Hey guys! I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this week’s episode uploaded, I was having a few editing problems but it’s up now! One minor mistake to note, during the part where I talk about the movie Hard Candy I briefly mixed up the plot with a different movie. In Hard Candy the main character is not getting revenge on her sister’s behalf, she is simply a teenager who suspects the man of being a predator and that’s why she’s seeking revenge. Everything else I said about the movie from the way they did a brilliant job at tackling an uncomfortable conversation in comparison to other works who tried and failed at that still stands!
I also wanted to take the time in this post to talk about censorship in case you aren’t able to listen to this week’s Podcast episode for any reason. I want to make sure everyone can be a part of this week’s conversation!
I got the idea for this week’s topic after I read this article titled “The 10 Most Famous Banned Writers Of All Time.” https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/the-10-most-famous-banned-writers-of-all-time/
I briefly mentioned three of the authors on this list. I talked about Judy Blume, Vladimir Nabokov, and J.K. Rowling. Judy Blume is an author who often tackles subjects related to puberty, teenage sexuality, and even things like birth control. All of these factors make her one of the most banned authors in the United States. I’m sure seeing Vladimir Nabokov’s name on this list does not surprise you. Nabokov is the author of Lolita, a book that has been surrounded by controversy since the author tried to get it published. This book was banned in several different places for its blatant themes of pedophilia. We will get more into this work later on in the post. Lastly, The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has been banned in several states for its themes of occultism and witchcraft.
Now that we have some real world examples to work with, I wanted to discuss the difference between a banned book and a challenged book. In an article called “Why Books Shouldn’t Be Banned” posted by user cbo1094 they dived in deeper to these definitions. https://the-artifice.com/books-banned/ The American Library Association says “a challenge is the attempt to remove the written material while a ban is the actual removal” (Artifice 2019).
So, what’s bad enough to get a book banned instead of just challenged? This article also went on to explain the biggest reasons books are banned. The American Library Association data shows the biggest reasons for a book being banned are “racial issues, damaging lifestyles, blasphemous dialog, sex, violence/negativity, witchcraft, religion, politics, or just age inappropriate” (Artifice 2019).
Now that we know the history of banning books, do I think that books should be banned? No. Hear me out. I believe that we should use adequate trigger warnings especially for teenagers, refrain from romanticizing harmful ideals, and we need some sort of system in place to help give viewers a place to talk out their feelings. However, I think banning books all together is pointless. A lot of subjects in these books are subjects that are uncomfortable but necessary to have. Banning these books won’t make those needed conversations go away. It will simply prolong the inevitable conversation until a different outrageous literary work comes out.
I understand wanting these controversial books out of children’s school curriculum and libraries, especially when it comes to a novel like Lolita which wouldn’t be age appropriate for most High School students. I even understand being enraged by these books, but silencing these author’s from sharing their work entirely is unsustainable and ineffective when you look at the whole picture. I want to pose my next question to you directly. Do you think that these books themselves are harmful or mainstream society’s interpretation of them are harmful?
To illustrate this point I want to dive deeper into two books; 13 Reasons Why and Lolita. It seems like an odd comparison but both of these books illustrate a similar point. I’ll start by discussing Lolita. I’ll be the first to admit that I am completely biased against this book. I find the plot repulsing and the writing style completely overrated. This book is about an adult man trying to justify the sexual attraction he has for a little girl by claiming she is just one-of-a-kind while we are encouraged to ignore the obvious truth, the main character is an absolute creep.
Do you know what’s even creepier? The fact that when I was 15 years old with a horribly corny blog, I would see other girls my age trying to replicate the exact fashion and mannerisms of the little girl who starred in the Lolita movie. What do I mean by replicating her mannerisms? These girls would want to make sure they appeared as fragile and docile as a child but seductive enough to gain attention from older men. It was pretty heartbreaking and uncomfortable. You’ve probably seen this same phenomenon from celebrities like Lana Del Rey and Melanie Martinez.
I was a die-hard Lana Del Rey fan when I was a teenager, but I have to state the obvious. She portrays herself to be soft and delicate, so that troubled older men will want her. A lot of her songs are about how these older men treat her horribly but she bears it because of her undying loyalty. This disturbing phenomenon is more apparent with Melanie Martinez though, who has worn a bib and pacifier in some of her promotional material. I want to make a point to say that I don’t think these women have bad intentions but they are promoting a disturbing subculture nonetheless to their fanbases full of teenage girls. It’s an act that is seen as “edgy” and an ironic take on society, but it really does more harm than good. I don’t think these women should be censored or banned but I do think we should discuss this phenomenon that is occurring in front of us, so we can learn from it.
Another book whose plot was romanticized in an unexpected way was 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I find this book to be a little more complex since we also witnessed the book’s adaptation into a Netflix TV Series in modern times. I read this book in High School and absolutely loved it.
The plot is about a girl named Hannah Baker who is experiencing depression once she moves to her new High School. Hannah Baker is experiencing bullying by classmates, arguments with her parents, and traumatic incidents. All of these things lead up to her wanting to end her life and she leaves 13 tapes behind to every person she feels contributed to her wanting to commit this tragic act.
Right off the bat one point that landed negatively on many readers was that they felt this was a revenge plot and teaches teenagers that suicide is the ultimate act of revenge. Like I said on this episode, I really can’t argue with that because there’s no clear messaging in the book to offer a counter-argument to this.
In my opinion the book did one thing extremely well. It took textbook signs of depression like giving away your valued possessions and making drastic changes to your physical appearance and showed how your friend could be showing these signs very subtly. I thought it did a good job at reminding the reader to check in with their loved ones.
Now, here’s where the dumpster fire started. This book that covered a plot as heart wrenching as a teenager committing suicide was now going to be a TV show. It’s one thing to read about this subject silently in your head without being provided images, it’s another to see it all come to life right in front of your eyes. The show uses their actors who are definitely not the age of normal High Schoolers and gets them to dramatize these scenes of teenagers drinking alcohol, experiencing sexual assault, and dealing with trauma. You know who is watching this show? A lot of teenagers and those teenager’s parents. There’s no doubt this show sparked an intense emotional reaction from its audience across the globe.
I’ll quickly make a note of what I condemn the show for and what I praise it for. In the very last episode of the first season Hannah Baker takes her life. She does this in an extremely graphic scene that some critics (including me) say could be triggering for self-harm and suicide survivors and a twisted “how-to” guide for a vulnerable young viewer who might be having thoughts of suicide. We need to talk about suicide and depression. We need to discuss the facts and end the stigma. This show did all of that without including this scene. Once this scene was included we surpassed the need for awareness and ended up landing in unnecessary shock-value territory.
Had this show and book been marketed to adults instead of remaining in the Young Adult’s section for years, I might have a different opinion. Since it was marketed to teenagers I still believe the graphic nature of this scene was not needed and the next couple seasons that this show put out continue to perpetuate a harmful message to its viewers.
One thing that I want to praise the show for is including adequate trigger warnings. It has been years since I watched this show so I can’t remember if they put warnings before every single episode, but I know that they did have warnings for most episodes. In addition to this, they had the actors from the show directly speaking to the audience and encouraging them to reach out for help if they were experiencing thoughts of suicide or depression. Since I consistently ask for shows and books to do better with providing trigger warnings, I wanted to make sure I praised the show for doing this.
The dumpster fire continued after several people around the world finished watching the first season of this show and took their outrage to social media. I will note that I did not see a general consensus about this show. It seemed to be a fairly polarizing show, either you loved the rawness or you hated the portrayal. Media outlets had a field day with this public reaction beginning to share poorly researched studies that stated this show contributed to increasing suicide rates within its first couple months of releasing.
This study has been consistently challenged by several researchers but that didn’t stop media outlets from continuing to share the study. There are several petitions to this day that are online and want this show taken off Netflix. I don’t think it should be but I can definitely understand why people would want it to be. It’s a polarizing harmful show that sometimes romanticizes mental illness and presents itself as a toxic revenge plot.
Just like Lolita, after 13 Reasons Why released teenage girls begin to share edits of Hannah Baker online, casting her as this almost fantasy whose outcome they wanted to replicate. It’s important that teenage girls don’t feel alienated in their thoughts of depression but this show handed them a character who romanticized their mental illness and tempted them with a dangerous fate.
It’s not even the book or show itself. It’s the fact that we don’t really know what to do next. After vulnerable teenagers who aren’t completely cognitively developed digest this toxic material, they need a place they can discuss it with an adult/mental healthcare professionals. We need to have the flexibility in schools to have class discussions about popular works like this so that teenagers have a place to talk out these confusing thoughts that this show might have kicked up. It’s anxiety-inducing thinking about how many teenagers only have themselves and their peers to try to work their way through complex topics like depression and suicide with.
Let’s sum up my opinions for this week’s episode. Books should not be banned. This act is unsustainable and will only prolong the inevitable until another work discussing the same topics come out. There is a need for placing these books in age appropriate environments and figuring out a way to have constructive open conversations about them. Romanticizing these works can become even more harmful than the work itself. It’s our responsibility to watch the message we share and spread when it comes to tricky topics like this.
Let me know if typing out today’s episode was easier for you and if you’re able to access my Podcast on Spotify. I really have a goal to have the content I share on my Podcast reach all writers no matter where you are or what experience level you have. I will see you in next week’s episode!