Karen Spears Zacharias, CNN, and the Internet WringerEssays, Featured — By Jordan Green on June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm
A month and a half ago, a friend sent me a .pdf of Go the F**k to Sleep. I thought it was fairly funny because it conveyed the universal frustrations of parents in a delightfully inappropriate manner. I didn’t think it was particularly innovative, since McSweeney’s Baby Be of Use series tread similar ground in 2005, and far more cleverly. It’s also way too long. We really need 30 pages to get the point across here?
Anyway, Go the F**k to Sleep blew up, another Seth Godin-esque marketing triumph, and now the book is in print. I wouldn’t be too happy about it, writers, if you ever want to see your book in print outside of a vanity press.
Yesterday, longtime Burnside contributor and accomplished author and journalist Karen Spears Zacharias presented a dissenting opinion regarding Go the F**k to Sleep on CNN. Then Twitter blew up. And Gawker jumped in. And Salon. Then probably a whole lot of other sites I’m not interested in digging up right now. Karen is hitting back on Twitter, which is what I’d do, too, even if the best option is to let it pass.
I feel bad for my friend, getting attacked like this. I know Karen is not “humorless” and she isn’t “the kind of person who also believes reading Harry Potter encourages witchcraft” as a couple tweets put it. If I didn’t know Karen, I might be attacking her too, because, sadly, that’s what we do on the internet. It’s mob mentality, where voices of reason and viewing people on an individual, understanding level are trampled. Seeing the other side is kind of sickening. The people piling on would be well-served to read Karen’s entire body of work. Maybe they will, which would be great for her book sales.
That said, I disagree with Karen’s article. Rather strongly, in fact. Here’s why:
- Go the F**k to Sleep is for adults, not kids. Some moronic parents might read it to their children, but my guess is they would’ve grown up hearing excessive profanity anyway. I’d never read that book to my daughter, but I’m fairly certain she’s heard me drop some questionable rhetoric on occasion. Or daily. At least in this instance, there’s pretty artwork.
- Go the F**k to Sleep does not evoke violence, at least not to the level Karen infers, but I think that’s more a matter of perception. Discussing how the use of “f**k” has changed with time is a matter for linguists, but it clearly doesn’t have the same societal significance as 20 years ago. You can blame moral degradation, shifting language, South Park, or whatever, but that word is used differently now than it was in 1985.
- Dr. David Arredondo’s comparisons to minority groups? Yikes. I don’t think Karen was explicitly drawing a line between the two, but Dr. Arredondo did. Maureen O’Connor at Gawker did have a point here:
“I’d like to have my own Jews someday, but I fear I won’t be able to control them.” See? Sounds terrible. “No Jews are allowed at my wedding.” Also terrible. “I’m so sick of cleaning up after the Jews.” All so terrible! But does this mean people who ban children from their weddings are Nazis?
My wife spent her last rotation as a pediatric resident in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. She had five admits last month due to child abuse. Some of the abuse was from parents, some by others. Some of the children were infants, and some were old enough that they would’ve tried to escape their attacker. That’s not even remotely funny to think about. Horrible things happen every day. People die. Wars rage. Tsunamis level towns.
If all we’re doing is cracking jokes, there’s a problem, but humor is one of our only weapons in dealing with these horrors. You know what elicits violent thoughts? Parenting. Sleep four hours a night, then add a child who willfully ignores you, and an approach to parenting that seeks to avoid spanking. I guarantee a few dangerous thoughts will cross your mind. Go the F**k to Sleep is funny in part because every parent I’ve ever known thinks those things at some point. Laughing at the absurdity of it all reminds us what we’re going through doesn’t last forever, it’s making us stronger somehow, and many, many others have made it through okay.
I’m hesitant to post this, since I haven’t talked to Karen, but one of Burnside’s goals is to combat knee-jerk, 140-character responses, to disagree politely and thoughtfully, and I hope Karen is up to thoughtfully disagreeing right back. Or telling me I’m totally right and the smartest person in America. To anyone who may be viewing this outside our community, we assure you Karen Spears Zacharias is absolutely awesome, and you’d love her if she had a glass of wine in your kitchen one day.