?

    Will they think that Tale of Two Cities has too many decapitations?

    • arvan

      There’s a big difference between discussing something and describing it in graphic detail. When the Wicked Witch of the East gets crushed under Dorothy’s house, and all you see is a pair of feet sticking out, it’s no big deal. If they were to have terrified screaming, followed by bone crunching sounds, as blood and crushed organs and the contents of her bowels and stomach poured out from beneath the foundation (in Technicolor!)…. well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be the timeless classic we all remember it as.

  • Deep South Populist

    The Cultural Left has been working for 40 years to mainstream every imaginable form of deviancy. Obviously their efforts to take the culture into the sewer are working.

    Try to imagine the sickness and deep moral corruption of a person who would sit in a publisher’s office reading manuscripts that are long on rape, beatings, meth use and pederasty knowing full well the target market is 13 to 15.

  • Rabiner

    Deep South Populist:

    Sorry but the cultural left is the ones that helped bring about an end to many of the social inequalities we’ve had in this country. I don’t recall the cultural right trying to end jim crow, anti-sodomy laws, anti-interracial marriage laws, passing the Civil Rights Act and a number of other things.

    And religion seems to be home to plenty of devious activity from hate filled preachers blaming homosexuals for natural disasters to molesting young boys in their care.

    • Deep South Populist

      This article is about the repulsive content of books marketed to young teens. This is a cultural issue not a political one.

      I take it from your comment you support marketing books with meth use, pederasty, rape and beatings to 13 year olds.

      • arvan

        How typically conservative. You’ll howl about people talking about addiction and rape and child abuse, but do absolutely nothing to help the victims of actual addiction, rape, and abuse.

        Maybe we should ban books mentioning miscegeny as well. Wouldn’t want to offend your conservative sensibilities, after all.

        • Deep South Populist

          First, I never said anything about banning books.

          I support responsible adult oversight of kids’ reading lists and keeping the pornos and other assorted trash away from young teens.

          Not sure what’s controversial about that.

        • arvan

          Riiiight. That’s why you lead off with the scary, capital-letter Cultural Left, and their evil plot to drag our culture into the gutter. And then follow-up by accusing people of supporting rape and child abuse. Certainly not trying to stir up shit, oh no!

          Shoo, troll.

  • Rabiner

    Deep South Populist:

    Yes, I think marketing the Color Purple to 13 year olds is perfectly fine.

  • drdredel

    Yeah… that’s the problem… our kids are reading too much.

    DSP, I promise you that none of these books come anywhere near the depravity depicted in the Bible, or in the history books that describe how people followed said text to acts more brutal than anything these rinky dink authors could ever hope to reproduce, so, let’s not jump all over ourselves with hypocrisy and claims boldly unsupported by reality, ok?

    We live in a period more enlightened, and safer, and healthier, and more educated, by orders of magnitude than any that has ever before. This is a direct result of the shedding of ludicrous religious dogmas and the adoption of an approach to self expression that is ever closer to what people actually feel and think and do.

    Lenny Bruce was driven to suicide by the injustice he saw in how “morality” and “decency” was dispensed at him, and 50 years later we look back and shake our heads in disbelief that his comedy (regardless of whether you think it was funny) could possibly have been seen as obscene.

    Oh and as to your specific examples of meth use and pederasty… these are the realities of teen life today! Children (like everyone else) are drawn to what’s true. Pretending that this isn’t so isn’t going to make it go away. I’m not sure how old you are, but I’m at an age where the “just say no” campaign was aimed directly at me… I found it as ridiculous then as I do now. Programs that are based on lies and wishful thinking (abstinence programs come starkly to mind) never worked, aren’t working now, and never will work, no matter how hard you click your little red heels together.

    The Catholic church is obscene. If you’d like to ban that organization and save all our children from being exposed to its brutality, I’ll join you. Rallying against fiction? Only someone who willfully ignores all the lessons of history could be foolish enough to do that.

  • Rabiner

    Deep South Populist:

    Need me to say it again? yes times a hundred. I’m not afraid of teens reading about the realities of society, it isn’t like they wouldn’t be exposed to this stuff by watching the local news cast. Hell, if a teenager has watched the news this past week money says they’ve been exposed to a story about a Congressman sending pictures over the internet to people.

    • Deep South Populist

      This material isn’t history or serious literature like A Tale of Two Cities or The Color Purple. Those books and books like them do have something important to say about the human condition and the realties of life.

      The material at issue here is different. It’s not literature. It’s gratuitous trash that is marketed to kids to generate profits not impart useful knowledge.

  • drdredel


    Assuming they go to school, they don’t need any “news”, they have all the news they need all around them. My 15 year old goes to a REALLY good school, and is still exposed every day to people who offer him meth. If parents are so naive as to think that not letting their kids read some goofy fiction will protect them from the realities all around them, they’re in for some VERY rude awakenings.

    There is NO substitute for healthy, open, honest conversation with your kids. And if you have that, and if you live by some semi decent example, that’s just about all you can do. What they read is 100% irrelevant (just be happy they’re reading!).

  • Deep South Populist

    arvan wrote:

    “Riiiight. That’s why you lead off with the scary, capital-letter Cultural Left, and their evil plot to drag our culture into the gutter.”

    Yes, this is a cultural issue. American kids did not go from reading Mark Twain to this stuff by accident. The culture does not change in that way by accident. People have to lead the way, and in this case the path was led by the American Cultural Left.

    It certainly wasn’t orthodox Jews or fundamentalist Christians who blazed a path for this stuff.

    “And then follow-up by accusing people of supporting rape and child abuse. Certainly not trying to stir up shit, oh no”

    Please quote the passage where I accused anyone of supporting rape and child abuse.

    Try reading a little more carefully.

    • ottovbvs

      Yes, this is a cultural issue. American kids did not go from reading Mark Twain to this stuff by accident. The culture does not change in that way by accident. People have to lead the way, and in this case the path was led by the American Cultural Left.

      What drivel. Who was producing those horror comics that I used to read in the late 50′s? Adlai Stevenson? The coarsening of culture is entirely the product of crass commercialism which is an entirely corporate phenomenon. TV airtime is crowded with vulgar, crass reality shows and shoutfests which have nothing to with the cultural left who generally despise them on what DSP would call elitist grounds. And the reference to Mark Twain made me laugh. The last third of Huckleberry Finn is very weak because Twain has to sugar coat the truth. Jim escaped because he was going to be sold down the river which was a death sentence because he was going to worked to death unloading cargo on New Orleans levees. But I can see why our Southern friend might prefer a more sentimental reading of Twain who was the least sentimental of men and often faced censorship by conservative southerners like DSP.

  • drdredel

    It certainly wasn’t orthodox Jews or fundamentalist Christians who blazed a path for this stuff.

    You obviously have never read the Bible. Jewdaism and Christianity are first and foremost blood cults. Everything else follows. You think it’s a coincidence that anti-Semites have such an easy time distributing scary stories about how Jews bleed Christian children to death as part of their religious ceremonies? You don’t have to read very far into the old testament before there is barbarism that would make even the most strongly stomached cringe.

  • Kevin B

    Violent crime rates have dropped dramatically in the past thirty years.

    The number of murders per 100,000 people was 10.2 in 1980, and it was 5 in 2009.

    Go Team Edward!!!!

  • jerseychix

    Interesting, if time worn discussion.

    I read Silence of the Lambs as a 12 year old. It was boring, badly written, and when the movie came out a few years later, I laughed through it. It was terrible.

    The reason a lot of these gore fiction books are popular is because they are escapist. Reading about rape, beheadings etc is nowhere near watching them being depicted. Plus if the kids are reading it, then the family can discuss it.

    And why is it so much worse to read about vampires than say read about Ma’s racism in the Laura Ingalls books? Which one does a kid need to be prepared for?

  • nhthinker

    “Violent crime rates have dropped dramatically in the past thirty years.”

    As long as they are not putting terrorist how-to manuals in the school library, then it probably has a positive impact on reducing gun crime.
    But murder rate is probably mostly down because of medical improvements in inner-city EMT care and emergency room care and not the improvement in literacy.

    “Literacy statistics and juvenile court

    85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

    More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

    Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

    Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

    The support of narcissism by teachers and librarians is the reason the classics are no longer taught. Too hard, and too boring for students and too boring for teachers. Reading for entertainment instead of deeper learning.

    But actually getting them to read almost anything is better than illiteracy.

    The comic book section at the school library should be much larger.

    Letting students watch cartoons with close captioning turned on would also help.

    More effort to teach parents to read and help their children read would likely lead to reduced gun crime.

    • ottovbvs

      Given that nhthinker’s preferred news source is the bigoted comic that is Fox News this is very funny.

    • anniemargret

      The Classics and Shakespeare’s plays are still taught and required reading. Some people have not visited their local library since they were 10 y/o. Teens are still reading the good stuff and if parents don’t want them reading gory vampire books, then all they have to do is look up the rating on a book (Amazon lists a book by grade level), and watch what books their kids are bringing home.

      If they are 18 y/o, they don’t need Mom or Dad’s permission. But then again, we send them off to war at the age of 18, no? And if you want a belly-full of gore, death, destruction and a twisting of minds and hearts, war has been been there for that.

      In the end, it is up to the *Parents* to decide what and how and how much their kids should read or see. We are in the 21st century and information is everywhere, 24/7. Some of the stuff on TV is far worse than what is in some books, yet how many parents are tuning to see what their kids are watching and listening to?

      Some of the greatest books that kids still like to read are the adventure, sci/fi stories of the past and today. Pure fantasy and an attempt to escape reality….nothing wrong with it, unless the child is not mature enough to handle it…

      May I borrow a Carville here? (pardon me, but….”It’s the parents, stupid!”)

      • ottovbvs

        Jacobean drama is horrific. Incest, rape, ritual killings, disembowellings, torture, routine murders, mutilation…it’s all there. Just four that spring to mind that I’ve seen.

        The Dutchess of Malfi
        The Revenger’s Tragedy
        The Jew of Malta
        The Changeling

  • nhthinker


    Keep beating up your strawman. I typically get 3+ hours of news a day. MSNBC Morning Joe, Drudge and Google News. I’ll occasionally watch partial programs with Chris Wallace. Sheppard Smith and O’Reilly on Fox.

    I have dyslexia and read at the 2nd grade level in fourth grade. By the time I graduated HS, my SAT scores in English were in the top 20%.

    Comic books were very important to my creating a positive relationship with reading during my formative years. Poke as much fun at a dyslexic person as you like. I can take it and expose your asinine behavior.

    • ottovbvs

      Poke as much fun at a dyslexic person as you like…I can take

      You obviously can’t take it (although you can dish it out) or we wouldn’t get this little exercise in victimhood. Your learning disability (of which I was unaware but which is shared by one of my brothers who owns a successful joinery manufacturing business) has nothing to do with your admitted penchant for gettting news from bigoted comics like Fox News and Drudge.

      • nhthinker

        I spend much longer every day watching MSNBC than I do Fox. I am more informed on liberals positions than most people that call themselves liberals. I point out errors in the liberal assertions all the time, based on my own research and not talking points.

        But you stick to your strawman that I ignore all liberal news media.
        Why do you have to be so unreasonable and feel the need to spread false propaganda?
        Is it because you have been schooled too many times and feel a need to lash out?

        Have a nice day.

        • ottovbvs

          Lighten up. Comic in this context was metaphor and nothing to do with learning disabilities. For a Republican who never stop pontificating the survival of the fittest, liberal do gooding et al, this whining seems strangely out of character.

  • anniemargret

    nhthinker. I agree. “Graphic novels’ certainly fill an important void for some kids. I loved comics when I was a kid and I was a voracious reader. Some young boys hate reading, but will pick up a comic book…. It’s still reading!

    Reading whether it is in a book format, graphic novel format, or ereader is still reading. The format can change but the reading is what is necessary to stimulate the brain and encourage creative thought..not to mention improvement in intelligence.

    So if kids want to read comics instead of books, let them! Sometimes it’s an intro to books at a later date in their lives.

    • nhthinker

      My son is also dyslexic. We tried everything to get him to enjoy reading- even encouraging him to read his video game dialogs instead of listening to them. He started a bit worse than me. His favorite graphic novel was “The Hobbit” by Tolkien. Probably only 100 words on a page, but it was 500 pages long. He is now a member of the National Honor Society in his high school.

      Illiteracy destroys lives. Reading elitists that try to make fun of people that read comics aren’t helping the illiteracy problem.

  • rubbernecker

    why is it so much worse to read about vampires

    It isn’t. Good vampires stories are great. Banal, pseudo-vampire stories marketed to self-obsessed young girls and their mothers is just sad. Yes, you too, can be a tedious, narcissistic bore and attract gorgeous aristocrats who desire you forever no matter how excruciating you are. And abstinence. Also.

    • ottovbvs

      Remember those great British vampire movies from the late 50′s early 60′s. Christopher Lee, girls with large mammary glands, black plumed horses. Great stuff.

  • medinnus

    OK, the discussion can be boiled down to three notes, as far as I can tell:

    * Mass market entertainment sucks (vampire jokes notwithstanding). Literary merit is one thing. Most of the horror market genre is something else again; however, bad but popular novels are not a crime. Someone else noted – and rightly so – that the first Twilight book is a piece of streaming turds. There is no accounting for taste – only sales. And right now, with declining readership, publishers aren’t likely to not exploit any title that sells 100K units.

    This is nothing new – VC Andrews was the “Twilight” author of my generation. /shrug

    As for alarming content – the Bible leads the way. Incest, the advocation of genocide, endorsing racism… its all there.
    * Censorship. Bad. And honestly, it doesn’t solve the problem, especially where libraries are concerned. It doesn’t matter where you shelve them – very few people go into a library without a title already in mind (as anyone involved in library studies). Shelve Twilight in the YA section or the mainstream literature, the kid who wants to read it will find a way – Light knows, I always managed.

    * Non-book content – Relatively irrelevant. The article is talking about books. Hammer movies (those 1960/1970 boob-laden vampire films aforementioned) were cutting edge for their time, and considered tame now. I know many of the Fundamentalist mind-set want to re-set the clock to the 1940′s, but such sentiment just makes them look like unrealistic jerkoffs. You can’t stuff the genie back into the bottle – that was true before the Internet, and a thousand times truer now.

    Unfortunately for the lazy bastards who want to legislate morality, it doesn’t work. What works is the hard work involved in raising your kids – read with them, read to them, engage them on their level and educate their tastes. Sex and violence are easy hooks for an audience; moral themes are not.

    Minor digression – when the State mandates that every fetus be carried to term, but abandons them after birth, you get bad cycles of children raising children (or more accurately, not raising children). The results are endemic cycles of poverty that the State ends up supporting, one way or another. Sex education is paramount to breaking that cycle; I think Palin’s daughter is proof that “Just say NO” is about as successful as a water polo team with horses. When you raise children without guidance and care, you get a train wreck of an adult.

  • Xclamation

    I’ll admit up front that what I’m about to ask is a stupid question, but is it at all clear that reading filthy novels harms kids? Is there any solid evidence pointing to a positive correlation between reading about violence and committing violence? And as to whether or not trash fiction ‘coarsens the culture’, what does that mean? Are people somehow demonstrably ruder than they were 50 years ago? Are we more prone to fisticuffs?

    I only ask because as Kevin B has already pointed out the murder rate in this country is only half what it was 30 years ago. Add to the the fact that incidents of rape are down 80%(!!!) since 1979 ( All in all, it would seem as though violent, pornographic reading has no affect on actual behavior.

    Is all of this hoopla just a case of parents looking for a problem?

  • drdredel


    In fact, study after study finds the exact opposite. Specifically as it pertains to violence in video games. I think this isn’t entirely fair because it’s really hard to conduct a study where you’re not dealing primarily with outliers… most kids aren’t violent, regardless of what they do. But the ones that ARE violent, are much less likely to be video game players of any kind, however, this is quite likely to be associated with access… they’re poor, and poverty leads to crime (and not having the money for video game consoles).

    However, there has never been any evidence to suggest that playing violent video games or reading violent books (or watching/reading sexually based material) alters anyone’s behavior, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

    This is just Elvis and Playboy reprised. Old people don’t like what young people do and label it indecent and immoral; instantly able to forget that they were in the exact same place when they were young, looking at their parents and wondering “what’s the big deal!?”.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    nhthinker: The support of narcissism by teachers and librarians is the reason the classics are no longer taught. Too hard, and too boring for students and too boring for teachers. Reading for entertainment instead of deeper learning

    And since when did nhthinker become a teacher? Good lord, the problem is not that classics are not taught, they certainly are, the problem is that literature is taught far too much in school and grammar is not taught enough. I taught a Lit. class in High school and it was the most fun I ever had teaching. School boards and administrators choose the lit. books that are offered, most cases they are short stories, novellas, and classic plays like Shakespeare. I can say that as far as I know no teen trash has been taught in any classroom that I know of. However, I can also say that few students know such basic grammar as parenthetical expressions are set off by commas.

    On a side note, when I first saw the headline I first thought “why would Librarians defend a teenage child of Al Gore?”

    • ottovbvs

      the problem is not that classics are not taught, they certainly are

      Of course they are, our nhthinker hasn’t a clue what goes on in the real world. What does he think are the five most popular books taught in high school today? All my kids (in their early/mid thirties) learned the classics in school and literary quizzes are a favored lunchtime game at Thanksgiving.

      • Houndentenor

        I once made a negative comment to the head of my high school’s English department about all the girls reading what I considered to be trashy romance novels. She replied that it was still reading and that reading was still better than watching television. Yes, she’d have been thrilled if they’d been reading the Bronte sisters instead but given the decline in time Americans spend reading, some feel that any reading is better than none.

      • nhthinker

        “The support of narcissism by teachers and librarians is the reason the classics are no longer taught. Too hard, and too boring for students and too boring for teachers. Reading for entertainment instead of deeper learning.”

        My error: I meant to write:”"The support of narcissism by teachers and librarians is the reason the classics are no longer taught to a large portion of the student body. Too hard, and too boring for students and too boring for teachers. Reading for entertainment instead of deeper learning.”

        Most schools today offer a large variety of options and those that want to avoid almost all the classics usually can by taking “SciFi” or “vampire poetry” or “reading newspapers”. These “boutique” English offering usually are graded easier and students know it. So, yes, the classics are taught and yes, fewer students are learning them: opting instead for something easier or at least more special to them. If you want to disagree, go right ahead.

        Recent years have been marked by renewed debate
        about the proper content for the English curriculum.
        Strong voices have argued that the English
        curriculum is white, male, and Eurocentric,
        marginalizing the contributions of women and of
        people from other cultural traditions. Equally
        strong voices have reasserted the values of a traditional
        liberal education, arguing that the curriculum
        in English has already been diluted too much
        (Bennett 1988; Hirsch 1987).
        What is lacking most in such debates, however,
        is perspective on what is being taught in schools
        across the nation. What authors and titles are students
        actually being asked to read in their classes?
        What traditions and influences do those selections
        represent? How varied are the literary offerings in
        schools of different types and traditions?

        Classics are no longer focused on because they were written by too many white “eurocentric” men.
        Much of the student body does not read very many of them anymore. Of course, the top English students do, but fewer and fewer people can share analogies referring to characters in the classics and expect to be understood, unless you are in an English AP class.

        • jakester

          The support of narcissism by teachers and librarians is …. (utter bs)”
          What does some over worked and inaccurately applied pop psychobabble cliche have to do with the discussion at hand?

  • jerseychix

    Not only are classics still taught, there’s a certain sub-segment of us who actually read them for pleasure.

    And to combine the two lines of thinking, go read the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fford.

  • jakester

    Okay spare me the bromides about how this sort of stuff doesn’t affect most kids. It does affect some negatively. Just for the same reasons we try to protect our young from drugs and alcohol, doesn’t it make some sense to shield them from such morbid & pessimistic stuff till they’re are older? Aren’t children entitled to some level of innocence, or are we so crass, cynical and weak that in the name of freedom of speech & commercial success we expose them to all sorts of depressing gory rubbish?

  • indy

    so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.

    Gosh, I remember reading a few things in high school. Let’s see, there was Humbert Humbert, The Prince, Oedipus, Clyde Griffiths, Cathy Ames, Elmer Gantry, Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov, and Heathcliff, to name a few.

    Sex, violence, greed. Almost all memorable great literature is dark and brutal. I’m sure at some point people were claiming they shouldn’t be on library shelves either.

  • Houndentenor

    Just about every book I love has been banned somewhere by someone.

    Just last week I went to the Met’s re-HDcast of Die Walkuere which included incest, a girl defying her father and a few onstage murders. It’s a good thing the socialcons among us don’t go to the opera or pretty much the whole standard repertoire would be banned.

    We should be encouraging people to read. Parents should discuss what their children read and watch more than they need to censor what they have access to. Yes, some things are not appropriate for children. I remember watching the excellent Toy Story 3 and thinking that a couple of scenes were too scary for very small children. So there’s that matter. But I also remember discussing The Simpsons with a friend who has two sons. Once during a commercial he hit mute and said, “Now you understand that you are not allowed to do what Bart just did.” His sons replied, “We know that! That’s what makes it funny.” Give children and teens the credit they deserve. Talk to them about important topics. Hiding the grown up material just makes them want to see it more (and thinking back, did anything stop you from reading or seeing whatever you really wanted to read or see?).

    • ottovbvs

      That’s a great relief, I love Wagner. If you want a few good murders you could also throw in Tosca (plus torture and sexual blackmail), Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Lucia (some madness too), Rigoletto….Puccini and Mascagni were obviously dirty hippies.

      • Houndentenor

        To quote Anna Russell: “That’s the beauty of grand opera: you can get away with ANYTHING so long as you SING it!”

        • rubbernecker

          If only the kiddies would take in the Met’s Live in HD series! So fabulous!

        • ottovbvs

          I actually get to go occasionally. It’s hard to describe how powerful some of these performances are. Opera is on the face of it a ridiculous medium of entertainment. High drama sung. But I’ve seen shows at the met when the action more real than many movies or plays.

  • sinz54

    arvan: the rape scene in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is tasteful, and important to the plot. The rape scenes in “American Psycho” are just torture porn.
    You just illustrated beautifully how the cultural fight was waged back in the 1960s.

    And the liberals won it–permanently.

    As the late reporter Theodore H. White wrote back in 1969, liberal elites in media and academia created a cultural climate in which explicit, gruesome, bloody violence is now judged by style rather than content or effect.

    “arvan” just summed up the liberal perspective beautifully: It’s not whether a woman is raped, it’s whether she is raped “tastefully” that matters.

    And from “Bonnie & Clyde” onward, we have been treated to a steady diet of mass violence that–as long as it comes with an artistic or political message–is perfectly OK, not to be questioned.

    “Tasteful” rape.
    Musical murders.


    Parents have an impossible job these days.
    The advent of public-key cryptography enables young people to view media and video games and communicate in ways that even the FBI, much less their parents, can’t easily decipher. Most of those kids are way smarter than Rep. Weiner, who evidently posted his dirty photos unencrypted.

    The real answer is to teach kids some lessons about the side effects and consequences of violence. A few visits to their local hospital’s Emergency Room might prove illuminating.

    • ottovbvs

      You just illustrated beautifully how the cultural fight was waged back in the 1960s.

      I realize that culture probably isn’t your thing Sinz but you might want to take in some Jacobean drama at the theater which is horrific. Incest, rape, ritual killings, disembowellings, torture, routine murders, mutilation…it’s all there. Just four that spring to mind that I’ve seen.

      The Dutchess of Malfi
      The Revenger’s Tragedy
      The Jew of Malta
      The Changeling

      As far as I know Middleton wasn’t part of the dirty hippie scene in the 60′s.

      • indy

        Shakespeare didn’t write until 1964, did he? Good thing, too, since with all that rape, murder, and incest he could only become popular after the liberal elites won the cultural battle.

        • ottovbvs

          Old Will is in the main mild by comparison with these Jacobean folks like Middleton. Titus Andronicus is probably about the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays I suppose and it’s in the same league.

  • ottovbvs

    liberal elites in media and academia created a cultural climate in which explicit, gruesome, bloody violence is now judged by style rather than content or effect.

    Oh liberal elites are responsible for Jersey Shore. I never knew that. I thought the media were just in it for the moolah. And who is responsible for pictures of Weiner’s dick being broadcast around the world. Oh yeah, that liberal Andrew Breitbart.

  • ottovbvs

    Of course the supreme irony of all this is that sanctimonious windbags like Sinz and nhthinker never stop bloviating about freedom and how their freedoms are being curtailed by liberals but apparently this freedom doesn’t extend to artistic freedom any more than it extends to women’s freedom to exercise control over their own bodies. This must be left in the hands of fellow sanctimonious white males.

    • indy

      Of course the supreme irony of all this is that sanctimonious windbags like Sinz and nhthinker never stop bloviating about freedom and how their freedoms are being curtailed by liberals

      Well, that’s because they think imposing their moralistic view through government counts as one of their freedoms.

  • anniemargret

    sinz: I am a big proponent that adults need to learn computers. No adult who has children should say, “I don’t know anything about computers.’ Yes, I’m sure there are indecipherable ways kids can into trouble on the Net.

    But if parents were more involved with their kids, helping them develop skills and interests, then computer dangers can be more easily avoided.

    But we are not going back to 1956. It is tough, complex, information-blitz world out there, and it will get become more complex in the years to come. Kids got in trouble in 1956 and they will get in trouble now. It is up to the parents to be parents and BE THERE for their kids. A tough call, but an important one.

    But to blame liberalism for every sorry mess in the USA? You sound like Ann Coulter, the pseudo-conservative.

    C’mon. It is crass commercialism and the ‘market’…. . if it can be exploited or hyped, or if might make money, then it will be put on TV, the Internet or in the movies and books. Money comes first in this society, mores second.

    case in point….look at the morons in Congress, from Vitter to Weiner, and all the others inbetween, selling themselves like porn stars, then saying it really was about ‘nothing’…. if their wives want to stay with the morons, that’s their decision, but public officials should have some *decorum* and *class*….two words that are becoming ancient language.

    And that, my friend, is not just liberals getting crazy…. it’s your guys too.

    • Houndentenor

      Exactly, annie.

      If all that matters is making the biggest profit, then the market will be saturated with media that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Sex and violence sell tickets. That is capitalism. You can’t blame that on liberals. Hollywood makes more of whatever just made money and does so until that trend is squeezed dry and move on to the next one. It’s amazing that any good work ever comes from the commercial media but it does. And sometimes something of artistic merit actually turns a profit.

  • ottovbvs

    [i]“the rape scene in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is tasteful, and important to the plot. The rape scenes in “American Psycho” are just torture porn.”

    BTW Sinz you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve never read either of these books. I exercised my freedom not to do so. My wife enjoyed the dragon tattoo however.

  • ottovbvs

    And from “Bonnie & Clyde” onward, we have been treated to a steady diet of mass violence

    Happily Little Caesar, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and the endless litany of WW 2 war movies and westerns were entirely violence free. Which means that it was the Japanese or Indians dying in large numbers while if whitey died he got plenty of time to make speeches and there was no blood to be seen. Just the sort of artistic experience Sinz enjoys.

  • Houndentenor

    Believe it or not there was literature and art before the advent of television!

    The earliest epic (Gilgamesh) actually includes homoeroticism. There is NOTHING new. Technology changes. Human nature has remained the same. Which is why we can still produce Greek tragedy on Broadway. And I could probably pass off the plot of Elektra as a plotline on one of the teen soap operas. None of this is new and it perplexes me that people pretend that it is. Can we show more now? Of course. Is that bad? Only if you are a prude. Frankly, I tend to avoid gore. I also find those supernatural horror flicks a bit silly. But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad that other people enjoy it. If viewing violence cause violent behavior, the Japanese would have the highest crime rate in the world. Have you ever seen a Japanese comic book? And yet violent crime is rather rare.

    People like to be scared. It’s cathartic. During the cold war people worked through their fear of a war with the Soviet Union by watching a lot of rather silly (to us) B movies about alien invasions. It’s good to have an outlet for our fears and anxieties. I suspect 50 years from now some scholar will be writing about the effect of 9/11 on American popular culture. (the rapid decline of the sitcom, especially the ones filmed before a live audience, and the rise of a lot of detective and crime dramas for starters.)

  • SafeLibraries

    FrumForum and Tessa Berenson, great going publicizing an interview with Meghan Cox Gurdon. I have written about the interview here:

    False Censorship Claims Exposed by WSJ Author Attacked for Exposing Truth About Young Adult Books; Meghan Cox Gurdon Decries Incomplete and Uninformative Book Reviews

  • rubbernecker

    And another thing. Scholastic peddles total trash to little girls. Try to get the girls to consider a science book or children’s lit. They’re not in their princess section, so forget it.