Friday, 9 March 2012

Gatekeeping? What's That?

I've had a little trouble with gatekeepers this week.

At Yellow Lake is a reasonably gritty book, dealing with some serious issues. It also contains a few swear-words. It makes sense, therefore, that one or two people might disapprove of it or feel that it is unsuitable for their child or the children they're entrusted to look after. 

I get that. Sort of.  

My trouble with gatekeepers is not that parents or schools have the right to make the call about what's suitable for their kids--of course they do, even if I don't agree with the call.

I still feel a bit wrong-footed by this, though, and I've had to do some thinking about why this is...

The only answer that I've come up with is that, although I have two children of my own, I don't have much personal experience of gatekeeping.

I must have kept some gates during the years when my children were in my care. My kids, now 20 and 24 are pretty normal and well-balanced. Both have amazing senses of humour (my son is a stand-up comedian and my daughter is involved in comedy as well as being a film student). Both are kind and considerate. Both have strong moral and ethical convictions. Neither of them (as of this writing) have criminal records, or have displayed any type of anti-social behaviour (after the toddler years, that is...I'm sure some Early Learning Centre employees would beg to differ, eh Sean?)

They don't even swear much.

So, I must have kept them from some harmful material that might have damaged their tender psyches.


I remember a few minor "issues". I was initially anxious about the violence of Buffy when my young girl (about 10 at the time) wanted to watch it.. She watched the first episode on her own and I watched the second episode with her. Needless to say, Buffy didn't get turned off in our house. Not by me, anyway.

That gate stayed open.

Then there was South Park. A different kettle of fish. A funnier kettle of fish, anyway. Inappropriate for my kids? Probably. I remember the first episode I watched with my son, the one that featured Kyle and his dirt-poor family taking part in a humiliating canned food grab on Thanksgiving Day. Hilarious and brutal satire.

Another open gate.

I've just had a chat with my husband about this, and he assures me (and wants me to assure you!) that we actually ran a pretty tight "content" ship. There were a lot of a lot of DVDs or films or TV shows that we watched after the kids were in bed. I also recall a "no" to Pulp Fiction (now a whole-family fave) and I remember turning off  American Pie. But generally speaking, we never really had to play heavy-duty gatekeepers because my kids watched what they liked, but what they liked was generally pretty good.

Of course, I'm mostly talking about films and television. Books were never a problem in our family, because my children weren't really readers until they were much older.

It was different for me...

I read all sorts of age-inappropriate books when I was a kid, from A Clockwork Orange to The Godfather (page 36, anyway, along with all the other girls in my year). Nobody took any notice--not my parents, not my teachers. I was just reading. What harm could that do?


And I sneaked into a screening of Easy Rider with my mates when I was 11. Not much gate-keeping going on at the local cinema either, obviously.

So, did reading A Clockwork Orange turn me into a sociopathic criminal? It might have, if I hadn't been so busy trying to figure out what the hell it all meant (I didn't realise that there was a Nadsat glossary in the back of the book until I finished the damn thing!) And did reading page 36 of the Godfather make me want to don a pink polyester bridesmaid dress and run off to find a brutal and beefy son of a gangster? Only for a moment.

What about Easy Rider? Did that make me want to get on the back of a motorcycle and drive across America with a couple of degenerates while "Born to be Wild" blasted in my ears.






  1. Brilliant post, Jane, and it's a topic I often wonder about myself. I'm generally puzzled by the need to tone down books, when the internet, movies and TV programmes are generally full of violence and swearing and sex. Kids themselves, no matter how good parental gatekeeping, are generally neither angels nor fools. I remember a friend's very well brought up daughter once commenting about teen fiction and asking why it was frequently so sterile. "What do they think, these authors?" she asked, "that we don't know about sex, that we don't do it? Do they think we don't swear or get angry? What planet are they living on?" Fair observation, I thought.
    I'm all for gatekeeping, but it needs to be realistic. The world of today is hardly Victorian.

  2. Jane loved the post. Don`t worry too much over this. I philosophically believe sometimes individuals use any reason to stop something they don`t want to happen happening. The incident I think you may be referring to probably had nothing to do with gatekeeping....that was just the excuse...just my thoughts.

  3. I agree with Jude, your incident sounded more like narrow-mindedness justified with a veneer of concern.

    I had a very sheltered upbringing - I didn't swear until I was in secondary school, didn't see an 18-rated film until I was 17 3/4, didn't drink in a pub until I was 19. I guess I've always been a rule-follower, which doesn't explain my first novel, which was a totally raunchy, profanity-laden teen sex comedy. For reasons related to totally-failing-to-research-the-market, I thought that what would be acceptable in a YA novel would be roughly equivalent to a 15-rated movie. Suffice to say, it remains unpublished!

  4. My PhD to some extent was looking at this and I found that many teenagers look to books for the vicarious experience. The 'safe' place to work out how they are going to react if they are faced a certain situation but also a place to check out that they are quite 'normal'.
    I had a friend whose book was banned by some school librarians. They didn't bother to read the book and find out what it was about. They just banned it based on the title. Extraordinary
    Just remember to keep faith with your writing.

  5. Nick, that novel sounds like it could become a cult classic once you're rich and famous!

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. You're right, Jude, I do worry a bit too much of non-essential issues. These are minor incidents. However, they did make me think about how and why we write, who we write for, etc. Always good to keep that in focus. Wasn't it JK Rowling who said, "I don't write to make people comfortable."

    Very thoughtful responses. Thanks much.

    (Damn...does this mean I have to abandon my angel kitties book???)