The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is being challenged in a local school. A local TV station reported on the first salvo in the challenge by warning it’s readers that the word “masturbation” is “graphic content.” Below is my letter to the reporter objecting to that use.
(Here’s link to the report: http://bit.ly/TcU0F2)
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT (not really)
I read your article about the attempt to ban Parti-time Indian in the the Brunswick County Schools. I’m a professor of English Education at UNCW with a specialization in young adult literature. I’m a past-president of ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE and a member of ALAN’s Committee on Censorship, so I have a long-standing interest in cases such as the ones you reported. If there is a formal challenge against Alexie’s novel, I will be there to speak against the banning.
But I’m not writing about that. I’m writing about the words on the webpage before the excerpt from the novel: “NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT BELOW”
There is nothing graphic about the passage. It does not describe masturbation. It only uses the word. On a website that routinely shows car crashes, house fires, assault victims, and bloody crime scenes, the word masturbation is one of the least offensive things I’ve seen on your site.
Please consider asking your editor about removing the warning. It is unnecessary and it only serves to inflame the issue. As an entity protected by the same amendment that protects the author and readers of Part-time Indian, you should consider your role in any banning. Report the news but don’t be inflammatory. Masturbation is just a word. Putting an large block text above it is the same kind of reaction I would expect form seventh grade boys when someone says penis in the classroom. What does it say about WECT that violence is posted without a warning but a word gets a warning?
Addendum: A week later, the local paper ran a story about a peeper in a local neighborhood. One of the people interviewed accused the peeper of masturbating in public. There was no graphic content warning with that story.