Why Are The Book-Banning Crusaders Obsessed With Sex But Not Violence?

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Right wing media loves nothing more than churning through a series of “victims” — usually white male conservative Christians — of the supposedly all-powerful forces of liberalism that are oppressing them, usually by not allowing them to oppress other people.

The latest example is a particularly obnoxious man named William Baer, a New Hampshire resident who got himself arrested at a school board meeting.

Baer, in full-blown overly entitled white guy mode, got it in his head that the rules of conduct at a school board meeting simply don’t apply to him, and was arrested after he refused to relinquish the microphone, certain that his ignorant rantings were precious jewels that mattered far more than what any other person at the meeting might want to say that night.

Naturally, he’s being heralded as a hero by the right. The reason is that Baer’s temper tantrum was in service of one of the beloved myths of the religious right, the belief that as long as you carefully keep from mentioning sex to teenagers — outside of forbidding it, of course — they won’t develop any interest or curiosity in it. Baer objects to ninth graders reading a book that has brief, though relatively explicit, sex scenes in them.

If it weren’t an attack on basic education and free speech, it would be just an outright joke how these folks think that kids that can call up any kind of pornography they want on the internet are going to be turned into dirty perverts because a novel they read has a sex scene in it. More to the point, the entire debacle shows how morally bankrupt the religious right in this country is, and how they’re too obsessed with moralizing about what isn’t immoral — consensual, safe sexuality — to worry about actual moral problems facing our country. Namely, violence.

RocketshipTodd Starnes has built a career on claiming, usually on thoroughly specious grounds, that Christians are being oppressed in modern America. Naturally, he’s all over this story, writing for Fox News that the book in question, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, is “smutty,” “pornographic,” “racy,” “bawdy,” and “enough to make even Hugh Hefner blush.” Reading his take on it, you would think the kids were assigned to read Fifty Shades of Gray, but in truth, the book isn’t enough to make your average grandmother blush, much less Hugh Hefner.

Baer is upset over eight paragraphs in the 480-page novel depicting a young man forcing himself on his girlfriend even though she says no, and her confused reaction to this massive violation of trust. In other words, the offensive scene isn’t even a sex scene. It’s a rape scene. But the objections from Baer and Starnes have nothing to do with the violence depicted at all. Indeed, it’s clear from their take on it that they don’t even understand that penetrating a woman who is protesting and clamping your hand over her mouth to shut her up while you finish, which is what the male character in the scene does, constitutes a rape, both legally and morally. It’s not supposed to be arousing in the slightest, but horrifying.

But that they are so horrified at the word “semen” that they don’t even notice that the scene is a rape is not the only reason that this entire episode demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of the religious right. After all, the entire book is an exploration of the role of violence in American culture. It’s a book about a kid who is bullied and ends up reacting by becoming a school shooter. Rape and school shootings should, to a morally healthy person, seem far more horrifying than the fact that teenage kids sometimes have sex with each other, but when it comes to all the violence, not a peep from Baer or any of his supporters.

None of which is to say that it’s appropriate to ban a book for having violent content, any more than to ban it for having sexual content. One of the reasons we read novels — much less assign them in schools in hopes of passing on the love of novel-reading to our children — is that it can help us learn about some of the parts of life that may be hidden from us in our day-to-day interactions.

But it’s quite telling that conservatives are presented with a book that features bullying, a school shooting, and a rape, and the thing that prickles their moral outrage is the fact that the author also describes what happens when a young man orgasms. Something which nearly all ninth graders, including the girls, already know about anyway. That conservatives are so eager to censor in the first place is, of course, deplorable. That they would use the power of a censor to paint the picture of a world where violence is okay but sexual pleasure is forbidden is deeply disturbing.

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