Archive for the ‘Graham Swift’ Tag

A Satirical Response from the Pornography Industry about Waterland

by Keith Yancy

I have to admit… I have a good (or, depending upon whether you like me personally or not, bad) habit of poking fun at serious issues.  I do this not because I take issues lightly (I submit my last four blog posts as evidence of this), but because I know from experience that laughter can do so much good for people — reducing anger, restoring perspective, and, in many cases, finding some common ground between strangers.  This blog was originally intended for humor, and while I sometimes talk about serious topics, I still try to keep the blog content upbeat whenever I can.

It was in this spirit that I wrote the following satirical letter below.  Not to make fun of any one person in particular, but simply to show how silly some accusations — particularly narrow-minded ones — can be.  The letter, including the organization from which it is from, is entirely fictional.  (For those who prefer smaller words, the letter below “isn’t real.”)


TO: PCCS School Board and Superintendent

FROM: Society for the Legitimacy of Approving Pornography (SLAP)

Dear Board Members:

Our organization, the Society for the Legitimacy of Approving Pornography (we like to call ourselves “SLAP” for short), is always on the lookout for new porn to endorse and promote.  As you know, the porn industry is booming, with our material in magazines, as well as on the internet, television, and even radio.  In other words, our “canon” is virtually everywhere.

We at SLAP were very excited to read in the news that there was new material for consideration as pornography in your locality.  After having reviewed Waterland, however, we’re afraid that, after a comprehensive review, we simply cannot endorse this as pornographic material.  This was very disappointing to us, but we felt it necessary to explain why this book was rejected in the event you wish to label more such books as “porn.”

1.  Our first impression was, unfortunately, that this book was pretty dismal as pornographic material.  To put it bluntly, most of our products don’t take 358 pages to, ahem, “tell the story.”  Our target audience typically is looking for content that’s a lot fewer pages than this, usually punctuated with a variety of color photographs.  Though we looked carefully, there were no pictures, diagrams, audio tracks, etc., of any kind in this book.  In fact, the picture on the cover was this:

In a word, HUH?  A kid poking a stick into a river?  Not sure if you’ve seen examples of our materials, but this not only doesn’t compete with the head-turning visuals found in today’s pornography, it’s a “sleeper” by almost any measure.  (NOTE: We apologize for the large, irritating “Booker Prize” stamp obscuring part of the image.  While we admit there could be something titillating or graphic behind the stamp, we can only conclude — based on what’s visible — that this isn’t very pornographic.)

2.  Once we got over Waterland‘s total lack of visual pornographic appeal, we immediately got to work to find all the “good parts,” at least from our perspective.  This was, again, a disappointing experience.   It takes almost 40 pages to even get a remark about anything relating to sex, and only at page 50 or so does it even approach our minimum standards for consideration as porn.  And yet, even then, there’s just not much to work with here.  Even during the book’s most sexually charged parts, any “titillating” effect (trust me, we know what we’re talking about here) is essentially negated by long, detailed explanations of complex relationships, and discussions of people’s ancestors, local history and topography, blah, blah, blah.  To be helpful, consider the following “rule of thumb” about pornography: any story or plot should simply be “filler” for the sexual parts, and preferably as terse as possible.  This book seems to have that entirely reversed — the sexual parts are just part of a much larger, longer, more complicated story.  And that’s just not very good porn.  All this, unfortunately, leads us to our third reason…

3.  Too much of the content has absolutely nothing sexual about it.  Honestly… whether it’s the 20-page beginning that describes (in considerable detail) the ongoing land reclamation in eastern England, to the nine-page description of the migration habits and genetic differences between the American eel and the European eel, to the persistent description of local history — this stuff just doesn’t cut it as pornography.  Eels?  The French Revolution?  Endless references to rivers, boats, sluices, and locks?  Are you kidding?  Not to be disrespectful, but in our esteemed opinion, you don’t know much about pornography.  Anyone who would have to plow through this much material to find the “sexual parts” of the story must be as fixated on the topic as we are, and quite honestly, there’s much richer material elsewhere.

4.  Trying to be diligent, we heard that there was incest in Waterland, so we tried to focus on that.  And we got to it — after we read 220 pages into a 358-page book.  But again, as we feared, there was just not much to work with here.  Yes, there’s a story of incest.  Yes, that subject can appeal to our market.  But again… the delivery is all wrong.  Instead of the graphic depictions being about sex, they seem to be more about bad outcomes of sex — abortion, suicide, etc.  In our profession, these “heavy” topics are utter mood-killers, if you get our meaning.  What’s more, the characters are much more complex and the story is much too involved for our typical readers.  In fact, it doesn’t seem like anyone involved is really having any fun, which is usually the case in our line of work. 

5.  The words themselves, and the style of writing, is just not appropriate for porn.  Let us be blunt: There’s barely any of what we call “foul language” in this book.  A word, here or there, but none of the usual “buzz words” we like to see in our materials.  Good porn uses a lot of sexual phrases and adjectives, and uses them repeatedly.  You, my good people, apparently don’t understand this.  Consider the following:

When you work with water, you have to know and respect it.  When you labour to subdue it, you have to understand that one day it may rise up and turn all your labours into nothing.  For what is water, which seeks to make all things level, which has no taste or colour of its own, but a liquid form of Nothing?  

Lest you think we’ve made the mistake of just picking out one passage and glossing over the entire book, we respectfully ask that you review it yourselves… you’ll find that the entire book is positively riddled with similar richness of language and eloquence.   And that, as they say, ain’t porn.

5.  Before we gave up, we looked over the entire book one last time to see if there was anything we could work with, so to speak.  But alas, no.  In addition to detailed descriptions of a history teacher’s final classes, and beer brewing, and the physical properties of water (!), and seemingly endless details about the histories of several families, we eventually gave up.  Way too many themes, stories, symbols, meanings, etc. — and, to top it off, the story has a number of depressing elements, including suicide, a mentally challenged child, heartbreak, floods, wars, mental breakdowns, etc.  We’re not sure what constitutes “titillating” in the Plymouth-Canton area, but for the overwhelming majority of our target market, those themes aren’t much of a turn-on.  Talk about the ultimate “cold shower” — this is the kind of stuff you find in some college-level literature class, not pornography!  In fact, once we read the book, it was clear that any of the parts we could use — and there wasn’t nearly enough of them — were part of a much larger narrative with much deeper meaning than our target audience typically cares to experience.  Porn is all about instant gratification, not hard work; plowing through 358 pages of literature with a highlighter looking for sexual references is, in our opinion, tough stuff — reserved only for censors and those who choose to ignore the literally hundreds of pages of all those “literary” elements.

In closing, while we at SLAP appreciate the fact that good citizens are always looking for new examples of pornography on our behalf, we’re unable to accept the book Waterland as containing significant pornographic material.  In our review, we were obligated to read the entire book and consider it completely, and once done, could not in good conscience admit it to our extensive and accessible canon of materials.  We recommend, as a guideline for any future book reviews you may have, that you look for pornography in places other than college-level literature books.  History, case law, and common sense all indicate that such books rarely satisfy the definition of pornography — “the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience.”  As such, we at SLAP regret to inform you that Waterland utterly fails as pornography.

We wish you the best in your future book review processes.


The Society for the Legitimacy of Approving Pornography (SLAP)


Until next time… 🙂


An Open Letter Against Book Bans in Plymouth

by Keith Yancy

I had considered not publishing this until tomorrow, but I’ve discovered that people can voice their opinions on banning books in a college-level AP class in Plymouth at, and since the board doesn’t meet until tomorrow, it allows people to voice their objections to censorship.  Remember, this is a college-level class.  You can certainly refer to my recent posts regarding this issue to hear arguments I have regarding this issue.  I’ve included my last letter to the school administration below, and may (time and schedule permitting) attend a school board meeting tomorrow.

Below is the letter I sent this morning.



January 16, 2012

Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Interim Superintendent, PCCS

John Barrett, Board President, PCCS

Adrienne Davis, Board Member

Mark Horvath, Board Member

Michael Maloney, Board Member

Judy Mardigan, Board Member

Sheila Paton, Board Member

Barry Simescu, Board Member

An Open Letter to the Interim Superintendent and the Plymouth-Canton School Board

Dear Dr. Hughes:

My name is Keith Yancy.  I am the father of Meredith Yancy, an AP Literature student at Salem High School.  I am writing this letter to you and the Plymouth School Board to express my disappointment with recent changes – and proposed changes – to the AP English curriculum. 

Let me be very clear: I, like many other parents, am outraged about what has taken place, and am incensed that a one group of parents has affected the choices of all AP Literature students. 

But first, let me share with you some facts.  I am a husband and father of three daughters.  I do not promote or endorse pornography.  I do not believe college-level reading material should be forced upon students.  But I do believe in providing college-level reading material in an AP-level Literature course.  I believe that it’s better to prepare my child to recognize, understand and learn from challenging ideas rather than prevent her from seeing them.  Most importantly, I believe my daughter’s rights (and the rights of other students) have not been adequately considered.

The parents in question (and “P-CAP,” the organization to which they belong) state, “This is not a book de-selection issue.  This is a parent’s rights issue and flawed process issue.”  That statement, however, is clearly incorrect.  The efforts of this group have resulted in a de facto “book de-selection” (read: ban) already, and threaten to result in another book’s removal.  Furthermore, had the true intent of these parents been about defending a process, then a review of the material in question should have occurred prior to the book’s removal, or (preferably) in an open forum prior to the start of the school year.  To remove a book from the curriculum due to a parent’s complaint amounts to correcting one procedural error with another.

This parent group has also asserted the following on their web site: “We believe, as Dr. Hughes does, that if the majority of the residents of the community were aware of the contents of these books, they would object to them.”   Dr. Hughes, I am a parent.  I am aware of the contents of these books.  And – like many, many other parents – I do not object to them, but encourage their study.  These books are not focused on sexuality, do not satisfy the legal definition of pornography, and are considered outstanding works of literature by recognized authorities.  Perhaps most importantly, I do not need other parents or a dubious organization like “P-CAP” to project their opinions and choices on my child’s curriculum – or presume that I am somehow not “aware.”

Additionally, whispers among the parents suggest that, if this group does not succeed, they will “read selected passages aloud” to the school board to alert them to the “dangers” of the books in question.  I am not frightened of such a possibility, and you shouldn’t be either.  It’s obvious to any discerning person that selecting only the salacious passages from any book ignores the larger context of the book in question, and cannot be adequate evidence for drawing an informed conclusion about a book’s value or legitimacy. 

I won’t belabor other legitimate objections, such as the requirements of the AP Literature test, the fact that such parents had ample opportunity to review the syllabus prior to the start of the academic year, or that parents in favor of the books were not allowed to directly rebut this group’s emotional and illogical arguments at a recent committee meeting.  Each of these objections has merit, but perhaps none is as important as the basic question that now rests before you:

Are all of you truly ready and willing to ban these books?

I do not envy you, Dr. Hughes, because you and the school board have a significant choice before you.  If you retain these books in the curriculum, then sensationalized attacks from those who choose only salacious passages from literature (e.g., “P-CAP”) could create a media firestorm, and perhaps even legal action from those claiming these books to be pornographic.  Of course, if you choose to ban these books, you’ll face an even greater media firestorm from those who support intellectual freedom, and potential legal action from those who would defend the First Amendment.

Dr. Hughes, I implore you and the members of the Plymouth School Board to recognize that your choice should be clear: these books should remain in the curriculum.  If a parent demands an alternative text for their child, provide one, and let that option be presented prior to the beginning of the school year.  To give in to the demands of a select few to impose their moral standards on the majority, however, is unequivocally wrong.  As a person who has earned a doctorate degree, Dr. Hughes, you know as well as anyone the value of intellectual freedom, and the inherent risk of selective attempts to limit that freedom, because you must recognize that such limits can quickly escalate to other books, other subjects, and beyond.

I remain cautiously optimistic that the school administration, including yourself and the Plymouth School Board, will recognize these recent events as what they truly are: a sad, tired refrain of the failed arguments of limited thinking.  Banning books has always been negatively viewed by the American public, and history shows that such efforts usually (and rightfully) fail.  Even now, the public at large is rallying to defend intellectual freedom and voice its opposition to censorship.  For instance: 

  • Unflattering articles regarding this misguided local effort to ban books (again, masked as “upholding process”) has already been published on the news web site, as well as the New York Post.  
  • Another article discussing the PCCS situation, under the subtitle of “Censorship,” was published in Media Bistro – a popular on-line, media-oriented web site.
  • An individual has publicly offered to provide Waterland or Beloved free of charge to any PCCS student who requests a copy. 
  • Former students, academics, and citizens from around the country are joining local parents like me and my wife, expressing outrage and opposition to the removal of these books from the curriculum.  Many of these people are preparing their own letters for your review.
  • Citizens from around the country are already alleging that the effort to ban Beloved is racially motivated.  (I encourage you to review Toni Morrison’s public Facebook page and web site for corroboration.)
  • Parents opposed to censorship are already preparing to speak publicly via radio and other broadcast media.

In other words, the opportunity to keep this issue “local” is gone, and the attempt to restrict access of the books is failing.  Thanks to the power of social media, the motivated parents of PCCS students, and the predictable outrage American citizens always express at the thought of banning books, individuals who wish to impose their beliefs on all students – not just their own children – will find it impossible to work in the shadows or hide behind closed-door, bureaucratic “process meetings” any longer.  If these voices of censorship succeed, negative coverage of Plymouth’s school system, and its curriculum, will be persistent, widespread and prominent.  Such negative coverage could only be seen as a detriment for our students, your administration, our school board’s leadership, and our community as a whole.

It would be a very sad day to see Plymouth added to the dark list of communities that banned books of literature.  Take a stand for your students, your faculty, your community and your integrity, and reject yet another shrill and hollow attempt to ban controversial works of literature.  The citizens of Plymouth – and people across the country – are watching.


Keith Yancy


We shall see.

Until next time… : |