Friday, October 3, 2008

Banned Books Week: Day Seven
Adult Sexual Fiction

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

This series has focused on books that have been banned because they present ideas that small-minded people want to keep the general public from accessing. Generally those books revolve around behaviors that are abhorrent to some particular group, such as alternative lifestyles, teen pregnancies, abortions, interracial dating, and pacifism. These topics find their way into teen novels, and even occasionally into books for young children. For instance, Heather has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and Diane Souza, and Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoit introduce young readers to the concept of alternative lifestyles and non-traditional families.

Another category of books that often runs afoul of censors are books whose primary content is sexual in nature. Often these volumes have small publishing runs and are sold in adult bookstores solely for titillation and entertainment. They have little or no literary merit, and are quickly read, tossed, and forgotten. There have been several books focusing on adult sexual content, however, that have become classics in the field and have remained in print and circulation for generations.

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland was penned in the middle of the eighteenth century and can be purchased in any mainline bookstore today. It is a raunchy (but well written) tale of a young lady who accidentally loses her virginity in a whorehouse and spends the next several hundred pages having sexual adventures while waiting on her true love to return from an overseas posting.

A writer named Terry Southern wrote a lusty little novel in the late 1950's that went on to be passed around every high school in America. The book was called Candy, and the eighteen-year-old central character, Candy Christian, had her erotic adventures described by Playboy Magazine as "picaresque travels, a kind of sexual pinball machine that lights up academia, gardeners, the medical profession, mystics, and bohemians." A movie version was released in the late 1960s that boasted a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Ringo Starr.

Books such as Fanny Hill and Candy originally felt the censor's wrath due to their sexual nature and tendency to excite. Today some feminist groups have begun to highlight links between erotic literature (and pornography) to sexual crimes against women - leading to a pondersome question: should things that pose a danger to the public - such as cigarettes, liquor, drugs, guns, and adult sexual literature - be banned from public consumption? And with regard to the written word, who decides when it has crossed a line that could make it dangerous - and how is that line determined?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I fear that opening the door to censorship, even a crack, will result in society being overrun by hyenas. It feels to me as though we should all be responsible for our own consumptions and behaviors until such time as those personal choices adversely effect someone else. When that happens, we have crossed a line and society is called forth to mete out punishment for our misbehaviors and crimes.

Read responsibily, but don't let me or anyone else tell you what you can and cannot read.

Thanks for sharing this important week with me!

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