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Unnecessary Controversy
By Julie
2009-03-25

While I’m not usually the one to keep up on gaming news (I generally leave that to Chris), I’ve noticed a few reports cropping up this past week about a Nintendo Power being yanked from a middle school library because the cover was “violent” and “offensive”.

After reading a few articles on the issue, it seems that most sites are reporting this story in the most sensationalized way possible, so I thought I’d lay down the facts.

The principal of a school in Ohio saw in his school’s library the November 2008 cover of Nintendo Power, which featured a character from GTA: Chinatown Wars holding a gun.  As the principal of that school, he thought a magazine featuring an M rated game was inappropriate for children, and immediately removed the magazine from the library.  Now, he’s being threatened with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

All the other articles that I read seem to suggest that the ACLU has a problem with him removing the magazine, with quotes from an ACLU spokesperson suggesting that the next thing to go might be Hamlet, and that a school library can’t be culled down by removing content that offends one single solitary person.

However, the fact is that the school board has a method for removing offensive content, with forms to fill out, and a final decision to be made by the board.  In this case, the principal felt that it was a time sensitive issue, and removed the magazine without filling out the forms.  Later, when asked, the school board agreed that the magazine should have been pulled, and that he was exempt from filling out those forms and following those procedures, as he’s the principal, and has to make day-to-day decisions without checking everything with the board.   They claim that process was intended for general members of the public, not for school principals.  They’ve termed it a misunderstanding of the rules surrounding the way content is banned.   That is what the ACLU is mad about.  They’re not mad that a magazine featuring information on M rated content was made inaccessible to kids in grades 6-8, but the fact that it was done without filling out some paperwork that would have ended with the magazine getting yanked anyways, because the board has sided with the principal.  Everyone seems to agree that the magazine was inappropriate, it’s the method of removal that has everyone up in arms.

Why is this even an issue?  People are still arguing that the magazine should be returned to the library, but how many back issues of Nintendo Power does a library really need to keep?   Remember that this particular issue is from November.  Also, it’s been awhile since I was in middle school, but I remember the library being a pretty sad and lonely place back then, and that was before we had the internet at school.  Was anybody even reading this magazine anyways?  While I agree that the principal shouldn’t be able to remove any old thing from the library whenever he feels like it, I have to sympathize with the guy in this case.  He was just walking by, saw a magazine with a gun toting cartoon on it, and took it with him.  He probably thought about it for less than ten seconds, and now he’s got a whole bunch of people breathing down his neck about it.  Give the guy a break.  Or, if you must, make him put the magazine back for a few days until the board signs his paperwork, and then get over it already.  Actually, I doubt that would even be possible, because it seems unlikely that the principal locked the offending magazine up in his desk for four months, waiting for people to get pissed off, he probably just threw it away.

I know that the ACLU loves to sue people, it’s basically their only job, but this just seems like a waste of everyone’s time.  It’s not like this principal was teaching creationism, or doing one of the myriad other things the ACLU likes to freak out about.  If you’re going to crack down on someone in Ohio, how about the school board that sold their student’s information to a bank?  Or the school that suspended kids for wearing t-shirts supporting gay marriage?  Those seem more worthwhile pursuits than trying to find a different path to what will essentially be the same result.  That Nintendo Power is gone, and I doubt anybody would have read it anyways.

People need to relax.  Seriously.  All this does is get old people all riled up about “those Auto Thief games”, when at its core, this is just a story about a school board who needs to tweak some wording in their policy manual.  The root of this controversy isn’t whether or not the magazine should be allowed to remain in the school and subsequently be read by children, it’s about one man not taking the time to fill out some paperwork because he thought he didn’t have to.  The world has enough problems without the media creating more of them where they shouldn’t exist.

Julie has this right.  The issue here isn’t that the issue (wordplay!) isn’t available, it’s that it was removed without going through the proper channels.  If the problem was that the magazine is no longer available, then there are a lot of issues of Popular Mechanics for Kids that probably shouldn’t have been recycled in 1995.  The ACLU needs to take a timeout and, like me, be impressed that this school even had a copy of Nintendo Power in the first place.

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