When I was a kid there was a big stink about a book that made it to the shelves of the library at school. Judy Bloom, who was famous for writing books targeted at fourth graders, had decided to branch out and write a book targeted at post-pubescent teens. Parents protested and got the book pulled off of the shelves. The local news and the local papers all interviewed the parents who felt victorious for getting this book banned. They felt like they had been handed an overwhelming victory.
So what was the end result? Well it wasn’t quite what they had expected. You see the local grocery store sold the same book in paperback and quite a few kids in school went out and bought it. I remember one boy reading a copy at recess that had clearly been handed down quite a few times. I’ll confess, I read it just to see what the fuss was all about. By protesting and getting the book banned from the school they freely gave the book more prime-time publicity than the publishing company would have ever been able to afford without it. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, however if the boycotts and protests had been deliberate stunts perpetrated by the publisher I doubt if they could have achieved better results. If those “concerned parents” had just put up with it the mediocre book would have faded into obscurity.
I’m not a big fan of Catcher in the Rye. I wouldn’t call the book a waste of time, but I just could never see what all the hoopla was all about. I read it a few years ago in a book group I was in. During the post reading discussion I was the only one that didn’t really care for the book. Although they wouldn’t come out an admit it, I have a sneaky suspicion that the same thing was happening again. Take away the controversy and you’re left with a mediocre piece of work that wouldn’t have made any impact on society.
I think the Harry Potter books have benefited quite a bit form this same phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the books. I just don’t think they would have risen to such prominence quite so quickly without all the Bible-Thumpers complaining about witchcraft in our schools.
I read a comment on facebook were someone called this the “Marilyn Manson Effect”. If you take away all the controversy and hype Brian Warner would still be making slurpies at the 7-11. Have you listened to his “music”? He’s a talentless hack who’s only real skill is an ability to convince kids that he’s cool by upsetting their parents. Again if the parent hadn’t gotten so upset about him he would have had to go get a real job somewhere.
I’ve been tip-toeing around a current issue that has hit the news so as to not give it any publicity that it doesn’t deserve. My point is that sometimes it’s much better to just put up with something you disagree with. Protesting, boycotting and getting all upset about it will just give it more attention than it deserves.
Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection.
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