Go the F*** to Sleep
At two in the morning I found myself out in the cold air in my pajamas shouting “SHUT UP!” as loud as I could at my brother-in-law's bellowing monster dog. Why? Well, for the last week and a half my brother-in-law had been been sick and feeling too crappy to stay out all night hanging out at his friend's house, so he'd been consistently coming home right after work and taking his giant great dane/mastif into his bedroom to settle down for the night, but on this night he was feeling well enough that he thought his always-bellowing-at-night monster dog would somehow magically not resume barking at nothing when left out all night. That dog was barking loud enough not just to raise the dead but to also piss off the dinosaurs in your gas tank.
To make this even more fun, my brother-in-law's cellphone wasn't working, so my wife had to call his work to get the phone number of his friend (who also works at the same place) so that she could call over there and tell her brother, “It's two in the morning and your dog is barking and I am completely awake and I am not happy.” I couldn't wait the 20-30 minutes it would take my brother-in-law to get home, so it was then that I went out and told the dog to shut up.
So what does all this have to do with reviewing a book? Well, after climbing back into bed with a throat hoarse from shouting, I remembered the book Go the F*** to Sleep which one of my wife's other brothers had recently given us. At first I thought about how this book would have been better inspired by monster dogs who bellow all night when their owners don't take care of them, but then my thoughts quickly shifted to why I dislike this book. An hour and a half later I decided that my insomnia wasn't going to go away until after I'd written down my thoughts, so here I am now, still getting zero sleep.
(For the record, my wife and I have two dogs that don't bark at nothing all night, so we're not dog-haters; we just hate dogs that never shut up.)
So once upon a time, Adam Mansbach frustrated with the effort of putting his two-year-old daughter to bed posted on Facebook, “Look out for my forthcoming children's book, Go the F*** to Sleep.” He was just joking at the time, but enough people encouraged him to make an actual book out of it that he took his joke to the publishers.
The book looks and sounds like any other typical children's bedtime book, except that it's full of strong profanity. The book is not really intended for children, but rather as “a bedtime book jokingly for frustrated parents which they wish they could read to their kids.” Nonethelss, I still find this to be an utterly tasteless production.
As a parent I can verify that an upset infant screaming at full volume in the middle of the night is a million times worse than a child who (without screaming or crying) just “won't go to sleep.” I've been at my wit's end and even gone so far as to put in ear plugs so that my daughter could scream in my ears without bursting my eardrums, but despite how iritated I may have felt about being kept awake by a baby screaming in my ear I have never let my frustrations coalesce into something so crass as “I wish you'd go the f*** to sleep!”
So Mansbach wishes he could swear his daughter to sleep. Okay, fine. As long as he doesn't actually do it, fine. But to actually write a book about it, dedicated to the child whom he wishes he could swear to sleep, just seems rather unloving. When his daughter is older and learns why he wrote it, I imagine her reaction will most likely be either A) “Gee, dad, I didn't realized you resented me so much; you must really hate me,” or B) “My dad raised me on profanity and never taught me that there's such a thing as ‘inappropriate language,’ so I find this really f***ing funny!”
What's worse is that LeVar Burton recently made a public performance reading this book.
For over 20 years (30 years if you count continuous reruns) Burton hosted Reading Rainbow, a children's television series dedicated to getting children to love reading. This has made him the face of Reading Rainbow; he is Reading Rainbow. This has made him a children's role model. As such, Burton should have turned down the request to perform reading this vulgar book. He should have said, “No, I won't do this; it will harm the image of Reading Rainbow and lower my credibility as a children's entertainer.” What, it was for charity? So what, he could have read something else; he could have read an actual children's book and had it broadcast for children! That would have been better, with farther-reaching positive publicity.
As a children's role model Burton carries the burdon of responsibility of avoiding strongly inappropripate behavior when in the public eye, lest the children watching closely learn to imitate things they shouldn't. However, if you go to YouTube and innocently search for “read by LeVar Burton,” not only do you get several Reading Rainbow videos, but the top result is “LeVar Burton reads “Go The F*** To Sleep,” and not far below it is “Go The F*** To Sleep with LeVar Burton.” The top Google search results on that same phrase alternate between “Reading Rainbow” and “Go the F*** to Sleep,” one of which is “LeVar Burton Reads ‘Go The [Expletive] To Sleep.’” Although we parents have the responsibility to be involved in our children's internet usage, we can't possibly 100% prevent them disovering the garbage that's out there, and Burton's just made it really easy for young children to accidentally learn that saying “go the f*** to sleep” is an appropriate way to tell others to go to bed.
Just months before performing this book, Burton exercised his celebrity power as The Face of Reading Rainbow and successfully raised nearly five and a half million dollars in donations to bring us Reading Rainbow: The Next Generation. If I had known at the time that he was going to be promoting tastelessly inappropriate children's books (even though the book's supposed to be a joke) I doubt I would have contributed and encouraged my friends to likewise, and I probably wouldn't have been the only parent to have second thoughts. If Burton had launched his Kickstarter campaign after performing this book, can you imagine how many potentially donating parents would have heard about “LeVar Burton trying to do something fantastic for children's literacy,” only to be turned off of the subject after searching for “LeVar Burton Reading Rainbow” and getting in the top search results “LeVar Burton from ‘Reading Rainbow’ reads ‘Go the F*** to Sleep’”? In or out of context, that headline is very upsetting to parents.
I grew up watching Burton on Reading Rainbow. It was one of my favorite shows, and I thought it was really cool when he got a part on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but now, LeVar Burton, you have tarnished your reputation in my eyes. (And now you and this tasteless book and that stupid dog have cost me an entire night's sleep, as dawn is now on the horizon.)