Thursday, October 15, 2015

Common sense won

Sometimes, common sense prevails. Sometimes the wowsers and self-appointed morality police are reminded that in a diverse society, they don’t get to dictate things. Sometimes, the good guys win. That just happened in New Zealand.

Last month, a far-right “Christian” professional activist, Bob McCroskrie, caused an award-winning young adult novel to be banned, the first time that had ever happened in modern New Zealand, when he objected to the book being freely available, without restriction. I told the story of that soap opera last month, and it’s a long tale, so I won’t repeat it all here.

The important thing is that the professional wowser lost. Again. The Film and Literature Board of Review not only rejected Bob’s latest complaint, they restored it to the original status the book had before Bob’s first complaint: It is unrestricted. And that's final.

Which makes Bob’s whining about the Board’s "flip-flop decision" especially funny. The book was unrestricted, Bob complained, it was reclassified R-14 (which was unprecedented for a book), something that amounted to de facto banning since neither libraries nor bookstores have R-14 sections. The Chief Censor changed the rating back to unrestricted, Bob complained again and ended up with Board essentially upholding the access the Chief Censor had originally given the book. In this case, the Board’s “flip” “flopped” it back to the original status of the book.

Bob was sure he’d win his latest appeal, particularly because the Board’s chair, rightwing Christian Don Mathiesson, had originally favoured making the book R-18—the same rating as pornography, which would have restricted the award-winning young adult novel to adults only. When Bob launched his last appeal, Mathiesson took the extreme and bizarre step of banning the book outright, even though doing so clearly contravened the Bill of Rights Act.

Bob, was gleeful when the book was banned, even though he hadn’t asked for that, and he pretty obviously thought he’d win his appeal. Bob declared it was only the beginning of a book-banning frenzy: "Hopefully we have set a precedent and people start bringing other books to the fore that they are concerned about."

Well, this matter has been settled once and for all, and Bob lost. Again. Don was outvoted by the Board he chairs. Again. The wowsers lost. Again. And the grown-ups won.

Where Bob was once giddy with the prospect of imposing his view of morality on everyone, now he’s livid: "A dangerous precedent has been set,” he declared, “and parents will now feel disempowered and that their concerns will be ignored regarding similar books which they may not want their young teenagers and pre-teens to be reading."

Too frigging bad.

I have a radical solution to Bob’s problem: Maybe, just maybe, parents could, oh, I don't know, BE PARENTS! If the pearl-clutchers like Bob and what’s probably only a handful of parents he represents cannot be bothered to pay attention to what their children are reading, how is that society’s problem? These wowsers also bitterly complain about TV shows they don’t approve of and try to get them banned so no one can watch—instead of using the “off” button on their own damn televisions.

Society is complex nowadays, which frightens the wowers and pearl-clutchers. It’s absolutely true that with the Internet alone, maintaining parental supervision of children isn’t easy. But good parents, first, inculcate their children with good values so the kids can tell right from wrong and also what their parents don’t approve of (the two are NOT synonymous). Then, parents need to maintain a dialogue with their children so they know what their children are doing, to the extent possible, and can discuss the new ideas and information with them.

But teenagers will always push the boundaries—that’s their job as they work to establish their own identity. No parent can stop or prevent that, which is precisely why the most reactionary parents will try and ban the things they don’t approve of, because they know that, ultimately, there’s no way to keep their teens from accessing what mainstream teens do.

It’s too bad that Bob and the other wowsers are frightened by modern society. I pity them for their inability to grow and progress as society does. But I absolutely reject their constant attempts to dictate what’s appropriate or moral for everyone: They have absolutely no right to do so. There’s a HUGE difference between having a different opinion or worldview, and forcing it onto everyone else; the first is a human right, the second is tyranny.

Common sense won in New Zealand. Once again, the wowsers and self-appointed morality police were reminded that in a diverse society, they don’t get to dictate things. This time, the good guys won.

Postscript: Into the River by Ted Dawe is once again available for New Zealanders to buy on Amazon, as is the Kindle edition. Both were blocked when the book was banned.

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