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Naughty bits and busybodies


THE AMERICAN Life League, a so-called Christian group based in Virginia, has raised a stink over what it claims are sexual messages hidden in Walt Disney cartoons.

In "The Lion King," the lion Simba flops onto the ground and causes the word "sex" to be written in dust against the sky. In "Aladdin," the title character whispers, "Good teen-agers, take off your clothes." In "The Little Mermaid," a man about to perform a wedding gets an erection.

So says the American Get-A-Life League.

It's all too easy to laugh at the ridiculous claims made by this group; easy to scorn its members as people badly in need of a new hobby. Anyway, nosy nutballs like these have been part of American society for centuries, right? Don't call attention to them and they won't get any bigger.

Maybe so. But what troubles me is that this kind of organization might find greater acceptance as our country tilts ever rightward and grows more intolerant of the poor, the foreign, the different.

If this sounds alarmist, ask why presidential candidates have made a point of licking the expensive boots of Christian political leaders. (There's an oxymoron for you: Christian politician.)

You might also ask why right-wingers preach that regulatory power is an evil in the hands of the government but is a blessing when they take it on themselves to dictate other people's behavior -- whether it involves borrowing a book from a public library or setting foot in an abortion clinic.

These are always good questions to keep in mind, but especially now, with the coming observance of the 14th annual Banned Books Week, September 23-30.

Sponsored by the American Library Association, the event aims to publicize the thousands of attempts over the years to censor books -- typically, school and public library books with supposedly inappropriate references to sex and the occult, two bugaboos of the Christian right.

Among the challenged titles are some of the world's greatest literary works -- "Hamlet," "Don Quixote," "Les Miserables," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," even the American Heritage Dictionary, the Koran and the Bible.

Parental control

Yet another right-wing Christian group of self-appointed watchdogs, Focus on the Family, attacked the ALA over Banned Books Week. Focus on the Family claimed the event is a way of denigrating parents who don't want their children to have access to objectionable library books.

An ALA official rightly dismissed that piece of dubious logic. Only the sort of people who ferret naughty bits out of a children's cartoon would argue that defending the First Amendment is an attack on parents.

Should moms and dads be able to dictate what their underage children can read, see and hear? Of course they should. But the issue is not whether parents can control their kids' reading and viewing matter.

Rather it's whether certain parents -- from right-wing Christians to political-correctness zealots -- should control what other parents' kids can read or watch. Of course they shouldn't. Let each parent or guardian lay down the law as to what's acceptable in his or her household. I trust that's not too simple a solution for the various busybodies.

Besides, as the ALA notes, a sure way to pique a kid's interest in a book is to declare it off limits. Take note, busybodies: "Every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side." Ralph Waldo Emerson said that.

Also, "Get a life." I said that.

Patrick Ercolano writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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