In Which People Who Should Know Better Continue to be Dumber Than a Box of Rocks

Y'all remember a week or so ago, when I posted about "The Hoo-haa Monologues"?

Here's more of the same, another example of puritanical morons slowly but surely taking over our daily lives, courtesy the New York Times, once again via Neil Gaiman.

With One Word, Children's Book Sets Off Uproar

What word could a children's author use to set off an uproar? Was it "shit?" Nope. "Fuck?" Nope. "Hoo-haa?" Nope.

The word is "scrotum."

Dana Nilsson, a librarian right here in Colorado, was quoted in the Times article: "I don't want to start an issue about censorship. But you won't find men's genitalia in quality literature."

She's right, you know. The presence or absence of men's genitalia is, indeed, the hallmark of quality literature. This The Higher Power of Lucky that has caused controversy is clearly not quality literature. That it won the Newberry Award, the highest honor a children's book can receive, must be some sort of fluke. After all, it features men's genitalia.

Or not. The scrotum in question actually belongs to a dog. It is, as I understand it, mentioned in passing, but not what you'd call a major plot point. If the book were being marketed to children and was full of graphic descriptions of sex, that would be one thing. If the offending word were in a sentence like, "Lucky was getting tired of Jake's hairy scrotum slapping against her chin," I could understand the uproar. But it occurs when the lead character overhears someone talking about his dog getting bit by a rattlesnake, which seems essentially harmless.

I just don't understand it. Why are we so embarrassed by our own bodies? Or, more appropriately, why is there a certain segment of the population so embarrassed by the human body and the correct names for its parts that they effectively decide the question for the rest of us? How is it even possible to be shocked and offended by the word "scrotum?" How is it possible to be so horrified that you or someone else might have to explain to a ten-year-old what a scrotum is that you want the book banned? If anyone out there has answers for these questions, please pass them along - I'm baffled, myself.

People wring their hands and fret about teenagers having sex and teen pregnancy and all the rest. "What can we do about these horrible problems?" they ask. Here's my idea: start by not teaching children to be embarrassed by and ashamed of being human and being the owners of human bodies. Don't be afraid to tell children the proper names for the parts of those bodies when they ask. That won't solve the problem, but it's a start.

The other thing that really gets me is that this isn't a case of irate parents demanding that the book be removed from libraries. This is a case of librarians pre-emptively banning the book. Librarians, who ought to be among the most passionate lovers and defenders of the written word, are deciding that they won't carry the book that has been proclaimed the best piece of children's literature of 2006 because it contains a word they find offensive. These aren't Focus on the Family meddlers, but librarians for God's sake.

In that vein, I close with some wise words from the noted Canadian author Robertson Davies: "I never heard of anyone who was really literate or who ever really loved books who wanted to suppress any of them. Censors only read a book with great difficulty, moving their lips as they puzzle out each syllable, when someone tells them that the book is unfit to read."