KEVIN HAD CRAZY PARENTS. Even the crazy parents kind of thought they were crazy. I grew up in New York and crazy is relative, but I don’t mean a cool kind of crazy. I refer to the kind of people that worried about the corruption of their children by “satanic” Gargamel on The Smurfs and did the unthinkable: prohibited the beloved childhood ritual of my generation known as watching Saturday Morning Cartoons. Every neighborhood had a family like that, but Kevin’s parents were the stuff of school bus legend.
They were afraid of everything, and remained untouched by disco, the sexual revolution and rock n’ roll. They didn’t like television and they never bought Atari. They were uncomfortably turned on by Josie And The Pussycats and thought that playing the piano was the only thing their kid Kevin wanted to do with his hands.
They were the filter, the bureau, the soap to the bubble- and yet, Kevin wasn’t a jerk. For all I know, his shut in little sister might still be sitting in her pink room with her Holly Hobby.
But Kevin ended up cool as hell and now that I think of it, I should google his ass.
Kevin did what many kids do to escape suburban repression. He dug a tunnel around them and popped up in the backyard of the foul mouthed girl with little supervision that the neighbors called “Pippi”. And he wasn’t the only one. These poor bastards borrowed my comic books, thumbed through medical books, and even checked out racks in the National Geographics.
We always had these hippie guests that would never leave in our spare rooms and they soon became the source of the good stuff, especially the feminist college student chicks that left the bathroom doors open and talked about tampons.
When Kevin started to go “for runs” every afternoon, I figured he was my boyfriend. The crazy genes had left his eyes. We were growing up fine.
Things were ok until he got curious about sex and we sent him home with Judy Blume’s “Forever”.
Now some of you might be old enough to recall that in the seventies, the author of many childhood staples such as ‘Freckle Juice” and “Superfudge” wrote a young adult book that caused an uproar because it dealt with teenagers and sex. All hell broke loose when Kevin’s mother found him asleep with the book of her nightmares and when word spread that it was mine I felt like every mother in the development was seeing the word “penis” above my head.
They just had to look away, or the word might burn their eyes.
There was much to love about the courage of Judy Blume and to this day, I can look back at the controversy and decade of panic surrounding “Forever” as an experience that opened my eyes to both the controversy of sexual information and the banning of books.
As an adult, I can certainly appreciate the rights of parents to chart their own course. I can appreciate the desire to protect innocence and I can see that decisions about such things are not made easily. I don’t like people telling me what is right and for that reason, I’d like to be more sensitive to the issue of judgment and external scrutiny. My father was lenient as hell and didn’t give a shit, he answered everything with patience and I suppose he was an extreme compared to most. But I trusted his take on the world more than all of the neighbors combined and believed him when he said that ignorance causes more harm than good.
What I could not wrap my head around then and cannot accept now, however, is the ability of groups of people to ban books in the name of “public good”. Regardless of your views back then or even now on “Forever”, it was a book that spoke to the subject in a way that many parents could not. And I believed then, as I still do, that people will seek information and will often distrust those that demonize curiosity. I think that I have been interested in intellectual freedom and censorship and access to information ever since and it perhaps really started with this confused but sweet kid getting the belt simply because he was curious and dared to read a forbidden book.
Judy Blume’s book about teens grappling with love, sex, and birth control remains one of the most widely banned and controversial books ever. She joined the club of folks like Miller and Ginsberg in that she challenged and pushed back, in her own way. The desire to decide for others what is valuable, offensive, or what has literary merit is a part of our social history and cultural experience and it can be hard to imagine now in 2012. But yes, there was a time when you did have to find tits in a National Geographic. And there was a time when your library was not neutral territory or a harbor for intellectual freedom, but a repository of “approved” materials. Many remain so today, and to their credit many librarians have themselves gone rogue in upholding the value of access. Banning and censoring are not going to go away.
And still today, there is the message that people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions for themselves or their children. People cannot be trusted because they might make choices that you don’t want them to make. Their answer is to take the choice out of our hands. To my parents, choice was paramount.
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