Rotraut Susanne Berner—author of several children’s books that have sold well in both her native Germany and internationally—was thrilled to get a letter from a US publishing house expressing interest in translating and publishing her books in this country.
Then there was a minor glitch. First, the publisher asked that all smokers be excised from the drawings in Berner’s books. I guess we wouldn’t want our children to see images of adults smoking.
But there was another, larger issue. One scene in the book, set in an art gallery, depicts a nude painting with bare breasts. But that’s not all. There’s also a statue of an anatomically correct naked man atop a pedestal. Well, anatomically correct is a bit of an exaggeration. The cartoon statue stands about seven millimeters tall and you wouldn’t be able to see his bits even if you used the Hubbel Telescope.
But this was all too much for the publisher, Boyds Mills Press. They asked Ms. Berner to remove the offending painting and statue from the scene. She refused, offering a compromise instead: She agreed to have black censorship bars placed over the offensive cartoon breasts and the nude statue’s microscopic member. The author said that, while she would consider letting her drawings be censored, she believed her readers had a right to know that they were looking at censored drawings. The publishing house rejected the compromise.
So the author turned down their offer.
Good for her for not buying into the hyper-uptight, anti-sex, puritanical madness that is so much the vogue in the US today. In one of my first posts, I talked about how the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) routinely rates films with sexual content more severely (R and NC-17) than films with graphic violence. At the end of the day, the average American child will see millions of violent images over the course of their lives but our society will take care to protect them from images of nudity. And millions of American women who watch Desperate Housewives or read Cosmo will be exposed to artificial and unnatural standards of beauty that will undermine their self-esteem, distort their image of their own bodies, and lead to unhealthy eating and dieting habits and a host of other consequences of negative body image.
So why make such a big deal about cartoon nudes in a children’s book? Why is the American public so opposed to anything remotely deemed sexual (not that these cartoon nudes are particularly sexual). I’m sure part of the answer lies in Christianity’s anti-sex posture, which deems sinful and dirty anything having to do with “the flesh.” I personally think the whole discourse is idiotic. At the risk of exposing myself to accusations of insensitivity towards the visually impaired, I would like to ask, Who among us has never seen breasts? And, despite such medical advances as the Caesarian Section, I would venture to say that most of the human population still enters the world through a vagina. Why then treat the body as something dirty, an object of shame unfit for the eyes of children?
I don’t have children of my own but if I did, I’d rather they saw nude art than violence in movies or stick-thin women on TV and in magazines.