I have three words for Glendale Unified School District officials and those parents who seek to ban Truman Capote’s masterpiece “In Cold Blood” from being added to the English curriculum.
Get. Over. It.
Yes, the novel depicts an almost unimaginable murder of an innocent Kansas farmer and his family by two hardened criminals. But it also seeks to delve into the minds of the perpetrators in order to define what motivates such horrific behavior. And ultimately, it shows the consequences of such criminal behavior.
If we are going to measure violence, perhaps we should include fictional works like the Harry Potter anthology. If I’m not mistaken, over the course of several books, there are a multitude of killings and violent confrontations, mostly intended to entertain.
Death by witchcraft does not come close to being as thought-provoking as the murders described by Capote in one of the most important pieces of American writing in the 20th century.
If we were to use descriptions of violent behavior as a standard to measure the appropriateness of literature, I’d say J.K. Rowling’s depictions of murder are far more gratuitous, thus making the act of violence seem meaningless, and the lives lost appear disposable. This depiction is much more disturbing, for when we make murder seem entertaining and inconsequential, we become desensitized to the act itself.
I wonder how many of the people protesting Capote’s work banned their kids from lining up to watch the final installment of the Harry Potter series? I recall one battle in particular seemed to depict hundreds of students dying in a number of violent and gruesome ways.
I think we tread in dangerous water if we hold to a belief that thousands of people randomly killed in a work of fantasy is somehow acceptable for public consumption, while the in-depth evaluation of a real-life murder needs to be shunned.
And let’s bear in mind the book was requested for an advanced placement, 11th-grade class, where it is assumed college-level thinking and analysis is being nurtured. While I can’t prove it, I’m willing to bet many of these students have read one or two of the Rowling’s books. Maybe a dose of non-fiction will help them see the hard reality behind murder.
Do we want the brightest and best minds in our school system to be shielded from challenging pieces of writing because a few adults can’t grasp the significance and meaning of the work? Or do we want to give them the ability to analyze and interpret the abstract and concrete themes of literature without prejudice or compromise?
The very notion of limited access and denial of free thought is counter to the growth of young, intelligent minds. What are we really shielding them from? The Glendale Unified School District ought to answer that simple question, taking into account the amount of mind-numbing, thoughtless depictions of violence prevalent in many popular works of fiction.
It feels like we are condoning violence, but banning the realistic description? Personally, I think it is vital to teach our kids to decipher and interpret the difference between fiction and reality. But exactly how are we supposed to do that when killing is censored unless it comes at the hands of a troll?
Whatever protests like these lack in common sense they more than make up for in irrational fear. Take, for example, the fringe group One Million Moms, which is trying to ban the Ben and Jerry’s flavor, Schweddy Balls, because it finds the name offensive. This offshoot of the American Family Assn. recently wrote on its website, “The vulgar new flavor has turned something as innocent as ice cream into something repulsive. Not exactly what you want a child asking for at the supermarket.”
Again, I’d be inclined to ask a simple question of this group. What are you trying to protect your children from and who made you the decider of good taste?
This kind of “double entendre” parody is nothing new. Think about the adult-intended references peppered throughout “Shrek” or the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Those jokes are intended to fly right over kids’ heads unless someone, like a parent, explains the secondary meaning.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe little conservative children have an innate ability to interpret everything as having psychosexual, satanic connotations. What must those poor kids think of Ben and Jerry’s other flavors, such as Mud Pie, Karamel Sutra, Half Baked, What A Cluster, and the most offensive, left-wing flavor of all, Imagine Whirled Peace?
To both groups of protesters I have some advice: life is filled with all kinds of artistic expression. Instead of banning works based on your preferences and fears, teach your children to interpret all of it with intelligence, perspective and value.
You might be surprised at how smart they become when allowed to make up their own minds.
GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.