Tuesday, November 08, 2005

To Smoke Or Not To Smoke

Thanks to LISnews, I found this site about how a photograph of illustrator Clement Hurd on Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon has been changed on the latest edition. A cigarette that Hurd was holding has disappeared. When you go to the site, you find out that most respondents agree with the cigarette being removed.

Prior instances of photo alteration include removing a cigarette from a photo of Robert Johnson for a stamp.

Most of the people voting on the Hurd site -- with or without cigarette -- say without.

And at the same time, this study came out saying Movies Heavily Shape Teen Smoking.

Here's my issue, and why I'm bringing it up here. I have a big problem with changing a photo to appear to be something it isn't. If people aren't comfortable with, say, a photo of Hurd smoking -- find another photo. Or don't use a photo at all. But to change history? To give a false impression? That's just not right.

And while I appreciate the concern in the study about teen views towards smoking, I cannot help but think that there are many things, in books and movies for teens, that people have problems with. The reasons that parents give for wanting a book banned usually include the argument that if a teen reads about it, she/he will be influenced to do it: hence, a book shouldn't include sex. Or drugs. Or bad language. Or dangerous things. Or fill in the blank with the particular concern of the parent making the challenge.

And the response we librarians, authors, publishers give is usually that the book reflects real life. It wouldn't be authentic to omit these things. Or, this gives a teen a way to read about it and experience it without doing it. Or its clear that a lesson is being taught. Or, whatever the other reason is, it is a defense that says: keep the book. If the parent doesn't want the child engaging in that behavior, well, we say -- you're either blind to the reality your child lives in (kids use that language all the time!) or its up to you as the parent to instill values (you teach kids no sex before marriage, leave the book alone).

Me, I'm in the keep the book camp.

Which is why anyone raising a reason -- no matter how good -- to change a photo, or to limit what may appear in movies or books or TV -- using the argument "we have to protect the kids, they are being influenced by this" comes under very heavy scrutiny from me.

For example, here with the smoking: if you're willing to have the photos altered; if you're willing to say, teen books or movies shouldn't include smoking because teens will be influenced and that is bad, how can you tell the parent who is concerned about sex or drugs in teen movies and books that it's OK to have and keep the movie or book about sex or drugs? But having smoking in the book or movie is too dangerous?

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