Some dingbat at WorldNetDaily is very excited about Facts on Fiction, a site that helps parents choose “safe” books for their children.
The site rates each book according to a number of simple criteria: there are easy-to-read charts for mature subject matter; profanity; sexual content; violence/illegal activity; tobacco/alcohol/drugs; and disrespectful/anti-social elements.
The reviewers have definitely done their homework. The chart for Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl reveals it to be more or less free of anti-social content – on the familial level, at any rate - although there are “multiple brief instances” of “arguing/disrespect without consequences.” (Those Frank children were downright spoiled, if you ask me.)
The book also features “frightening scenes,” or if you prefer, “situations that create fear.” Fortunately, you can click a link to get more specific objections, as thus:
There are constant references to the violence of WWII and the Holocaust.It does seem a bit gratuitous, when you put it like that.
James and the Giant Peach - a book I personally found distasteful as a child – has some problems, too:
ARGUING WITHOUT CONSEQUENCESThe first complaint has such profound philosophical implications that I scarcely feel qualified to address it. Suffice it to say that if I’d been directed to this site at an impressionable age, and read this entry, I’d probably be living under a freeway overpass today.
p. 57-59 The group argues about their fate.
EXPRESSIONS OF BAD ATTITUDES
p. 103-105 Insulting remarks by Centipede result in an attack by the Cloud-Men.
Regarding pages 103 to 105, I find it strange that after all these complaints about books in which disrespect brings no consequences, we’re now supposed to fret over books that take the opposite approach. John Yoo or Alberto Gonzalez could fashion a massive legal juggernaut around the concept that centipedes who insult cloud-men must pay a price. But when Roald Dahl says it, there’s a problem.
The points here are too obvious to belabor, but that rarely stops me. The moralistic approach to teaching literature had one of its greatest and most sensitive adherents in Flannery O’Connor; the fact that even she couldn’t quite manage to make a sensible argument for it ought to be instructive.
At the very least, a parent who wants to screen books in this way needs to have the decency to read them herself, instead of cribbing from someone else's absurd laundry list of imagined faults, and clucking over examples of disrespectful behavior and tobacco abuse among people who are en route to a state-administered death camp.
Granted, the understanding of culture tends to be simplistic across the political spectrum, and I know lefties whose grounds for judging works of art are every bit as thoughtless and reflexive as those of their conservative counterparts. It’s typical of our strange, paranoiac brand of optimism to assume that we can simply reduce art to a couple of simple propositions, and judge it accordingly.
This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to mediate or even restrict children’s access to certain material. It’s not. But you can’t do it this way. The examples above are absurd because they can’t be anything but absurd, given that the scope and intentions of projects like these will always be totally incommensurable with what art is and does.
According to WND, this site makes “the tough job of parenting just a little bit easier.” It does indeed make parenting easier, and that’s precisely what’s wrong with it. It rewards parental laziness, and legitimates parental ignorance. It makes parents worse, not better, while teaching children that they don’t even have to read Cliffs Notes to learn what they need to know about a book. Worst of all, it punishes children for the emotional problems of adults, in the name of protecting their innocence. If children are to be protected from “situations that create fear,” they probably shouldn’t be encouraged to think of books as the intellectual equivalent of sweaty-palmed strangers with candy.
But then, I would say that. After all, I was corrupted in my youth by a story in which steroid-enhanced rodents fed sleeping powder to a cat.