Main­tain­ing the Out­rage

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Fiona Katauskas

I was work­ing on an illustration when an email ar­rived from a well-wish­ing stranger ex­tend­ing sym­pa­thies over the “hand­wring­ing and chest beat­ing go­ing on in the me­dia”. I had no idea what she was re­fer­ring to, but sus­pected it was some­how re­lated to another mes­sage I’d re­ceived ear­lier that day from a less-than-well-wish­ing stranger, an­grily ad­vis­ing me to “STICK TO PO­LIT­I­CAL CAR­TOON­ING”. Dis­tracted by dead­lines, I didn’t pay at­ten­tion to ei­ther. It was only when a neigh­bour ap­proached me on the street to ask how I was cop­ing with the “shit­storm” that I dis­cov­ered what was go­ing on. It turned out that a few days ear­lier some­one had been shop­ping at Kmart and saw a copy of my sex-ed­u­ca­tion book for chil­dren, The Amaz­ing True Story of How Ba­bies Are Made (hence­forth short­ened to TAT­SO­HBAM). This per­son was out­raged by il­lus­tra­tions in the two pages of the book that cover sex­ual in­ter­course: one show­ing a naked woman ly­ing on top of a naked man as they gaze into each other’s eyes, and another of a cross-sec­tion of a pe­nis in a vagina, ex­plain­ing how they fit to­gether. These pages were pho­tographed and posted on a com­mu­nity group Face­book page with the com­ment, “Okaaaaayyyy … can some­one please tell me why the hell is this sold in Kmart Aus­tralia un­der the kids sec­tion? Look at the pho­tos and the words!! Wtffffff???!” To an­swer the ques­tion, TAT­SO­HBAM is sold in Kmart be­cause they think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to sell it. The book was pub­lished in 2015 and the fol­low­ing year was short­listed for both a Chil­dren’s Book Coun­cil of Aus­tralia award and an Aus­tralian Book In­dus­try Award. It has sold more than 30,000 copies. And up un­til that point had not been con­tro­ver­sial. TAT­SO­HBAM is, how­ever, frank and straight­for­ward; to be fair, it’s not a book a con­ser­va­tive mother would buy. The Kmart shop­per was per­fectly en­ti­tled to an opin­ion, as were the hand­ful of Face­book­ers who joined the orig­i­nal dis­cus­sion, and whose views were evenly split be­tween for and against. Some­how, news site Daily Mail Aus­tralia got wind of the posts. Noth­ing keeps those read­ers com­ing like sex ’n’ scan­dal, and this non-story had them both: a pic­ture of a man and woman in the act (al­beit a screen­shot of a Face­book post of a pho­to­graph of an ed­u­ca­tional

illustration for chil­dren) and a tor­rent of mo­ral out­rage. Over two days the site ran three fevered pieces on the “graphic” book that “de­tails the ins and outs of sex” and “has par­ents di­vided”. By the third day the “con­tro­versy” had hit the United King­dom’s Mail On­line. More and more me­dia out­lets need a steady stream of click­bait to sur­vive. And so it was that the beat-up spread across Bri­tain, through news­pa­pers like the Le­ices­ter Mercury (“Graphic Sex Ed Book For Five Year Olds Sparks Fierce De­bate Among Par­ents”), The Mir­ror (“Graphic Kids’ Sex Ed­u­ca­tion Book In­cludes Some Very De­tailed De­scrip­tions – And Par­ents Aren’t Happy”) and The Daily Star (“Kids’ Sex Ed­u­ca­tion Book SLAMMED for X-rated Images and De­scrip­tions – Is It Too Much?”). The In­de­pen­dent ran a piece and an on­line poll. I was in­ter­viewed for Ir­ish talk ra­dio. All of this over a book that wasn’t new and wasn’t even avail­able in Ire­land or the United King­dom. The drama re­turned briefly to Aus­tralia to be cov­ered by Ya­hoo7 News, which was the first lo­cal me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion to con­tact me for com­ment. The Daily Tele­graph’s Louise Roberts con­trib­uted the best and least sen­sa­tional re­port: “If the in­struc­tion to ‘Get a grip’ was ever more rel­e­vant,” she wrote, “I’d like to see it.” Four days after the first ar­ti­cle ap­peared, the scan­dal made its Amer­i­can de­but, on Buz­zFeed. And the clicks kept com­ing. Each morn­ing I’d wake to find my Google alert, dor­mant for years, greet­ing me with pan­icked re­ports from pub­li­ca­tions in­clud­ing Hol­ly­wood Un­locked. Every piece fea­tured the in­fa­mous sex scene. As TAT­SO­HBAM was not avail­able for sale in Amer­ica, I found my book be­ing judged not by its cover but by pages 23 and 24. The palaver then crossed plat­forms, as the three hosts of the That’s De­light­ful pod­cast scru­ti­nised my book … well, at least they thought they did. Un­able to find The Amaz­ing True Story of How Ba­bies Are Made in the United States, the Cal­i­for­nia-based pod­cast­ers turned to Google, where they found the sim­i­larly named an­i­ma­tion The True Story of How Ba­bies Are Made and spent 20 min­utes ac­ci­den­tally cri­tiquing that in­stead. After 10 days the out­rage, al­most ex­hausted, found the strength to re­turn to its nat­u­ral home for one last hur­rah. On Face­book, Star Trek le­gend and so­cial­me­dia el­der statesman Ge­orge Takei posted a link to yet another on­line ar­ti­cle about the book. He asked his 9,532,754 fol­low­ers for their thoughts, adding, “please, re­mem­ber to be re­spect­ful”. The re­sult­ing com­ments were over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, but even bet­ter were the three emails I re­ceived soon after. They were all from Amer­i­can Trekkies and they all asked the same thing: are the cou­ple in the sex scene Cap­tain Janeway and Com­man­der Chako­tay from Voy­ager? The cor­re­spon­dents were all so keen for it to be true that I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t know enough about the show to fake it. And, any­way, I didn’t want to cre­ate a scan­dal.

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