Why Grand Theft Auto is like Hansel and Gretel
It isn’t. I explain.
A children’s librarian may sometimes spend a certain amount of time defending a child’s right to read fairy tales or books that reference those tales. So when a parent complains about the severed heads in A Tale Dark and Grimm or the girl dancing to her death in Breadcrumbs, the librarian can point to the classic fairy tales on which these books draw their inspiration and point out that such literary violence is a part of our cultural history. It is also generally cartoonish in nature.
On a grander scale literary violence as a whole has rather exploded on the market lately. My husband the other day was saying that if a person isn’t asking you if you read The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest then they want to know if you’re a Hunger Games fan. Across the board we’re seeing a spike in violence in children, young adult, and adult literature. Some of this is justifiable. Some of this most certainly isn’t, but the decision of what a kid is ready for rests with the parent.
Which brings us to the recent Supreme Court Decision regarding California’s ban on selling “violent” video games to people under 18. The Court threw out CA’s decision citing a variety of reasons, none so strange as those of Justice Antonin Scalia. Saying that video games are no different than books . . . I’ll just stop the good Justice right there. Video games are no different than books? Believe that and I think we’ve put our finger on the problem. Anyway, saying that video games are no different than books, if you do not restrict selling violent books to kids then you can’t restrict violent video games.
I suggest you read this fascinating article from Minnesota Public Radio. In it you can watch as Scalia defends the decision to knock down the ban and in doing so cites various violent works of children’s literature. He brings up Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel. He also brings up Odysseus, Dante, and The Lord of the Flies. It all gets rather strange when Clarence Thomas disagrees with Scalia (!) and then brings up, of all people, John Newbery.
“John Newbery, the publisher often credited with creating the genre of children’s literature,removed traditional folk characters, like Tom Thumb, from their original stories and placed them in new morality tales in which good children were rewarded and disobedient children punished.”
Putting aside the idea that Newbery “created the genre” of children’s books, I’m fascinated by this use of literature for children to either support or detract from this decision. The “violence is always with us” versus “children must be protected” arguments are as old as time. I just didn’t think they’d play out on such a grand stage. Thoughts on the matter?
Thanks to Boni Ashburn for the link.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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