Archive for the ‘Graphic Novels’ Category

Remarks about “Objectionable Content”

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted on the MELIBS listserv by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on Sun, 17 May 2009 14:27:32 under the subject: Remarks about “objectionable content”

 

I was attending the Comic Arts Festival at Ocean Gateway this morning and heard a talk for librarians and teachers by Peter Gutierrez. His talk was good, but there was one thing that he said that bothered me.

I feel the need to say my piece regarding his comment, so I am using the MELIBS forum to do that—I am also cc-ing Peter my remarks.

Peter’s comment was in reference to the Marvel Adventures line of comics; Peter said, “These contain no objectionable content.”

My intellectual freedom fighter ears perked up. What does that mean, “contains no objectionable content”?

TANGENT: Last fall I attended the YALSA YA Lit Symposium in Nashville and the issue of age ratings on manga comics came up. There was, on the part of the panelists universal agreement that these were a good thing. Later, a National Board Certified school librarian referenced Tokyopop’s age ratings guide as a good thing for librarians to use. I was horrified. This issue—age ratings on books—is a hot debate topic in our profession, not a we-all-agree-this-is-a-good-thing decided issue. The ALA has an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights on Labeling and Rating Systems. This debate is still alive and well and is by no means a done deal. Why was it being presented as a done deal, and a good done deal at that?

Now, back to the story …

My remarks about the “objectionable content” comment are as follows:

1) There is no agreed upon definition of “objectionable content”, so the phrase is meaningless.

Some people think that children should not be exposed to the words for sexual body parts and functions. Is reference to body parts or bodily functions objectionable?

Some people think that depicting same sex couples is “objectionable” for children. Are homosexual people objectionable?

Some people think that showing children depictions of male and female characters in gender stereotyped clothing is objectionable. Are gender stereotypes objectionable?

So what does it mean to say that something “contains no objectionable content”? As my thirteen year old son says, “The only thing that contains no objectionable content is a blank page.”

If the creators of the work say that the work contains no profanity, or no violence, or no sexuality, then that may have some meaning. *Although I would caution that someone may bring the material back to the creator and point out something profane (‘In our family “darn” is not allowed as we consider it too close to its profane counterpart.’) or violent (“In this story, two children were arguing and the argument was not resolved in the context of the story.”) or sexual (“In our religion boys and girls are not allowed to touch, and in the story boys and girls touch each other …”).

This leads to my second remark:

2) Talking about literature as containing or not containing “objectionable content” is looking at literature with a censor’s eyes rather than with an intellectual freedom advocate’s eyes. We can look at a work of literature (or music or film or video game) by searching it for flaws, things we don’t like—“objectionable content”; or we can look at a work of literature (etc.) as a whole and complete thing.

Making a big deal about a literary or artistic work having “no objectionable content” invites—no it actually encourages us to look at literary and artistic works through that lens, the lens of a censor.

This is already a problem that teachers and librarians have. We preview material looking for “objectionable content” when we should be considering the work as a whole. We choose not to read a book or show a movie in a class because of a “potentially objectionable” scene.

We should be asking ourselves, “Is there any educationally or pedagogically sound reason to have and use this material?”; but instead we find ourselves asking, “Is there any reason that this work might (might!?) be considered objectionable?”

I think that, as professionals, we need not only to talk about censorship, but to talk about how we talk about censorship, i.e. engage in meta-conversations. I am frustrated with careless use of language contributing to the problem of teachers and librarians thinking like censors.

Book Challenge: Deogratias

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted on the MELIBS listserv by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on Mon, 28 Jan 2008 20:11:23  under the subject: Book Challenge.

Close to the time that I was wrapping up my fall at King Middle School, a student asked me to remove a graphic novel from the library.  After a long conversation, the student asked to make a formal complaint about the book and I supplied the appropriate forms. 

The student said, “I could name three or four other students in my house who would be offended by that book.” 

I replied, “None of those students that you name would be forced to read it.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it.  I would only have to think of one current or future student who might benefit from access to the book, in order to justify its being here.”

The student’s complaint was racist language and violence, citing a specific illustration on one page.

I felt very badly about having to hand this intellectual freedom issue off to the librarian who came in to replace me while I was on sabbatical.

The issue is still in process and I have been thinking about it a lot lately.

I can only hope that the complainant in this case puts as much energy toward fighting racism and violence and ending genocide in real life, as s/he has put into trying to censor the depiction of racism, violence and genocide in this work of fiction.

I did collect book reviews and write up a Book Rationale, which I have included below.

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deogratiasABook Rationale for Deogratias by J.P. Stassen

prepared by Kelley McDaniel, Librarian, King Middle School

December 2007

Location: King Middle School Library

Use: free and open access; used in conjunction with studies of graphic novels, genocides, Africa, Rwanda and Paul Rusesabagina

Possible Complaints: profanity, violence (including sexual violence), racist language, genocide, inappropriate subject matter for young people

Description: This graphic novel originally published in French, in Belgium, paints an emotional picture of life in Rwanda leading up to, during, and immediately following the Rwandan genocide.  The story is told, through flashbacks, from the point-of-view of a Hutu young man, who struggles to retain his own humanity while witnessing and finally, participating in the atrocities.

This book was given to me by the publisher at an ALA Conference.  I read the book and thought that it had value in the KMS library for a number of reasons:

1)     we have students from Rwanda and we have the responsibility to represent them, their history, and their experiences in the literature that we provide;

2)     our Rwandan students’ classmates and peers who want to know about and understand the Rwandan genocide deserve access to such resources;

3)     the KMS library has books, including graphic novels and literature with graphic descriptions of horrific acts of violence, about other genocides, including Apartheid, the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Bosnian genocide, Pol Pot’s regime, and the genocide in Sudan;

4)     this is one of few books about the Rwandan genocide I have found that is accessible to young people;

5)     although this book is about the Rwandan genocide, it explores issues related to genocide in general, which has been a topic of study here.

I did not put Deogratias immediately into the KMS library collection; I considered it for a year.  In the end, I decided to add it to our collection based on the reasons enumerated above.

Although the book has not circulated extensively, it has been used meaningfully by members of the King Middle School community:

o     Two years ago, Paul Rusesabagina (the hero memorialized in the movie Hotel Rwanda), spoke at USM and that year, as well as the following year, I had requests for books and stories about Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide. 

o     Last year an eighth grade student was doing a project on Paul Rusesabagina and the Rwandan genocide and asked me for anything else I had on the subject.  Among other things, I gave that student Deogratias.

o     This fall, a teacher was taking a course and doing a project on graphic novels. Deogratias was one of the graphic novels that I gave to that teacher to use for an in class presentation.

Deogratias is for mature and sophisticated readers, but we do have students who can understand its content and appreciate its artistic and literary merits.

I do not question or argue with the fact that a student complained, or that the student was upset and offended by the book; as a matter of fact, I apologized for the offense that was experienced. 

I take issue with the student’s request that since that student was offended by the book, no current or future King Middle School student should be allowed access to it. 

No KMS student is forced to read a particular library book.  The KMS library advocates choice when it comes to student reading. 

Each year, in preparation for Summer Reading, I explain that there is no book in our library or on the reading list that is appropriate for everyone, but, “every book is appropriate for someone.” As a way of explaining intellectual freedom to students, I frequently use the example that I do not like hate language and am offended by it. 

“What if I borrow a book from the library and I find that it contains racist language?  What can I do?” I ask.

One student always replies, “Stop reading it and return it to the library.”

I also explain, “I like to know what you don’t like (and why), as it helps me help you find books you will like. But,” I say, “No one person has the right to say, ‘Because I don’t like it, YOU can’t read it.’   That right – the freedom to read – is up to each individual reader.  And I’m here to defend that right for you.”