The kids are all right. It’s the parents who need to gain some perspective

Column: Complaint of pornography about Anne Frank’s Diary a silly business


Look on the bright side. Two recent developments in the field of stupidity may have caused you to wonder if we’d be better off handing dominion of the planet over to the slugs. But the snippets do prove that Anne Frank still matters. When that young woman perished in Bergen-Belsen, she can hardly have imagined that, 68 years in the future, perceived slights to her memory would make headlines throughout the world.

That Justin Bieber nonsense need not concern us. Raised in a plastic dome by Canadian accountants, the pop star cannot be judged by the same standards we apply to proper human beings. His suggestion that the murdered girl might have grown up to be a “Belieber” was unfortunate. But it’s nice he cared enough to say anything at all.

A recent proposal by one Gail Horalek of Michigan is more worrying. She has argued that the unabridged version of Anne Frank’s Diary is pornographic and that it should be withdrawn from her daughter’s school. To be fair to the woman, this incident is not in the same class as those cases – useful for demonising mid-westerners – in which some genuine halfwit decides that hints of miscegenation require us to burn all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird . Ms Horalek is not a Holocaust denier or anything of that order.

If you have only read the original publication, mildly bowdlerised by Anne’s father, you may be genuinely taken aback by the controversial passages. Ms Horlek has chosen to focus on a section in which Anne considers the geography of her own genitalia. Confirming her extraordinary gift for plain yet piercing analysis of ordinary things, the teenager explains that: “Until I was 11 or 12, I didn’t realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them.” There’s some stuff about folds of skin and some more stuff about holes and creases. “I can hardly imagine how a man could get in there, much less how a baby could get out,” she says of one vital aperture.

Ms Horalek could, with some reason, complain that there is something dubious about revealing a young girl’s private thoughts on personal matters to generations of casual readers. These reflections were, we assume, meant purely for her own eyes. One can, of course, argue that any such moral compromise is mitigated by the good that comes from placing a human face on the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes. But one still feels slightly queasy when pondering raw reflections – not just those on genital matters – that Anne might have preferred to remain unread.

The Michigander’s complaint is, however, not to do with any invasion of the author’s privacy. She is concerned about “pornography” being distributed among decent children in the Great Lake states. Quite right too. The objectification of women that characterises so much of that medium is an unlovely business. Every now and then some idiot will attempt to nudge pornography towards respectability, but the subsequent exposure only serves to confirm how difficult it is for the genre to escape patriarchal thuggery.

The problem is that Anne’s amusingly sober meditations on her developing body could hardly be less pornographic. Far from dallying in titillation, she approaches the subject with a rigour that borders on the scientific. The excerpts are no more pornographic than the descriptions of “human reproduction” in biology textbooks.

A strange self-fulfilling cycle of disgust characterises such scandals. Exposed to genuinely inappropriate representations of sexual acts on the internet (and he or she almost certainly is), the average teenager would – until told otherwise – probably process Anne’s musings with a combination of indifference and mild amusement. By identifying the passages as pornography, the torch-bearing moralist makes them so. They may as well apply muddy teenage thumbprints to the “dirty bits”.

At such moments, one inevitably ponders Mrs Lovejoy from The Simpsons. “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” the pastor’s wife famously bellowed. Okay then. In what way does Gail Horalek think such passages will damage her precious little ones?

Gail argues that her daughter felt “uncomfortable” upon encountering the passages. Well, it might do her some good to move past such discomfort about life’s natural complexities.

Here’s the truth. More often than not, it is the parents’ discomfort about sexual matters – and about the terrifying, irresistible maturing of their children – that drives objections to supposedly “pornographic” material in books, films and plays. Their greatest fear is not that the kids will feel uneasy with such passages, but that they will be all too comfortable with them. Keep them from considering sex and sexual development and, with God’s help, we may stop them from growing up at all. Which, let us not forget, is what happened to Anne Frank.

Gain some perspective. This is a silly business.

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