Thursday, August 25, 2011
As an avid reader, I find any talk of censorship to be truly appalling. Every year the American Library Association reviews challenges from across the United States on a wide variety of “offensive books”. The most recent publicized attempt at censorship occurred in that liberal Mecca we call Republic, Missouri. Republic High School’s School Board removed Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s, Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s, Twenty Boy Summer from the school’s library because of such things as sexually explicit content, violence and profanity. Roberta Combs, president of Christian Coalition of America (no I did not make that up) stated, "That's not what our kids should be reading and learning.” Combs, who for the sake of clarity I will now refer to as “That Right Wing Psycho Religious Bitch Freak from Hell” is the same woman who tried to ban the Harry Potter Series and considered a ban on the Twilight Series. "These Twilight books are very disturbing books for family values. Teen marriage is not the standard, but the part that is more troubling is the vampire. It's just not normal for young people to idolize a vampire." I’m not convinced though. If people can’t idolize a cold, heartless, soulless monster, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin would have never become famous.
The ability of public schools to restrict access of certain books in their libraries has long been a contentious issue. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson stated, “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.” As Orbson Rice, I find this particular decision very useful. It gives me the freedom to randomly say obscene stuff like fuck you Republicans, pussylicker, and anal lube. However, as it comes to public schools it becomes more complex. In Island Trees School District v. Pico By Pico, Justice Brennan, in a plurality decision stated, “…we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books….” In the dissenting opinion, Justice O’Conner points out the obvious problems involved in having a court decide what the motivations are for a school board’s choice to remove a book. Personally, I think Orbson Rice should decide what students should or should not read.
Look, the ability to learn would be severely limited if the only books that are taught are the ones that never cross into the realm of vulgarity and obscenity. If I walked up to a bookshelf and removed everything that had violence, sexuality, profanity, vampires, magic or anything that someone somewhere might find offensive, there would be very little of substance left. Heck, even the Bible featured Jesus the Zombie. How is a teacher supposed to explain the horrors of the Holocaust without detailing the graphic atrocities endured by millions of people? How do you read books on the Civil War without any reference to violence? How do you discuss a teenager coming of age without referencing the changes and urges that teenagers feel? When you ignore the truths of the world you can never truly understand or empathize with anyone different from you. You don’t even really understand yourself. You end up becoming the worse kind of conservative- stupid and blind.
I believe in learning as much as you possibly can. That often means looking at the corners which are not all sunshine and puppies. Recently, NewSouth Books published a version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the word “nigger” was replaced with “slave”. There is no question about the negativity and racism associated with the “n” word. However, the 1800’s were not all about love and tolerance. Art, literature and music are reflections of the times they were created. We must embrace the good and the bad to truly understand where we have been, where we are now and where we hope to be in the future. We should not change literature to fit with current morals; we should study, discuss and learn from those exchanges. By the way, changing Mark Twain’s works is even more preposterous when you realize that Twain was an avid supporter of equal rights for everyone.
We are supposed to live in a free and democratic nation, not a democratic Christian nation. We cannot allow the opinions of a few to dictate the education offered in public schools. If parents want to minimize the impact of “offensive” materials they always have the option of attending private religious schools. In the meantime, it is the parent’s responsibility and not the school’s to monitor their child’s reading lists for books they find “offensive”. Then, they can do one of two things. First, they can explain their issue to the teacher and ask them to excuse the student from those lessons and assign a different book for him or her to read. I don’t support this method of “teaching”, but I do support the right of the parent to act according to their own belief system. The second and better option is to read the book along with the student and thoroughly discuss the issues the parent(s) have with the book. What they should not do is try to impose their views on every child in that school and every parent in that community by trying to ban the book.
Censorship is a very real issue. In 2010-2011 thus far, Anne Frank: the Diary of A Young Girl, The Hunger Games and The Catcher in the Rye, along with hundreds of other books have been challenged and/or banned. Some of the other more commonly challenged books include such titles as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gone With the Wind, Goosebumps Series, Harry Potter Series, Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses and Judy Blume’s, Are You There God it’s Me Margaret. As the new school year begins, the list of challenged and banned books will skyrocket. I for one, won’t be waiting until Banned Book Week to grab the nearest banned book and start reading.
Orbson Online: I just found a pretty cool website. Not sure if they are true stories but definitely inspirational. They are also very short for those with Attention Deficit Disorder: www.makesmethink.com
Relevant Jams From Back in the Day: