The Duke Fun Home Controversy

The Duke Fun Home Controversy keeps popping up on Facebook feeds. Christians seem to be bringing it up as an example of either the bravery of one Christian or as the immoral university corruption of our children. Liberals seem to be bringing it up to either defend graphic novels or to ridicule Christians as a whole. I approached this issue, reading Fun Home again, out to understand what the issue is and not to demonize or canonize either side.

Duke Fun Home ControversyBrian Grasso’s article on the Washington Post’s web site defends his choice to not read Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home, an award-winning graphic novel about her relationship with her father. It is without a doubt, a valid approach to telling Bechtel’s story about her own sexuality and tying that into what she learned about her father, who was emotional volatile and detached from his own family. Within Grasso’s article he claims, “the book includes cartoon drawings of a woman masturbating and multiple women engaging in oral sex.” On the surface that claim seems to be very shocking until you realize that those pages make up a total of six pages out of over two hundred and thirty pages. It’s seven if you include a corpse’s male genitals, but since Grasso doesn’t, I’m not including it.

Grasso has every right to be offended by homosexuality, but claiming it’s part of his religious beliefs goes a step too far. He defends that if the book were simply a novel, then he would not object, but since it involves imagery, it steps over a line he feels he should not cross. He also wants his future professors to warn him if any material that he will be asked to study contains imagery he considers immoral. He’s well within his right to choose not to read something, but to ask everyone around him to protect him from it is a step too far.

Bechtel’s graphic novel is not pornography. It’s a study of complicated relationships and complicated sexuality. It’s about a young woman learning harsh truths shortly after leaving home for college. It’s actually something that Brian Grasso is denying himself, at a time when the way he deals with harsh truths can be formed within a support structure, filled with a plethora of people with varying experiences and backgrounds. If he treats his entire college education in this manner, which he apparently intends to, then when he is faced with harsh truths, he will have to deal with them outside of such a structure, surrounded by a less diverse social support group.

Grasso and those other students choosing not to read Fun Home may consider those six pages pornography, but they lack a basic understanding of what pornography actually is. Pornography’s sole purpose is titillation, and those six pages do nothing of the sort. None of the masturbation or sex is graphic, although the material within is definitely of a more mature nature. By that I  mean that it requires a mature mind to deal with these topics, as they require us to view our own parents as flawed human beings with the same frustrations and desires that we carry as adults.

If that sounds as a backhanded way of calling Grasso immature, it is not. Grasso is now an adult, and his education is not simply teaching him what he needs to start his career, it’s to prepare him to enter the world as a well-rounded person capable of dealing with the curve balls life throws at you in a way that is mature and doesn’t leave you horribly and emotionally scarred. Bechtel’s book is about growing up and realizing who you are. The students opting not to read it, thinking that it is pornographic, are all expecting the university to take the place of their parents. They do not realize that applying your faith to the real world by yourself is part of growing up.