With the official advent of autumn, it’s time to break out the boots, buy criminally-overpriced lattes that taste vaguely of pumpkin, and unabashedly blast AFI’s “Fall Children” EP at all hours. It’s also Banned Books Week!
Each year, the American Library Association (ALA), along with a host of other organizations, sponsors Banned Books Week. The purpose is to bring to light the books that are either challenged or banned in institutions across the country. Through the collection and presentation of data, the ALA shows us the alarming threat to intellectual freedom that occurs each year.
But how does banning books start? The ALA very kindly states it usually begins with “the best intentions – to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.” It’s one thing to make a decision to not let your child read a book – for whatever reason, it’s your kid. But when people start deciding what’s best for everyone based on their ideals and beliefs and then work to impose it – that’s censorship. First Amendment rights, be damned!
And here’s the thing that drives me bonkers – most challenges must be made by complete fucking morons.
Let’s start with the book that was the number one threat in 2010. And in 2008, 2007, and 2006 (it came in a respectable second place in 2009). It’s And Tango Makes Three. Omg… is it about the sexually-charged tango dance, after which coitus is GUARANTEED?! After which there will be a BABY?!? Actually… it’s a PICTURE BOOK. A touching story about two male penguins who raise an abandoned egg together. I probably don’t have to cite the reason it’s banned, but I will anyway. It’s promoting homosexuality. The best part? The story is based on real-life penguins. Those wily penguins, turning our kids gay.
One school in Canada pulled To Kill a Mockingbird because a parent complained about the offensive language. I’m sorry – but you read that book and all you pulled from it were some bad words? You didn’t get the beautiful story of learning to be empathetic in a society that is not? The nuance of character; the heartbreaking and true-to-life ending? Fucking seriously? Just because you can’t understand the words in context doesn’t mean you have the right to deny others access to the work. In 2007, a parent in our ancestral homeland of NJ tried to pull this book from the Cherry Hill curriculum. The concern was the treatment of African Americans in a racist society, and how it might upset the children. But isn’t it more upsetting that the kids could go through life not understanding the terrible things that were done to non-white/non-privileged people in this country? That they might not understand how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go? Honestly, this book did upset me when I read it. But it made me think because it was able to capture my attention through the upsetting parts. I have never viewed that as a negative thing.
Another example – The Egypt Game. This Newbery Award-winning book has been convincing sixth graders that ancient Egyptians were badass since 1967. And, according to one parent in Texas, it also teaches kids how to do black magic. *cue head explosion* He explicitly stated “I’m not going to stop until it’s banned from the school district.” Fine – you’re a crazy asshat who thinks children playing Egypt actually stains their pure souls with ideas of black magic and pagan gods. So don’t let your own kid read it – that’s your decision. BUT HELLO – not everyone else in the district is a crazy asshat who believes in black magic.
That’s really the crux of the problem for me. At what point in their crazy, deluded thinking does it become their job to deny others access? It’s moving the sphere of influence from your own child to everyone else’s. Inspired by the ALA’s visual data, I’ve created my own representation:
I honestly can’t imagine thinking I should have that right to exert my influence over anyone except for the children I’m raising.
And I know I keep using the parent as an example. The reason is because they’re behind most of the challenges. As you can see from the ALA’s graph, the parent is usually the initiator. Through some quick calculations based on the chart below, parents initiate a challenge 54% of the time. And that’s just from what’s reported.
Now – I am aware censorship is a complex issue. It’s not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum, or any one group. Very unscientifically speaking, I’m sure we would all like the power to censor someone or something (even if we wouldn’t actually go through with it). There are certainly times when I would love for idiots like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to have their mouths permanently duct-taped shut. Unfortunately, they have the same right to free speech as everyone else. Just like
I have some mysterious patron has a right to draw moustaches on their books. Ahem.
Despite the complexity and the subtle ways in which censorship manifests, I feel like banning books is on the cut-and-dry end of the spectrum. At some point, someone makes a decision to complain about or take the book out of circulation. It’s an active process that doesn’t just happen on its own. Someone decides that the book in question is inherently bad or without merit, based exclusively on his or her reading (if they actually even read the book) and interpretation of the material. This person then decides no one else should be exposed to this material and moves to take it away. This effectively takes away the freedom to form one’s own opinion. It’s fucking madness.
Looking at the list of the 100 most commonly banned books for the years 2000-2009, I’ve read 32 of them. There are several titles/series that are my all-time favorites; others have helped expand my consciousness by encouraging me to look at the world in a completely different way. Still more were read for pure entertainment. A few titles left my mind reeling with the power of the written word, and one or two threw me into despair for fear I could ever write so beautifully. I can’t imagine someone telling me “NO, these books are evil/sexually explicit/gay-making/immoral things that never deserve to be read, EVER.” Books affect people in profound and unexpected ways. I would be a different person if I had not been allowed to read these books, and no dumbass should be able to directly change the course of my life.
Finally – I’d like to end by saying censorship is inherently flawed. As soon as you tell someone NOT to do something, they will find a way to do it. And then they become REBELLIOUS. And that’s cool and exciting. So keep banning books, you illogical, fear-mongering bastards. You’re just hurting yourselves.