An effective bit of propaganda:
Read a banned book! After all, you don't want
to be a frowny, blue-eyed robot, do you?
Read a banned book! After all, you don't want
to be a frowny, blue-eyed robot, do you?
To sort of get myself in the mood, I read a few fun facts about book banning. Did you know:
- The Diary of Anne Frank was banned in Lebanon because it gives a positive depiction of Jews, Israel, and Zionism. (Okay, not only is that dishonest, it's just lame.)
- New Zealand and Australia have banned books covering topics like how to commit suicide, how to carry out euthanasia, and how to make a disposable silencer for your gun. (But aren't books like these crossing the free speech line? Like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, or telling a suicidal individual on the roof of a building to jump? I'm just asking.)
- Mein Kampf is more or less permanently banned in Germany. (I note, however, that that didn't stop old Nazis from indoctrinating neo-Nazi skinheads.)
- Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series was banned somewhere in Australia last year "for primary school students because the series is too racy. Librarians have stripped the books from shelves in some junior schools because they believe the content is too sexual and goes against religious beliefs. They even have asked parents not to let kids bring their own copies . . . to school." (I know of a number of hard-core sci-fi fans with preconceived, concretized notions about what is and what is not a vampire who would applaud Australia's decision.)
Some other books that have been banned at one time or another: The Wizard of Oz (L Frank Baum), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Witches (Roald Dahl), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde), In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak), Animal Farm (George Orwell), The Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut), A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle), All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), the entire Harry Potter series (J K Rowling), and The Rabbits' Wedding (a picture book by Garth Williams, the guy who illustrated Charlotte's Web, the Little House books, The Little Fur Family, and many other classic children's books).
Although books have been banned for a variety of reasons in many nations and countries, the American Library Association says there are three principal reasons for books being banned in the US (most often in schools and school libraries): sexual content, profanity, and racism. These issues cause concern for protective parental figures who a) don't want their children reading what they consider age-inappropriate material; or b) have concerns about material that is offensive to or not in concert with their religious, socio-economic, and political beliefs. In other nations, governmental censors also worry about ideas that are perceived as radical, dangerous, and critical of government policies or leaders.
I think I am pretty much against the banning of books. I say "pretty much" because I really believe there are truly harmful books out there. These are books that are just plain stupid. Reading them causes brain cells to die, I'm pretty sure. If I had my way, these books would not be banned; they would just never have been written. But we're talking about Banned Books Week, not Stupid Books That Never Should Have Been Written Because They Make Your Brain Cells Die Week.
There are three main reasons I do not believe in banning books:
1. Everyone should have the freedom to choose. I qualify this slightly by saying that parents, of course, should have the right to control or restrict what their minor children read.
I remind myself of an incident that occurred when I was fifteen years old. The 15-year-old girls class in our church youth group was preparing to serve Thanksgiving dinner as a service project. Our leader put two or three of us each to various tasks, such as preparing the salad, mashing the potatoes, putting the rolls in the oven, etc. One girl assigned to the salad group said she was unable to help slice the tomatoes because she didn't know how! Her excuse was that her parents had never taught her that skill.
So, although parents have the right to control what their children read, they should also be preparing those children to make wise choices on their own as they get older. Pretending that books with challenging material don't exist is just as silly as pretending that life with its challenging experiences doesn't exist. It's as silly as pretending that tomatoes will never need to be sliced.
Parents should also educate themselves as to what's out there in Children's Literature Land so they don't make uninformed decisions. (And parents, please please teach your children not to say idiotic things like "Why can't we read this book? Don't our parents trust us?" NO, they do NOT! Hint to children: If your parents trusted you, they probably wouldn't be trying to get books banned.)
2. Speaking of trust, banning a book usually just makes more people want to read it, and they're going to find a way. Back when Harry Potter was brand newly in the midst of his adventures, I was substituting in a Language Arts class. When the bell rang for break, one kid asked if he could remain in the classroom and read the Harry Potter book he had with him. I said, "Sure", then asked him if he'd seen the movie yet.
"My parents won't let me," he said. I asked why, and he explained that they had religious objections to the books and the movies.
"The books, too?" I said, eyeing his book in a very obvious manner.
"So where'd you get that copy?" I asked.
"It's my friend's," he responded.
"Don't you think you ought to respect what your parents want you to do?" I said. (You could ask him questions like that; although he was only 13, he was pretty smart for his age. Probably because he read a lot.)
"Well, I guess," he said. "But it's such a good book! I can hardly wait to finish it and start the next one."
I left him alone then to read his book, but I wondered what I would do if I were his parent and found out he was reading unapproved of books on the sly.
3. Government entities should never have anything to do with what one does or doesn't read. Unless I'm in charge.
US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v Johnson, said, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." And someone on the ALA website put it very nicely this way: "Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material."
So, in order to avoid the banning of books while at the same time helping parents and others guide those for whom they are responsible, I suggest utilizing a labeling system, sort of like the warning labels denoting possibly offensive material in music, movies, tv shows, and video games. That way, books don't need to be banned outright. Parents and government or public censorship officials can just request these labels in order to protect their children and/or citizens. The books can remain on the shelves for those who are wise enough to deal with the content, while those who are not have been duly advised.
Based on the ALA's principal reasons for censorship, and taking the movie ratings as my model (where they use a letter to stand for an explanatory word), I propose the following labeling system for books:
c = this stands for 'crass', meaning boorish, gross, stupid. It includes profanity, vulgarity in speech and action, and can encompass any political and social ideas and behavior that parents or governments think is stupid. Or gross.
r = this stands for 'rude' and includes anything that is just plain mean. This includes any message of religious or racial intolerance, disrespect for human rights, violence or criminal activity, and all types of abuse. It also includes gratuitous name-calling.
a = this stands for 'and/or', so that the rating system can include or exclude anything it wants.
p = this stands for 'prurient' and covers obscene language, descriptions of sexual activity, pornographic content, and the like.
Now all you have to do is take the book in question and affix a little 'c' or 'r' or 'p' or any combination thereof. If the book is all-around offensive, there should be little 'crap' labels as well.
With such a label on the book, the child of a protective parent or the citizen of an oppressive government or school district can tell at a glance whether the book is deemed suitable. Then the choice is left up to the individual, who is aware that he or she is responsible and willing to accept whatever consequences may follow. And thus no one is denied the Right to Read.
I also propose another 'crap' label, but this one is in capital letters - 'CRAP' - and is to be used for a different category of book, one that I think is more dangerous. I mean books that are Carelessly 'Ritten And Plotted. I think the list of CRAP books may be longer than the list of crap books. Some books, of course, would have both labels, like this: