It’s been a while since I read an interview with Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), one of the best and most influential comics writer ever, who is known for having “extreme” opinions and for favoring anarchism. This interview was published in 1987 and is very long and very interesting. What I want to look at is something he said that keeps coming back to me ever since then:
Also, from my own personal point of view, as I said earlier, that I really do not think that we should restrict information to children. And I think that, basically, I know that there are a lot of parents that don’t agree, would not agree with me upon that, and of course they have the right, but as long as it’s kept upon a parental level, I’m not too worried. If parents are making the decisions that their children can or cannot read this sort of book in the home, that’s fair enough. The parents can take the consequences of that. It won’t necessarily stop the children reading it, but at least it’s a transaction between the child and the parent and it’s the parent taking responsibility for their children, which is fair enough. I take a more liberal stance in that I prefer to let my children read anything, but I want to know what they’re reading, and if there’s anything they come across which might be disturbing, then I’m always on hand to talk about it with them. Which, to me, seems to be the responsible attitude. What I object to is that there was [someone saying] that, “We are aware that there are parents out there who can’t keep an eye on what their children are reading, and appreciate the help that we’re giving them in this.” And that’s where to me it starts to get sinister, the parents, I don’t care whether they can or whether they can’t, it’s their responsibility. They’re fucking parents. They shouldn’t hand over that responsibility to an outside body, and along with it, hand over the responsibility of all those other parents who have been finding it quite easy to take an actual personal interest in what their children are reading and to monitor their reading habits themselves.
Now there is an interesting idea. Well, I have two daughters, one is close to three, the other is five months old. As you might imagine from my writing, I’m very cautious when it comes to what my kids read. There’s two things. One the one hand I completely agree with Moore in that I don’t see a point in hiding things from my children as long I’m with them and am able to talk to them about what they’re reading. On the other hand, there are many, many children’s books that I don’t want them to read because I feel they send the wrong messages, like gender and racial stereotypes or the portrayal of animals. That being said, if my older daughter really wants to read a book I don’t like I can always read it with her and tell her what I don’t like or how things really are.
The first thing, though, is not as easy in practice as in theory. For example, she likes to look at every book that is lying around, including my DMZ comics (which I wrote about recently). The following panels (from issue #41) caught her attention:
She kept asking about what was happening again and again and again. Someone being hurt is fascinating to her, mainly because she is very empathic (her newest interest is car accidents). Of course, I asked myself, should she see that? Will it haunt her? It is very graphic and horrifying, even to me. But I talked to her about it (the woman is hurt, there are people who try to help her and people who want to hurt her) and answered all her questions honestly. She didn’t seem to be troubled by it, no nightmares and no stronger interest in blood or violence. After some days, the interest had shifted to something else.
But this will surely not be the last instance where I wonder if something is appropriate for her. And I will try to say “Yes” whatever it is. Because I believe that it really depends on how you deal with it together with your children and not the material itself. That’s why it is okay that my daughter looks at that comic. That’s why I have no problem using movies in school that might not seem appropriate (well, I follow the rating system to not get into trouble). That’s why I have no problem reading texts with my students that include “explicit language” (what a weird term) because people actually do say “fuck”. That’s why it’s okay for me to discuss homosexuality with 7th graders and sexual abuse with 10th graders and sex in general. Because nothing has ever been solved or improved by not talking about it.