Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once declined to offer his definition of pornography but added, “I know it when I see it.”
The trouble with that view is everyone tends to see it in a setting colored by their own biases and understandings.
But recently a Michigan mother’s attempt to ban the definitive version of Anne Frank’s diary from the Northville school system over “pornographic” anatomical descriptions was unanimously rejected by a school committee. Removing the volume in question, they said, “would effectively impose situational censorship.”
The definitive edition of the diary written by the young Jewish girl who died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II after spending two years secreted with her family in a hiding place contains passages not included in the 1947 version released by her father, Otto Frank. The passage in question includes Anne’s reflections on exploring her own anatomy as she was entering puberty isolated from society.
Gail Horalek, the parent who complained, said the passages were making her 12-year-old daughter “uncomfortable.” Really? As a matter of fact, most discussions on the facts of life, particularly in a public setting, tend to make prepubescent youngsters a bit uncomfortable.
If mom Horalek were really candid, it’s a discussion she herself probably should be having with her daughter. And if she doesn’t, someone should tell her that her daughter will get the information somewhere else, probably in the schoolyard, and the euphemisms employed will be much less polite than the language used by Anne when she wrote in her diary.
By definition, pornography involves the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual gratification. The passage in Frank’s diary is anything but that. And experts have concluded that, while her later editing efforts indicated she may have had an idea it would eventually be published in some form, she may never have intended that the very personal passage in question would ever see the light of day.
Nevertheless, there is value in Frank’s discussion of personal issues faced by virtually every youngster entering their teens and not always resolved in a satisfactory manner.
As well, the entire definitive version of the diary gives the world a more complete picture of the talented youngster who would meet a tragic end before her adult life could even begin.
Her cousin, Buddy Elias, has said it shows Anne “in a truer light, not as a saint, but as a girl like every other girl … She was an ordinary, normal girl with a talent for writing.”
It is unfortunate, though perhaps understandable, that many people find public discussion of subjects as personal as bodily functions too uncomfortable to handle. But ignoring it in hopes it will go away usually doesn’t work. It only removes the discussion to a venue less likely to be controlled.
Thankfully the Northville, Mich., school system opted for inclusion.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.