Grotesque Anatomy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
  And So It Begins
Tim O'Neil and Kevin Melrose both link to an article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about Shonen Jump being pulled from Scholastic Inc.'s sales list due to complaints about the anthology's "questionable material."  The objectionable content?

The magazine, "Shonen Jump," an offshoot of the Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards and television cartoon popular among elementary and middle school students, showed a hero crediting his defeat of an opponent with the power he gained from smoking cigarettes.

Other story lines included mild profanity, violence, a character with a swastika on his forehead, and a female character who asks readers to pick up the next issue to see which "hot guy" would be the next to die.


"This is a fifth- and sixth-grade building. These are 10- and 11-year-olds. It's against what we're teaching. It's against our DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) and the St. Vincent College prevention program," [Hillcrest Intermediate School Principal Rosemarie Dvorchak] said yesterday.

Suddenly Marvel's "No Smoking" policy starts to make more sense.

I've been wondering for a while when something like this would happen.  Back when I compared the first issues of Shonen Jump and Raijin Comics, I wondered how fanservice elements like the ubiquitous "panty shot" would go over with conservative American parents.  To be honest, I expected complaints, but I didn't expect companies like Scholastic to back down so easily:

"Certainly we're concerned. We're pulling the magazine," said Teryl McLane, meritor of publicity for Scholastic Inc.'s corporate office in Lake Mary, Fla.


Maureen Burkey, sales consultant for the Scholastic's Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan region, which is based in Cleveland, apologized for the comic book's content.

"These are not the type of phone calls we want. We are definitely pulling this. We are not about this. We are about promoting reading and good literature," she said.

Apparently Scholastic is not about promoting freedom of expression, however.  Seriously, did anyone consider any other alternatives besides removing Shonen Jump from Scholastic's sales list?  The article states that complaints were made about the "Captain Underpants" series in the past, but those books were made "available upon request" instead of removing them from the catalog completely.  Why couldn't something like that be done for Shonen Jump, perhaps even requiring parental permission in order to purchase the comic?

Part of me is wondering how much of this is because the comic is Japanese.  If it were an American comic with an American character smoking, would there have been such an uproar?  There's no way to know for sure, of course, but statements like this make me uneasy:

"We do have an editorial board, and it's a very lengthy and challenging process. We try to be thorough, but there is a challenge with cultural differences. In Japanese culture, some of these things are acceptable," she said.

For example, McLane said, to the Japanese, the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol of good will.

Then why not use the comic as a "teachable moment" about cultural differences instead of banning the book altogether?  After all, it's not like Shonen Jump isn't available in other outlets for children to purchase. At least that way educators could address the content they find "troubling" instead of having students stumble upon it on their own.

I wonder how this will affect Shonen Jump's sales.  The cynic in me also wonders if American comic book publishers would ever use tactics like this to undercut their manga-publishing competitors.  ("Did you know your children may be reading Japanese comics that feature scenes of questionable moral character?")  Isn't that how some publishers allegedly went after EC's popular horror comics in the Fifties?
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by John Jakala

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