Published June 23, 2011
I'm the author of several books, including children's books. But my latest children's book -- a gorgeously illustrated lullaby titled "It's Time to Sleep, My Love' -- was recently parodied by someone... The parody is a #1 bestseller, and the title is, umm... “Go the F*** to Sleep.” Sorry, but I'm not joking. Perhaps you've seen it? It's been hard to miss.
It's all a bit bizarre, especially because the author of the F-bomb book never admits it's a parody of my book, which is illustrated by the famous children's book author/illustrator Nancy Tillman. But if you look at the two books for yourself, it's screamingly obvious! Check out the similarities here.
Admittedly, his book is funny and cleverly done, but the idea that a #1 bestseller has the F-word in the title really does bother me. I'm almost flattered that this guy thought to parody my book -- even if he won't admit it -- but did he really need to use that word in the title?
I recently read in the newspaper about a man kicked off a Delta flight for using the F-word loudly enough for other passengers to hear. I'm often amazed at what people say in public and I'm old-fashioned enough to think that no one -- my wife and daughter, for example -- should have to hear such things in public settings. Delta did the right thing. There are such things as public standards, and they need to be enforced, and Delta should be congratulated. Bravo, Delta!
But this is still a complicated issue. Just this morning I got an e-mail from a man who was upset as he read my bestselling biography, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," accusing me of using "cuss words" in my book. He said he has stopped reading and will not read any more of my books! He ended his miffed missive with "I thought you were supposed to be a Christian?" I'm guessing he was offended by quotes I included in the book of some of the vulgar things that Martin Luther said. And yes, that part of the book is pretty salty. But "cuss words"? My book was recently named "Christian Book of the Year," so you can see that this really is complicated. Who's to decide what's vulgar?
I think the fact that I use salty words in my Bonhoeffer book would tip you off that I'm no prude, exactly. And oddly enough I've written a ton of humor and parody myself. As an undergrad I was the editor of the Yale humor magazine and since then I've published humor in the New York Times and Atlantic, among other places. I've even written parodies of children's books! Including Dr. Seuss books... Perhaps you've heard of “And to Think that I Saw John Gotti on Mulberry Street?”
So what's my beef? I guess I'm concerned that vulgarity has now officially entered the mainstream of our culture and I think people have to respectfully stand up and say "no thanks." Does the fact these things are in the eyes of the beholder mean that we cannot have some public standards? Or that we shouldn't at least try?
I think we always have to ask ourselves: What kind of a culture do we want to live in? Because if we don't think about that, and we don't have the guts to speak up in a gracious and civil manner, then things will inevitably continue to slide in the same direction. Isn't that obvious already? Do we really want these words on shelves for our kids to see?
Besides, a book with the title “Go the F*** to Sleep” is only one short step away from a hypothetical book written by a husband about his nagging wife, titled “Shut the F*** Up!” Couldn't that be hilarious? Tons of guys would buy it and talk about it. But why wouldn't I write such a thing or purchase such a thing? I wouldn't, but I'm sure many people would say "C'mon, dude! Lighten up! It's just a joke. And it's soooo hilarious!!!" The book might even be witty and clever, somewhat mitigating the vulgarity of it all, just as the cleverness of the "Go the F*** to Sleep" book does to some extent. Fine. But at what point do we say, "Thanks, but no thanks"?
Also, can't we admit that “Shut the F*** Up!” could slightly encourage spousal abuse? Don't we think “Go the F*** to Sleep” might conceivably encourage child abuse? Not even slightly? Really? So the question is, where do we draw the line and when do we just say "no thanks"?
With this F-bomb bestseller, I'm afraid I'm at that point. I have nothing against the author, who is obviously talented, nor even against people who think I'm being fussy and over-reacting. Perhaps I am. But I reserve the right to draw my own line in the sand, for myself and my family. I think the F-word doesn't belong in mainstream venues and I think using it publicly is out of bounds. Is it out of bounds for me to say that? If so, why? Please discuss.
Eric Metaxas is the author of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" (Thomas Nelson) and "Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery." His latest children's book is titled "It's Time to Sleep, My Love."For more information, visit www.ericmetaxas.com.