Friday, April 27, 2012

Further proof that M.T. Anderson is awesome

Someone wants to ban his book, Feed. And not because it challenges the media-frenzied, social networking, consumerist robots that we will all turn into one day (or that we have already turned into), or because of its overt environmental message, but because, “‘Page 239 had a lot of F words [and] had a lot of B words.’”

Now that’s some high-level critical thinking.

I’ve been meaning to write about M.T. Anderson for a while now, because his level of writing is so incredible, and because he is able to write two award-winning books from the perspective of a slave in the Revolutionary War and then—seamlessly—switch to a futuristic world where we live in plastic bubbles and purchase things through microchips embedded in brains. (The OMG I love M.T. Anderson so much post is still coming, don’t worry.) But when I saw this article yesterday, I just couldn’t help myself.

I understand that this is just two people making an insignificant stand, and let’s give full credit to the teacher, superintendent, and school board for not doing a damn thing about this complaint. But this brings up a problem that I have with American culture in general, and that is the complete overreaction to profanity in every artistic setting. We bleep out words on TV, we give R ratings to movies that use the f-word more than ONE TIME. (From “A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.” What?)

What happens as a result of this is that young people are discouraged from reading or watching high-quality art because of a few words. And, spoiler alert to all you over-protective parents: Your kids have not only heard those words, but they use them. Just like everyone else.

What’s even more ridiculous about this complaint is that I would make the argument that Anderson’s use of profanity in Feed is actually used to highlight the lack of self-awareness and critical analysis in the characters’ lives. The way the characters speak is indicative of their lack of responsibility and ability to make independent decisions, which, obviously, is a bad thing.

We shouldn’t tell kids that they can’t read a book because the f-word is in it, we should let kids discuss why they thought the author chose to use the f-word and what it says about the characters and their relationships with their friends, parents, and authority figures. Because that critical analysis is what will help young people make good decisions later in life, like talking to their own children intelligently about a book that uses profanity instead of turning to page 239 and throwing it down in disgust. 

What do you think about expletives in YA? When are they appropriate, and when are they not? 


  1. Preach it! Like you said, protecting the kids from this language by censoring or prohibiting books isn't going to KEEP these kids from knowing and using these words! And it sort of insults their intelligence.

    This reminds me of all the brouhaha about how Huck Finn uses the word "nigger" throughout Twain's book, and how a new expurgated edition came out that whitewashed (pun intended?) the entire thing. I certainly think young readers should understand the context of why that word is used liberally in the book. Removing it entirely compromises the book's integrity and prevents readers from fully understanding the work and the time it portrayed. It robs teachers and parents of a chance to discuss how racial attitudes have changed since then (and to discuss how some aspects of racism have NOT changed since then). And of course there are countless other examples of books subjected to censoring or banning. (Catcher in the Rye comes to mind at once, when Holden despairs about the preponderance of "Fuck You" scrawled all over everything. In that book, he's actually advocating AGAINST the use of expletives!)

    You're not going to give these books to a six-year-old and expect him to fully understand--but these books aren't intended for such young readers anyway. It's a disservice to the intelligence of teens and preteens to censor the real life their books are supposed to portray.

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    2. Exactly. And look at the second "argument" the mother makes: “He said it was art. … I said ‘you call it art in the classroom, but if my child was to say the words that are in this book to one of you, call you like what’s up F-head, but it’s in [the book], what happens? Well, he gets three days out.’"

      Right, so you are forced to teach your son that certain language is only appropriate at certain times, which means he needs to analyze the situation that he's in and determine what is appropriate. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Kids are not stupid, people. Let them think, for god's sake.

  2. This post is further proof that you are awesome! I agree wholeheartedly. Kids know and use these words. Let them read them in the context of a story and develop their intellect at the same time!

    1. Yes, exactly. While everyone is worrying about kids being exposed to violence and growing up too fast, etc., etc., they seem to forget that kids are people with brains who can think about things (sometimes more than their parents, apparently).