site stats WhizGidget Wonders...
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Censorship, preferences, and stupidity

...A discussion started recently focused on banned and challenged books. It's been a good discussion - pretty much on the side of the books and wondering why some things were banned. Things like 'A Light in the Attic' and 'How To Eat Fried Worms' sit alongside Judy Blume's 'Forever' and J.D. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye' with no apparent logic as to why other than they have been considered offensive by someone.

I don't care either way why they were challenged or banned. The point of this exercise is to point out a wise statement someone made (I paraphrased):

If you don't like it, don't read it.

Truer words have never been spoken. If someone doesn't like something, or thinks that they're not going to like the content of it based on what they've heard, then why bother wasting the time on it? After all, you're not going to get those precious moments of your life back. The same can be said of bulletin board postings - if there's something there, based on the title or the initial post, that you don't like then don't continue reading the darn thing. There's no point in getting yourself (or anyone else) riled up because you are not going to have any control over what anyone else says in the discussion. Nor can you control the outcome of the discussion unless you are the board owner or a moderator and can shut the thread down, but I would expect that anyone in those positions would recuse themselves from participating in a position of authority when they cite opinions in such threads... but I digress.

The purpose of censoring anything is to supposedly remove it from the view of the general public and to shield the innocent eyes of our children from such things. What it actually does, as the poster in the thread continued to state, is incite more curiosity about the item they're trying to ban and increase the publicity around it, and the desire of some people to find out what it's all about. I was about 8 when I learned about banned books, and that something called 'Tom Sawyer' was banned. And so I set about to find out what this book was all about and who wrote it. Best idea I ever had, because I came to really enjoy Mark Twain's writings, and I found out that some people just have bees in their bonnets over almost nothing.

Why ban a book because it covers something that was a normal part of life once upon a time, or in the time that the book was written? Books about slavery, suicide, racism - they exist. Why ban them? It's not necessarily going to encourage the behavior to continue (although I'm sure that's one of the reasons that some of these books are being challenged) and it's not going to remove the dark spot of whatever behavior it is from our history as a human race. If it *did* serve to do that, then all the history books need to be rewritten or banned so that they don't cover that slavery existed and we'll have to adjust the Constitution as well. Why ban a book for subject content that you think is unsuitable? Because maybe it isn't unsuitable to everyone, or maybe there is something to be learned from it. Funny I find that a lot of the books on the challenged/banned list are books that are recognized classic pieces of children's and young adult literature. Also funny - I've read quite a lot of them and encourage my children to read them too.

Harry Potter is being banned for endorsing witchcraft, Captain Underpants is being challenged because it shows parents being disrespected by children, 'Bridge to Terabithia' dealt with the tragedy of someone's dear friend who drowned (and was largely challenged due to the use of the word "Lord" outside the context of prayer and promotion of other religions). All these are challenged books - books that people complain about, that they don't want their children to read.

I want my children to read these books. Not because they are banned, but because they are milestones in children's literature that *should* be read. Things like the Chronicles of Narnia, and 'How to Eat Fried Worms' and 'The Bluest Eye'. Authors get painted with brushes too - Many of Judy Blume's books are challenged, most likely given a closer look because of 'Forever', and JD Salinger regularly gets 'challenged' on the strength of objections to 'Catcher in the Rye'.

The contents of the top 100 books that have been challenged also shows a bias. Why is 'The Joy of Gay Sex' on the list, and not the classic edition of 'The Joy of Sex'? Why are there books like 'What's Happening to my Body' (both the girls and boys editions) when they're clearly non-fiction and not subversive? Are we supposed to raise our children in a vacuum where they don't get to understand anything until they're 18 and we push them out of the house to live on their own? What about banned movies? Where's *that* list? In the United States, hardly any films are listed as banned according to Wikipedia - most of those on the list were banned due to the obscenity laws surrounding films from the early part of film history. In the last 20 years, only 3 films have been banned: one due to copyright infringement, one was a single city banning a film that still managed to open worldwide, and one due to pending litigation claiming libel. In the United States a film can only be banned if it poses a threat to national security or if there are legal/civil violations. Nothing on the list that I linked is still banned except for the one with the pending libel situation and the copyright infringement.

I don't expect to see any other films banned in the United States to tell you the truth. For some reason the film industry stands behind freedom of expression and fortunately has the money to be able to defend that to the death. But books can still be challenged, and still be banned. Where's the sense in that? I thought authors were still covered under the same freedom of expression that filmmakers are.

There are some things I understand - I don't think that I want my children reading 'Mein Kampf' and getting ideas from it as to how to treat other people. But that's probably the closed minded thinking that gets a lot of these books banned. I have faith, however, that I can teach my children that the ideas set forth from such a book aren't how I expect them to treat people. That strange and dangerous things happened in history that they need to understand and they can learn from by reading something like that. I wonder how many of these people who are after certain books to be banned have faith in their abilities as a parent to teach their children morals and values and what is right and wrong. And I wonder how many of them even have children in the first place.

I let my girls read 'A Light in the Attic' because I know they know that breaking dishes isn't a way to get out of washing them but is a way to ensure that they will get a bigger punishment than they would if they simply said they didn't want to load the dishwasher. I encourage them to read The Chronicles of Narnia because there is such a strong story there, never mind that there are supposed undertones of the Christ story there. I *want* them to read 'How To Eat Fried Worms' because there are lessons about peer pressure and non-conformity that are better expressed in the examples of that prose than I can do talking to them (that and it's an enjoyable read). There are a great many things to be learned from the beauty of a book...

...and a great many more to be learned when a book is banned.

Banned Book Week is coming up - September 23 - 30. Go ahead and read a banned book. You won't burst into flames, or have your complete moral structure collapse upon reading the last paragraph (or the first, for that matter). Chances are you'll be reading a really good piece of literature that should be treasured for what it is for generations to come.