One of the earliest memories I have of my mother is when I was in a discount bookstore with her when I was seven. When we walked into the checkout lane, my mom saw a bunch of free bookmarks with the words, “Censorship causes blindness” on them sitting on the counter. As soon as my mom noticed them, she picked one up, and said wildly to the cashier something to the extent of “Hell yes, I don’t believe in censorship!” before shoving one of the bookmarks into my hand.
Although this memory isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it does explain the liberal environment in which I grew up. My childhood was not censored at all. I was never blocked from watching certain television programs. I could watch any movie I wanted. And my mom took it upon herself to read adult novels like A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Catcher in the Rye rather than Dr. Seuss to put me to sleep.
Surprisingly, I don’t think I was harmed in any way growing up in this environment. In fact, it only helped me gain a deeper interest in the world around me. After I re-read the Catcher in the Rye when I was 12, I remember going up to certain friends and crying about how beautiful it was when Holden refused to have sex with the hooker he ordered, or how intense the masturbation scene was in 9 ½ Weeks, and they looked at me like I was crazy. Even though I don’t know if their parents had specifically censored them from reading or seeing that material, I slowly started to realize that they hadn’t started to analyze those issues yet in their lives. It made it difficult for me to relate to them.
Although I occasionally wouldn’t understand what was going on when I exposed to certain material, like when Laura Palmer was murdered on Twin Peaks or why Alex raped all those women in A Clockwork Orange, my mother always took time to explain the situation to me in a way that I could understand. Sure, it was shocking for me as a young child to learn about some of the horrors of the world, but due to my mom’s commitment to responsibly explaining controversial issues in the books, movies and television to which I was exposed, I was able to digest and develop my own critical thoughts about the issues. In other words, my exposure to adult material only help me develop a critical mind about issues like feminism, murder, race, failed marriages and love rather than cause me any psychological harm.
You know as I well as I do that censorship is all around us: television shows, music and movies having “age appropriate” ratings, The Catcher in the Rye have been banned in schools due to its exploration of sexuality and explicit language, and there are still high schools that teach abstinence rather than full sexual education courses. And although I realize that some of this censorship is not the parent’s fault, I do believe that parents need to take the time to explain to their children why they are being censored. By evading the issue of censorship, I believe parents are hurting more than helping their children understand the why it exists. It’s like pushing a kid into a pool without any floaties on; by censoring children and/or censoring them about censorship, parents throw their kids into battles in which there is no way of winning. If children don’t know about issues like sex, violence, racial and economic inequality or hatred, how are they supposed to understand them? Better yet, how are the expected to critically analyze these issues in the future?
Look, I’m not condoning that we buy all our kids knives or take them to strip clubs, but I do believe that parents have the responsibility of explaining controversial issues to their children rather than covering them up. In our day in age, it’s becoming easier for young kids to gain access to this “ill material.” They can type in “penis” on Google and some pretty explicit pictures will pop up on their computer screen. Social networking groups like Facebook and Myspace make it easy for tweens to fudge their age and access their large collections of sexually explicit or party photos. And I guess it’s pretty easy to download internet porn. In a time in which parents have less control over what their kids can see and do on the Internet, it’s almost like they have no choice but to explain the material to them and answer all kid’s questions in order to equip them for the world. It will give children the tools to understand the controversy. And what can be better than generation of kids who somewhat “get” the world and have the critical mind to analyze it? I’m think that maybe that our children will be generation that carries out our parent’s failed cultural revolution.
So all in all, I must agree with my mother on this issue. Censorship doesn’t protect our children, but causes them to be ill-equipped for the world in which the will eventually participate. Censorship really does cause blindness.