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Censorship: The Fall of Literature

In Canada more than in most other countries, censorship has been used to shelter rather than to hinder. However, as we move into an age in which the media propagates "mature content", the very idea of censorship becomes controversial. Where is the line between preserving innocence and nurturing naivety?

Censoring has always been a taboo subject. After endless years of fighting for ‘freedom of speech’ it should have been apparent that such a power would eventually be abused. Nowadays, with abundant sources of media, music and literature it’s come to the point where we must ask ourselves: Has that time finally come?

Ideally, freedom of speech would have no limits. However, if we wish to live in a society in which the majority of the population is content, we must place boundaries on our freedom of speech. These boundaries are often established and then conveyed through the media. Whether it be by television, movies, music or written works, the most common and popular pieces set the appropriate language for its society. It is for this reason that works which deviate from this unspoken path are easily spotted and why someone is always there to dispute it.

In light of the ever-expanding genre of hip-hop/rap and their ‘loose’ uses of vulgar terms, the severity of censorship has decreased in recent years. Nevertheless, literature still seems able to provoke controversy. The classic novel Huckleberry Finn by author Mark Twain is currently being remade into a more ‘acceptable’ version. This remake will have the word ‘nigger’ (written 219 times in the original piece) replaced by the word ‘slave’, no matter its believability considering the social context. Then again, censoring such works is clearly a strategic manner of sheltering our children in order to instil a sense of innocence and political correctness.

Undoubtedly, ‘censorship’ raises many other questions concerning the sheltering of our youth. In this day and age, much more than in previous years, our kids are exposed to almost infinite sources of media which allow them to explore all topics in a matter of seconds. The question is no longer what should we shelter them from? But what can we shelter them from? This new predicament can be frightening to many parents; how can one assure that one’s child will be morally well-rounded without the authority of censorship? Thus, some individuals take it upon themselves to censor all that can be censored as a sort of justification for that which cannot be controlled. This seems to be our most logical solution to minimizing the corruption of youth.

Yet, when dealing with such a controversial topic, we must remember the most important thing: it is impossible to please everyone. Moreover, that is how it should remain. When censorship is the issue, there will always be two opposing sides, and, attempting to compromise will not change that. Take Huckleberry Finn, for example. When remade, the hope is that those who wished to see the word ‘nigger’ outlawed will be content, as will those who wished to see the book studied. In spite of this possibility, true literary fans would hate to see the classic altered and critics would argue that the remake would merely incite readers to pursue the original text. Censorship should not aim to please all crowds but rather to make an appropriate decision considering the circumstances. Besides, controversial literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird is already being studied just as vulgar words are already reaching today’s youth by means of television and internet. Should all verdicts of this type then be re-evaluated when new issues arise? Should we second-guess every censorship-related decision every time someone is unhappy? If we did, a great deal of chaos would emerge and diminish the supremacy of the department responsible for the rulings.

This brings us to one of societies greatest deficiencies: trust. Allowing children to go to a public school is equivalent to entrusting the board of education along with the teachers and headmasters of said association with the instruction of your child. The members of this board are expected to teach that which will enrich a student in terms of reading, writing, analyzing and communicating. If parents do not take the time to teach their children of important social issues, controversial or not, then it is the system of education’s job to do so. Undeniably, teachers who choose to discuss contentious literature have weighed the pros and cons of such a choice. We must then have a certain amount of faith in the predominantly democratic system and trust that teachers will know how to teach just as accountants will know how to do taxes. Without this trust, society would fall apart. In any case, the same books are not studied in every public school; changing schools and homeschooling are always options, however inconvenient to the unsatisfied parents.

All in all, considering the amount of questionable content on regular television shows, popular websites (YouTube) and ‘hip’ music, it seems almost ridiculous to bash literature for its clever, and fitting, connotations. On the other hand, the manner in which we deal with such topics is a mere reflection of our own intelligence. Thus, these events have proven that we believe it more intelligent to censor problems than to spend the time to teach our children the context in which certain vulgar words are used. After all, teaching is the job of the educational system we’ve taken oh so much time to perfect.

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