A Breakdown of an Illogical “Go the F*** to Sleep” Critique

CNN.com posted an opinion piece titled “Go the F*** to Sleep” not funny by Karen Spears Zacharias. The post is a critique of Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, a children’s book parody that Zacharias admits was written for adults/parents. A poor critique.

As the title suggests, “Go the F*** to Sleep” mocks the parental frustrations of trying to lay a child down to bed. Crass in concept and execution, this is an expletive-filled bedtime story intended solely for the amusement of parents.

While I never read the book (I only listened to Samuel L. Jackson reading it aloud on the Internet) she’s criticizing, it’s easy to address how after this admission the article goes completely off the rails in terms of constructing a logical argument.

Zacharias begins innocuously enough where she quotes some concerned mother who initially liked the book then became uncomfortable with the “violent” language. Fair enough, I suppose. Nobody is required to be completely comfortable with a work of fiction even if I disagree that the language is something I would consider to be all that violent.

She has good reason to be concerned about the message behind such a parody. Demarest was the prosecuting attorney in one of Oregon’s most high-profile child murder cases. She understands the fear that far too many children endure because the lines of what’s appropriate parenting have become blurred.

Wait, what? Now the book is somehow responsible for child murder?

Nobody is suggesting that there’s a connection between Adam Mansbach’s book and child abuse or child neglect.

Actually, Zacharias does just that. Joan Demarest, the aforementioned “concerned mother” turns out was “the prosecuting attorney in one of Oregon’s most high-profile child murder cases.” Suggesting that a concerned mother, who was a concerned attorney on child homicide cases, has sufficient reason to be “be concerned about the message behind such a parody” is definitively “suggesting that there’s a connection between Adam Mansbach’s book and child abuse or child neglect.” Supposing that this is a book for adults, it must stand to reason that to be worried about its content must be based on how this might somehow affect the values and actions of a caregiver to children.

Still, there’s no denying the reason “Go the F*** to Sleep” should be kept out of reach of children is because of its violent language and because of the way it demeans children.

Now I’m definitely confused. Wasn’t it just a handful of paragraphs ago that Zacharias stated that this work was “solely intended for the amusement of parents?” When did this change? Where is the evidence that this is somehow falling into the hands of the vulnerable, impressionable youth of the English-speaking world? But hey, let’s ignore that unsupported assertion and weasel-word-filled attempt at connecting Mansbach’s book to child abuse. Zacharias has to breezily move onto something more important like racism.

“Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos,” says Dr. David Arredondo. He is an expert on child development and founder of The Children’s Program, in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which provides consultation and training for those working with troubled youths.

It is hard to imagine this kind of humor being tolerated by any of the marginalized groups Arredondo cited.

This one is a real head scratcher. Although, at least here, Zacharias makes some weak attempt at presenting evidence of some kind.

“The eagles who soar thru the sky are at rest
And the creatures who crawl, run and creep.
I know you are not thirsty. That’s bulls**t.
Stop lying.
Lie the f*** down, my darling, and sleep.”

The irony, says Arredondo, is that the people buying the book are probably good parents.

Even were you to plug in one of those recognizably marginalized out-groups, this analogy wouldn’t make sense. It’s a terribly insulting analogy, akin to Godwin’s Law, where the race card gets drawn in an attempt to emotionally trump any rebuttals.

The book is about parental frustration with specific, biologically induced behavior in children: the inability to go to sleep, not broad ranging cultural stereotypes. The sleep behavior itself isn’t a cause for ostracism or classic in-group/out-group power dynamics because almost every parent has to deal with the development of their child as a part of the ritual of parenthood. (I’m going on clinical evidence as well as anecdotes from other parents as I don’t have children myself.) The real irony is that Dr. David Arredondo somehow expresses anxiety that this book is somehow detrimental to the parenting that children receive, yet states that the parents who may be reading this are actually good. I’m not sure what the problem is here then.

Arredondo continues:

“The people reading this book are educated parents, who actually care about their children and are frustrated that often their children don’t behave the way storybooks display.”

So what if they are frustrated? This still does not in anyway support a claim that this type of frustration is manifesting in any specific, detrimental behavior from parent to child.

Parents often don’t act in the way storybooks depict either. Putting kids to bed can be a challenge, and it may be an even bigger problem for this generation of parents because the sacred bedtime ritual of reading to children has gone away.

“I think it’s pretty important to note that most kids in this country do not get read to at all when they go to sleep,” Arredondo says.

Oh for crying out loud! Where exactly is this train wreck of an article going? Parents don’t act like they do in storybooks? What does that matter? While it may be true that parents don’t read to their kids all that often, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that the type of parent who would own Mansbach’s book likely are the type that do. Otherwise, the parody of a children’s book would be lost on them! Erasing all of that, this still doesn’t explain how this book bolsters the erratic opinion swings between A) leading to child abuse or B) reflecting an abuse of children that is already extant (assuming that is the other point of this editorial because it’s pretty difficult nailing down what in the world Zacharias is trying to argue).

We hex our children when we fail to read to them, he says; a child’s developing brain makes connections at the rate of 1,000 per second. That’s why children require copious amount of attention and stimulation. When they are denied that, they suffer.

I need an aspirin. So far the argument addressing the failure to read to children is as follows:

  1. If children aren’t read to, it is detrimental.
  2. Go the F*** to Sleep is read by good, but frustrated parents.
  3. We must assume they don’t read to their kids.
  4. Thus, we must be concerned about Go the F*** to Sleep.

Logic fled this article long ago and is pitifully nursing its wounds from the abuse it took.

Author Adam Mansbach is undoubtedly the kind of father who heaps love, affection and attention upon his daughter. (He reportedly had the idea to write the book because of his exasperation with her at bedtime.) But sadly, his book accurately portrays the hostile environment in which too many children grow up.

Now it’s about portraying child abuse, apparently from a guy who doesn’t abuse his kids.

For far too many kids, the obscenities found in Mansbach’s book are a common, everyday household language. Swearing is how parents across the social, educational and economic strata express their disappointments or anxieties, their frustrations and outright anger at their children. Sometimes the biggest bully in the neighborhood lives in the same house you do. Sometimes it’s your parent.

In no way has this article presented evidence that parents in sufficient numbers engage in this abusive behavior due to this book, or that this book is an accurate reflection or portrayal of said behavior in actual households. Fantasy is a word to describe a fiction that human beings escape into because that’s not how they might behave in real life. This is clearly lost on Zacharias.

Perhaps the reason Mansbach’s book resonates isn’t so much because of the humor, but because of the truth behind it.

An assertion that Zacharias makes without any supporting evidence … one of many assertions in this rambling mess. What truth? That parents like to laugh at how hard it sometimes feels to raise a kid? That’s a lot better than, I don’t know, putting their cigarette butts out on kids’ arms. Fantasy versus reality.

The violent language of “Go the F*** to Sleep” is not the least bit funny, when one considers how many neglected children fall asleep each night praying for a parent who’d care enough to hold them, nurture them and read to them.

And I suppose the movie Airplane is not the least bit funny because of actual plane crashes in the world.

You know, like all those parents depicted in all those beautifully illustrated storybooks.

So, Zacharias actually expects storybook people in real life. What the f**k? Now I’m the one feeling frustrated. This entire piece of drivel has been an exercise in unsupported premises and faulty analogies. The whole bit about race and minorities was something of a strawman argument too.

This entry was posted in Definitions, Error! Error!, Euphemisms, Tropes and Stereotypes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Breakdown of an Illogical “Go the F*** to Sleep” Critique

  1. Paul J says:

    Thank you. This is perfect.

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