NOT IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth
Wouldn't Edward Lear have been startled to learn that in 1998 his poem "The Owl and the Pussycat" wasn't available on many school library computers because obscenity-sensitive Web searches had targeted the word "pussy"? Heins (Sex, Sin and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars) argues potently that the age-old idea of protecting children from "corrupting" influences—which can be traced at least as far back as Plato's Republic— has reached dangerous proportions in the U.S. Constructing a history of child protection movements and legal precedents (from the Supreme Court Butler and Roth decisions in the 1950s to lawsuits brought by the ACLU and the American Library Association to remove state mandated Internet filters from public libraries in the 1990s), Heins charts evolving concepts of childhood, based on such diverse sources as Philippe Ariès's Centuries of Childhood and SIECUS reports. She points to a new wave of social and sexual puritanism engendered by the political and Christian right, which takes a variety of forms, including Wendy Shalit's 1999 A Return to Modesty and groups such as MOMS (Mothers Organized for Moral Stability). In tackling the issue of the possibly deleterious effect of sexual or violent materials on children, she refers to everyone from Piaget, Rousseau and Freud to Todd Gitlin and Carol Gilligan, and touches on events like New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's offensive against the Sensation art show. Heins's historical argument makes an important contribution to the literature of civil liberties and child psychology. Agent, Anne Depue. (May)
Forecast:Drawing on the foundation laid by Edward de Grazia's landmark historical critique of American censorship, Girls Lean Back Everywhere, Heins's provocative work should attract review attention in sophisticated publications as well as fans of the social criticism of Alan Dershowitz and Wendy Kaminer.