Captain Underpants and Criticisms Capricious Censorship
Banning books has been a hot topic of debate better known since the iconic and ironic banning of Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451. The American Library Association holds record of the Office for Intellectual Freedoms lists of banned books or books in question to be banned since they began advocating against the censorship of literature in 1967. The most astounding part of this urge to censor literature, is that it is still occurring today.
The last documented attempt to ban Fahrenheit 451 was due in part to explicit content, but also its implementation of the banning of the Bible, with the most recent dispute in regard to this book being as recently as 2006. Where irony rears its head again, is in 2015, when The Holy Bible was on the same list of books being challenged for censorship as Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. The books I have mentioned however, don’t fall within the category I aim to discuss. Surely, we wouldn’t expect childrens literature to contain content questionable enough for someone to request its removal from schools and libraries? Unfortunately, that is the case, and in 2013, according to the list of books being challenged available through the OIF, an entire series of childrens books has been disputed as having “offensive language, unsuited for age group, (and) violence” – American Library Association. The Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey is just that series, causing giggles among children and an uproar among critics, but I see something more that offensive potty jokes, I see something of value in these books.
When the topic of censoring our children from inappropriate or offensive material comes into play, there is nothing short of tying them to a chair that we can do in order to never expose them to the real world beyond the walls of their homes. With that being said, isn’t it the job of the parent to protect the child, to shield them and guide them in the appropriate way? Taking away every inappropriate article that our children may come across seems to me to be a high misuse of time where action can be taken elsewhere against true detourants to our childrens innocence. This is the equivalent of banning the sun when it burns your child, as opposed to taking the appropriate measures to protect them. While there are plenty of wonderful examples to compare this trigger finger urge to punish the offensive book our child may have brought home, I find a vast portion of the language in this book is being overlooked. In Captain Underpants, the Preposterous plight of the Purple Potty People, The Eight Epic Novel, by Dav Pilkey, we are met right away by large vocabulary words. From ages eight to eleven, I see no reason why we shouldn’t dress up difficult linguistic success behind humor and fart jokes. When a child is introduced to words beyond their skill level of recognition through material they enjoy, they begin to ask questions, and that is where the learning begins.
While elementary school age children should be playing Minecraft and making cootie catchers, they will still be expected to meet or excel within the Common Core Standards placed within schools all over the United States. These standards require that children from kindergarten to twelfth grade understand the curriculum set in place for them, with english and reading comprehension on that list of things to learn, literature that a child can keep up with while being introduced to new terms and vocabulary seems a reasonable means by which to introduce these concepts. As teachers and parents, we want our children to strive for success and to be knowledgeable, but if we begin to deny them any of the means available in order to reach these goals, then we are only hindering them. According to the American Library Association, the unquestioned availability of literature is known as Intellectual freedom, and “is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” -American Library Association. Without this freedom, books like Captain Underpants would not longer be available to our children, and sentences or phrases like “…perched high in a prehistoric tree, 65 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era.” or “the boys were disheartened” (30) and “…the pernicious principal stood before them, snarling angrily through his flared nostrils.” (76) would be long gone, leaving our children perplexed by all of these preposterous words.
Where violence rears its head, begins a different sort of censorship topic, where grasping seems to be prevalent. Here is where I would chose the words capricious censorship, as it appears to me this topic is a bit of a “while were here” sort of addition to what are being considered reasons to have this book be in the top ten of the 2013 OIF list of questioned books. When we consider how a child functions on an intellectual level, we can conclude that age appropriate material that is both fun and engaging would produce the best results in the success of their development. Here we can compare the interest in Boxer Boy and Great Granny Girdle flying through the air with super powers to beat up a UFO so that it looks like a piece of hard candy (because that’s what grandparents like) while tossing out some brilliant vocabulary words like tragic, and embarrassing, as opposed to watching paint dry. Every Captain Underpants title serves in itself as a decent example of the vocabulary you can expect to find inside, like Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds). Comical cartoon violence, like a beam of energy creating a monster hamster that a grown man in underwear flies around punching, is exactly what children need in a world of real violence, or simulated violence through first person shooter games. When I think of superheroes in underwear punching a hideously large hamster, I start to wonder what all the hype is over Captain America and Spiderman who are idealized by children and parents as the good guys with real world violence on screen for all to see.
When it comes to children’s books and censorship, I believe that the bias of being a parent and wanting to protect our children clouds our better judgement about a book that we would otherwise not give our attention. Offensive language only becomes offensive to the individual’s opinion involved, where one mother is shocked, my four year old son and I laugh. Captain Underpants being unsuited for its target age group is another decent example of opinion bias, it is no secret that young boys pretend to be ninjas and zombies and fight accordingly, I think mutant hamsters fit in nicely as a target bad guy. Violence is certainly a topic to shield our children from, but with no outlet they are likely to act out in a truly inappropriate way as opposed to letting their imaginations roam during a silly superhero smack down. The American Library Association sums up their definition of Intellectual Freedom as saying “It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” to which I must fully agree is no preposterous plight.
Written for English 169 – Childrens Literature
11 December 2017
Pilkey, Dav. Captain Underpants, the Preposterous plight of the Purple Potty People, The Eight Epic Novel. Schoolastic Inc., 2006.