“One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice. When she’s ten feet tall…”
— Jefferson Airplane, 1967, “White Rabbit
The drug-infested popular song “White Rabbit” turned out to be the inspiration for a book and later a movie called “Go Ask Alice” in the 1970s.
In almost 50 years ago it was the inspiration for the closest brush the Wayland Board of Education ever had with banning a book from the shelves at the high school library.
Members of the board demonstrated a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the foul language peppered throughout the story by Beatrice Sparks.
Offended board members loudly protested the dirty words contained therein. Those on the side of defending the book pointed to the “redeeming socialness” because of its can’t-miss anti-drug abuse message chronicling the dangerous journey of a 15year-old teen who becomes a user.
The controversy may seem tame in these modern times, but a quick look at today’s headlines reveals a disturbing return to the practice of censorship.
As one observer noted on Facebook, “Those who censor always seem to wind up on the wrong side of history.”
And don’t forget that the best way to make something desirable is to make it very publicly verboten.
Though I wasn’t much more than 25 years old at the time of the issues, I clearly stood in favor of keeping the book available to WHS teens, who perhaps needed to read about the perils of using dangerous and illicit drugs.
By that time I had clearly established a personal list of books every high schooler should be required to read before they graduate. And some of them also included naughty words:
• George Orwell’s “1984,” which to this day is my choice for greatest novel of the 20th century because of its impact and it’s commonly referenced in everyday conversations.
• Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” which made the iconic suggestion that if you entertain and pacify the masses of people with innocuous pleasures, they won’t have the time or inclination to rebel.
• William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” a frightening examination of what boys will do on a deserted island when left only to their own devices.
• Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a serious study of the phony promise of freedom and equality for everyone and the nefarious propaganda schemes that make people do want they ought not.
• J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” an entertaining, yet serious romp through a boy’s coming of age. Plenty of naughty words in observations, but searingly accurate.
• Just added because of Facebook posts calling attention to the notion — Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a cautionary tale about putting women in their place. It even takes “1984” a little further.
I am well aware that requiring teens to read certain books is perhaps the best way to get them not to, but I couldn’t help the feeling I had when I graduated so long ago that certain books served as guides in dealing with the years that approached.
I considered, all those years ago, they were like rites of passage.