Sunday, December 6, 2009

What Does Obsession Look Like?

Obsession:  "Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or unwanted feeling or emotion, often with symptoms of anxiety.  A compulsive, often unreasonable, idea or emotion causing such preoccupation." [American Heritage Dictionary]

If you want to see what obsession looks like, check out the double-whammy on SafeLibries' blog today, GLSEN Gets It, the ALA Doesn't and Phyllis Schlafly Exposes ALA Fraud.  Both show the lack of sound judgment and unwillingness to face simple facts that come from unhealthy obsessions.

Both posts do the one thing that is most important to SafeLibraries, far more important than protecting children from pornographic books, which is to heap blame on the American Library Association.  I don't object to laying blame where it belongs, but I do object to heaping blame on the uninvolved, as SafeLibraries does in these posts.

In his first post, he blames the ALA for the fact that two books written for quite different age groups happen to be next to each other on a grocery store shelf.  The two books in question, "Bob the Builder" and "Looking for Alaska"  would not be placed together in most libraries. Arguably, they shouldn't have been together in the grocery store either, but what has that to do in the slightest with the ALA?   It is impossible to imagine that the ALA has the any influence or even awareness, let alone control, over how books are arranged on a grocery store shelf, yet SafeLibraries would have us believe that this juxtaposition is somehow the ALA's fault.  Somehow, in his mind, the ALA had a responsibility to warn the grocery store management of the difference in intended age group for the two books.  Not the authors, not the publishers, not the grocery store management who decided one way or another to acquire these two books, not the grocery store managers who decided how to arrange their inventory, but the uninvolved ALA.  This is a level of irrationality that comes only from unhealthy obsession.

If that weren't a sufficient example of obsession, Safelibraries goes on to repeat an especially thoughtless post by Phyllis Schlafly from her Eagle Forum.  Somewhat behind schedule, or perhaps lacking something more constructive and timely to say, Schlafly claims (again) that Banned Books Week is a Hoax perpetrated by the ALA.  In addition to inappropriate spin, her post contains two patent falsehoods.  First she says that "only government can engage in censorship" This arbitrary and self-serving redefinition of the term is ridiculous, as if a semi-literate mob breaking down the library doors to pull out all the books they object to wouldn't be censorship, just because it wasn't being done by government.  Secondly, she writes: "These people accused of being 'book banners' are just ordinary parents who want to limit their own children’s exposure to material they consider harmful or obscene."  That's not spin-doctoring, it's a simple lie.  Parents who really are trying to limit their own children's exposure are not labelled "book banners." But they are so labelled when they go beyond their own family, trying to rob other parents of the right make different choices.  Even that wouldn't be so bad, if it were true that they were worried only about harmful or obscene material.  The sad and well-documented fact is that many parents go far beyond that concern, demanding the removal of books for social, religious, and political reasons that have nothing to do with obscenity or harmfulness, going far beyond any kind of censorship the law will allow.

Rightly or wrongly, we might choose to overlook Ms. Schlafly's factual flub in this area.  After all, she's not a specialist in Free Speech regulation or library practices.  Those who make a study of this area cannot be so excused.


  1. Well said. I noticed the slip-upd in that commentary. Nobody's calling parents who say "I don't want MY children reading this" book banners, they're referring to the people who say "I don' want any children in the school/library reading this."

    But then again, I've read over several of her articles on the Eagle Forum website, she's either lacking in logic or an attention seeker.

    And I didn't understand the big deal about the two book beside eachother either. There's lots of stuff at grocery store checkout shelves. Cosmopolitan is often at child eye height and has much more age-inappropriate material than Looking for Alaska does. I don't hear anybody complaining.

    And so what if it is beside picture books at grocery store checkout shelves? Are kids going to pick it up and and automatically read through all the "pornographic" bits and be scarred for life in the five minutes total they're standing there? Honestly. It doesn't even look like a kid's book.

    "semi-literate mob"
    Thank you for making my day.

  2. Indeed, it doesn't look at all like a kid's book, because it's not. And that would be obvious to anyone, even if they don't know anything about the contents of the books. My guess is a patron picked the Looking for Alaska book up in another section and left it in the kiddie section by mistake. It's very unlikely that the store put the book there intentionally. In any event, the kids interested in Bob the Builder books wouldn't even be ABLE to read Looking for Alaska.

  3. Precisely. If I were five and for some reason picked up Looking for Alaska and started reading it, I'd be confused by the vocabulary, say "this is dumb" and get on with my life. No harm done.

    And enough with the "the ALA gave an oral sex book it's highest award!" argument. I hardly consider ONE scene(that was also relevant to the plot, I've read the whole thing) in a book clearly marketed FOR teenagers makes it an "oral sex book". Teenagers know what oral sex is, and frankly, the kids reading the books aren't the ones who are going out and having oral sex.

    Pardon the rant.

  4. Thank you, Meghan, for updating us on Looking For Alaska. So.... the censors are calling it an "oral sex book" on the basis of one short scene. Typical.

  5. Anytime! I can't stand when people get mad over good books. Typical is right, their arguments are beginning to sound like 7th-8th he said-she said exagerrations. I was really hoping not to revisit that particular area of my life.

    Censorship story of the day: Judy Blume's book Deenie was removed by a middle school principal for a few short lines mentioning female masturbation because "if it had been a boy it would have been normal." This was in the 70's but still, holy cow.