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June 19, 2013

Jim Bailey: A time to be Frank about imposing situational censorship

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.

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