30 September, 2008
Adventures in Banned Books
Raise your hand if you think you're looking at child porn.
Back when I worked at B. Dalton, I only saw my manager lose her composure with a customer once. Some fuckwit came up to the counter foaming at the mouth with an Anne Geddes book in his hand. He demanded we remove all copies from the shelves immediately. "Anne Geddes is child porn!" he proclaimed.
My manager gave him a dumbfounded look. He'd struck both of us speechless. And he continued to rant while we attempted to pick our jaws up off the cashwrap, pompously turning pages and pointing to damning pictures of nekkid bebbes lying in fields of roses and other such horrors.
Now, I'm no Anne Geddes fan. Nauseating cute has never been my forte. Babies, in my world, are sticky squalling bundles of misery best left to others to ooo and ahh over. People look at Anne Geddes and think, "Adorable!" I look at her photos and think, "I wonder how long it took for them to get the kid to stop screaming and look precious." But the last damned thing most of us would think is that such images were pornographic.
My manager and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: Anyone who would see these photos as child pornography needs some serious counselling.
She tried sweet reason with the fuckwit. "These are cute babies, there's nothing sexual about this, look, most of them are in little costumes." To no avail. He continued demanding we remove the books. He was going to write to our corporate office, and the newspaper, and probably the attorney general, and let them all know we sold kiddie porn.
My manager lost it at last. Her face turned red. "We do not censor books," she informed him in tones that would have flayed a normal individual alive. "There is nothing wrong with Anne Geddes. We're not removing those books, and I want you out of this store immediately."
He redoubled his rants. She finally exploded. "If you don't leave now, I'll call security and have you removed. Do not ever come back here."
She marched him out the door, and returned to me fuming. "I can't stand people who try to censor books," she announced.
Well, neither can I. I even went so far as to buy some Anne Geddes kitsch for family members by way of protest.
We proudly wore our "I READ BANNED BOOKS" buttons at the store. We sold anything and everything, without fear or favor - except The Anarchist's Cookbook, which either through corporate policy or law enforcement request wasn't something we'd carry. That was the only time we failed free speech, and it wasn't our choice. I'm proud of that record.
Book banning is a slippery slope. Ban one book for its content, and you've opened the door to a multitude of excuses. Everyone's going to find something offensive, even in the least offensive of tomes. Best to draw the bright line at no censorship, and let the marketplace of ideas take over from there.
Otherwise, we won't even have saccharine sweet books of baby pictures to read.