Here We Go, Again….

Quentin Boyer
Yes, another set of doubtlessly earnest yet entirely misguided souls has demonstrated a complete lack of understanding concerning the “Miller test” for legal obscenity.

This time around, it is certain members of the Kansas State Senate and community activists who are not happy with reading material being given to students in the Blue Valley School District who appear to have missed at least one prong of the Miller test in their zeal to clean up Kansas’ classroom reading lists.

According to a report from the Kansas City Star, Sen. Karin Brownlee has proposed a measure that would “require school boards in the state to review supplemental classsroom materials that parents might challenge as obscene.”

“What’s acceptable in San Francisco may not be in Kansas,” Brownlee reportedly said to the House Education Committee. “Let the school board set the community standard.”

Fair enough — but what parents “might challenge as obscene” and what can be considered legally obscene are two very different kettles of fish, as I’ve blogged about before.

Apparently, one of the books that have drawn the ire of Blue Valley parents is Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses.” The book has some tough stuff in it, no doubt, and it is arguably not the sort of the thing that is appropriate for kids — however, there is no way one can claim the book is legally obscene.

Now, obviously I can't reproduce the work "as a whole" here, but a quick look at one of its passages will give some idea why I object to the book being termed "obscene."

”What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardent hearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise.”

Clearly, these are words that appeal to the “prurient interest,” right? How much more “patently offensive” does it get?

Anybody who argues that the book “lacks serious literary value” (as a work must in order to be considered legally obscene) frankly doesn’t know the first thing about literature. To claim that McCarthy’s work is not literature is not just disingenuous, it is delusional.

This is not to say that parents are ‘wrong’ to think that McCarthy’s work is inappropriate reading for children. I’m not closed to that argument, and I do think parents should get fairly considerable say in what their children read, watch or otherwise consume, especially during their child's early, formative years.

To frame this discussion as an obscenity issue, however, is absurd — "patently" so, I’d have to say.