Perhaps you’ve heard of the children’s book parody Go the Fuck to Sleep. It is written in the style of simplistic board books aimed at toddlers. Each rhyming couplet ends with the titular line as a parent begs and pleads with their child to go the fuck to sleep.
With its provocative title and premise, it blew up on the internet not too long ago, to the point of landing on the New York Times’ bestseller list and being #1 on Amazon for a while. (As of this writing, it’s #3 overall, #1 in Parenting & Families, and #2 in Humor.) An audiobook version read by Samuel L. Jackson produced just as much buzz. It wasn’t the most hysterical or earth-shattering thing ever made, but it was amusing, and expressed a sentiment every parent could relate to.
Naturally, there had to be some spoilsports to rain on this parade. An article at CNN.com by Karen Spears Zacharias took what is essentially a lark and transforms it into a clear and present danger to children. As you read it, you can imagine the voice of Helen Lovejoy speaking its every word. If it was written 20 years ago, it would be crusading against slap bracelets or jarts.
It’s the kind of joyless, preachy screed that makes you ashamed to be a liberal, as you realize Ugh, I’m on the same side as these guys? To give you a taste, here’s an actual excerpt from this piece. I swear this is not from an Onion article, though you’d be forgiven for drawing that conclusion.
“Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos,” says Dr. David Arredondo. He is an expert on child development and founder of The Children’s Program, in the San Francisco metropolitan area [shocker!], which provides consultation and training for those working with troubled youths.
It is hard to imagine this kind of humor being tolerated by any of the marginalized groups Arredondo cited.
Imagine if Go the Fuck to Sleep were written about minorities? I think this doctor flunked analogy school. Why stop there? Why not imagine if The Great Gatsby was written about kittens? It makes about as much sense (though it would also be far more adorable).
This article came to my attention thanks to an excellent response by comedian Baratunde Thurston. I don’t want to simply parrot what he wrote, as it was spot-on and you owe it to yourself to read his work, but I do want to add a few observations of my own.
In addition to the troubled youth counselor cited above, Zacharias talks to a few other folks who are not fans of the book, including this person:
Joan Demarest is an attorney in Corvallis, Oregon, and the mother of three young boys. Demarest told me that initially she thought the book was funny. That was before she read it. “Now I find it unsettling. I don’t like violent language in association with children.”
She has good reason to be concerned about the message behind such a parody. Demarest was the prosecuting attorney in one of Oregon’s most high-profile child murder cases. She understands the fear that far too many children endure because the lines of what’s appropriate parenting have become blurred.
I’m sensing a pattern here. Demarest prosecuted a terrible crime against a child. Arredondo aids troubled youth. Zacharias herself is the author of the forthcoming book The Shelter of Mockingbirds, which is about the murder of a three year old. These are all people who are disturbingly close to violence against children, and so are ultra sensitive to anything that reminds them of such violence.
I can totally understand this. There’s no way any of these folks could not be deeply affected by such work. And yet, I think all of these people need to chill the fuck out.
First of all, this is not a book to be read to children. It is a book to be enjoyed by adults. In order to believe this book is bad for kids, you have to also believe that parents are either reading it at bedtime, which is insane, or that it will inspire parents to use hateful, curse-filled language when speaking to their kids, which is even more so. People who think the latter are the same people who think playing Grand Theft Auto or listening to NWA will turn kids into gangsters.
Secondly, there’s this:
For far too many kids, the obscenities found in [Go the Fuck to Sleep] are a common, everyday household language. Swearing is how parents across the social, educational and economic strata express their disappointments or anxieties, their frustrations and outright anger at their children. Sometimes the biggest bully in the neighborhood lives in the same house you do. Sometimes it’s your parent.
Has it been conclusively proven that swearing is bad for a child? Apart from the fact that it would make you look bad if you sent your kid to school cursing like a sailor, is it inherently harmful for a child to hear and repeat these words? Are these somehow magical syllables that endow your child with terrible problems? I’m inclined to say no, even though, again, you probably don’t want your four-year-old talking like Susie from Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Losing your temper and yelling at your child does not necessarily constitute abuse, or even bullying, any more than a skinned knee constitutes a broken leg. Not every single slightly negative childhood experience automatically translates to lifelong trauma. A kid is not scarred for life every time s/he gets screamed at to stop clanging toy cymbals because mommy’s got a headache. Equating such a thing with actual child abuse is ludicrous. All the people involved with this article, who are deeply familiar with child abuse (or worse) should know better than that.
As I discussed on this site a while ago, of all the media that people need to be concerned about, books are very low on the list. I refuse to believe that people with the inclination and disposable income to purchase a book called Go the Fuck to Sleep are so feeble minded that said book will inspire them to verbally and physically abuse their kids.
But if nothing else, maybe this means there’s a market for my own kids-book-for-adults entitled, Calm the Fuck Down, You Whiny Babies.