I am a librarian. Now, most people think that means I shush folks, shelve books, and push my glasses up my nose with my forefinger.
Indeed, I’ve done all of those things, but there’s more to it than that. As I’ve previously mentioned, librarians have a host of responsibilities. We help people fill out job applications, create resumes, send money to their spouses in prison, set up e-mail addresses, download e-books, recommend reading material based on age/interest/reading level, create programs people actually want to attend… the list is endless. We are public slaves… and we love it. One of our major platforms though, is the war on censorship.
No, really. If an angry mom has a tantrum, because a librarian gave her 10-year-old Thong on Fire (click the link! click the link!), it will be explained to her that the library does not censor or police information, but she’s welcome to come in and assist her daughter in choosing her reading materials. We dispense knowledge. We do not control knowledge. I can no more pull Thong on Fire for its lewd content, than I can pull Heaven is for Real for its Christian content. I stand by this. It is a truly American viewpoint… perhaps one of the only ones left.
All that being said, however, maybe it’s time that we, as individuals, choose to censor ourselves a bit, particularly in regards to our children.
Sunday, the Midwest got a gust of cold wind and a brief flurry. Naturally, we were all stranded. I didn’t even go to Mass, because of how I almost died, last time. Gail, just being off for her one day (because being a mailman suuuuucks), texted me…
Gail: Wanna play a game? I’ll recommend a show and you recommend a show. We each have to watch two episodes.
Me: Okay. Hart of Dixie.
Gail: Bates Motel. The first episode is a little graphic, but it’s really good.
:: two hours later, referencing Gail’s “dark erotica” phase ::
Me: What the hell is with you and rape?!?! It’s like your freaking favesies! You think it’s the best of everything!
Gail: I said the first episode was graphic!
Gail: Which OBVIOUSLY means rape. Lol.
So, for the last few days, I’ve been watching Bates Motel. It’s easily the most disturbing thing I’ve seen since the week I marathoned American Horror Story, while ranting on Facebook about how the entire writing staff is made up of broken souls.
AHS is still in the lead, though I gave up on season 3 for a while.
Jane: What did it for you? The incest or the bestiality?
Me: The bleach enema.
Jane. Spoiler alert! I haven’t gotten that far!
These disturbing epics have gotten me thinking. Yes, they have to be the result of a group therapy effort gone awry, but I’m more interested in effect than cause. Now, I exaggerate a lot. I know that… but American Horror Story disturbed me to my core. I was genuinely upset by the school shooting episode. I work with teens every day and the idea of them being so afraid and alone, waiting for death, having just enough time to process all they’ll miss in life… ugh. I’m done writing about it. It’s too much. That’s also a pretty healthy reaction. I remember Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. Just the portrayal of similar events deeply unsettles me. As it should and as the writers intended. I, however, am an adult.
I’ve discussed media’s effect on society before, but it’s been of greater concern to me, recently, how children are being affected. Just the other day, I discovered a fun correlation. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11.* The average age for first cell phone is also 11.* I’m not criticizing the idea of giving children a way to call for help. I am concerned, though, that just as puberty hits, we give children limitless and often unmonitored access to media… and that’s the norm. Children have always been curious, certainly; but that curiosity used to manifest itself in stolen peeks at dad’s Maxims or the wrinkled pages of an old bodice ripper found in the garage. Neither medium, however, was acceptably nestled in a child’s pocket at all times.
The danger does not only lie in obvious sites, either. Today, smartphones have numerous apps that parents don’t even consider a threat. Tumblr seems harmless enough, sure… until you combine the words “naughty” and “gif.” The same goes for the Kindle app. Maybe between Harry Potter books, your curious 13-year-old is also absorbing The Erotic Dark. YouTube is just a bunch of cute kittens, you say? Search for “ass kicking.” Just the words SnapChat are enough to make me want to home school… and all of these things are available from the very device that was given to them to keep them safe.
My question is, what is this media doing to children? What will the case studies look like in 15 years? When I was younger, video games were the primary concern. In fact, I firmly believe that video games are still an issue. Don’t get me wrong. Grand Theft Auto V’s protagonist, Michael De Santa, did not shoot up a movie theater in Colorado. Are we harming developing young minds, however, by normalizing this kind of behavior through media? Ten years ago, we didn’t even have all of this new access to media and we were still asking this question. Today, Netflix is a beautiful thing… until your nine-year-old makes it through half a season of Sons of Anarchy, before you even realize they’ve been watching it. This used to (primarily) be the plight of the neglectful parent. Sure, I was watching Sex and the City at age 12, but that’s because my mom was more interested in being my bestie than an authority figure. Now, what kid doesn’t have a smart device?
While the expanse of this problem lies mainly with electronics, even beyond that, erotica is publicly acceptable.For realz yo, my sister-in-law had a “Laters Baby” sticker on the car she drove to her job as a 7th grade reading teacher. That’s a 50 Shades of Grey reference, for anyone who didn’t catch it. At the height of its popularity, that book was all over Facebook. My sister-in-law wasn’t even the only teacher posting about it. Additionally, the covers of books in that genre used to be anything but subtle…
Wait. His chest is disproportionate to… everything else. No, really. The gun looks tiny.
… today, the trend has shifted to the completely innocuous.
In this one, he essentially holds her captive until she think it’s sexy…
like in The Beauty and the Beast.
So, even when you aren’t reading something on a Kindle/Nook/iPad, no one has to suspect that you need to change your panties, anymore.
Aunt Glenda: “Is that a Kindle, Belle?”
Me: “Yeah. It’s a Paperwhite.”
Aunt Glenda: “Can I see it?”
It took me an unexplainable amount of time to find any book that was appropriate for Thanksgiving dinner, before handing it over.
I reiterate that NO library will deny these books to anyone.
I’m not proposing that we all pretend it’s 1986. Technology is a beautiful thing, with many benefits and self-control can only be taught with moderation. I’m also not suggesting we, in any way, police the media consumption of adults. They’re old enough to compartmentalize and separate fantasy from reality. That’s no one else’s responsibility. Children, however, are the responsibility of society and, most importantly, their parents. We’ve entered this age where we’re so afraid to tell kids that they can’t do something. We’re terrified of setting limits and I see that in the students in my classrooms who cannot get through a single hour without some form of electronic media, be it music or texting or social networking. I see it in the kids who watch violent YouTube videos on their phones and the 6-year-old boy shouting “BITCH!” at the computer in the library. This is all happening right now. Children are becoming addicted to pornography, The Walking Dead is completely desensitizing them to violence and gore, little girls are sending pictures of their breasts to boys (22% ages 14-17)*, teens are encouraging self-mutilation and eating disorders, and no one is doing anything about it. We will see the day when a presidential election is compromised by a sext. So, my suggestion? Start telling children no. The library certainly won’t do it, because it’s not our place. Nor is it the place of Netflix, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, SnapChat, Tinder, Samsung, and iPhone.
We don’t have the luxury of rating systems anymore, as we did when video games and movies were the scariest things out there. We have to create limitations ourselves. I’m not saying that I have the perfect answer for what those limits are, despite the fact that I see no reason anyone under the age of 18 needs 24/7 internet access, but they have to exist. Parents need to set limits that work for them, and find a way to enforce them. Schools need to reclaim the power and ban cell phones from sight. Parents should back them. Children should never touch a single electronic device in church, ever. The phone should be put away during mealtimes, and that goes for adults as well. Perhaps an extension of the problem is that we’re too busy with media to take notice of youth. We can’t protect kids from everything, especially in this digital age, but that doesn’t mean we have to banish them to the town from The Children of the Corn, either.They need guidance. They need our effort. They need a little censorship… because things never work out so well when children run the show.