Thursday, 4 October 2012

Banned Books Week

This post is brought to you slightly late, on the Thursday of banned books week, so sorry about that!

Banning books.  I've always though the practice to be kind of crazy for several reasons.  Banning anything because somebody is offended/upset/confused by it is ridiculous.  People think and believe all sorts of things, so it's pretty safe to say that if you looked hard enough, you could find somebody to object to almost everything.  A government or an organisation banning a book, film or game wants to stop its people from seeing something. Why? What is it that they object to? It doesn't trust you to understand something or thinks it knows what's best for you.

When To Kill a Mockingbird was banned by the Hanover County School Board's for immoral content in 1966, the author wrote to the censors with a bit of a zinger:

"Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read."
Surely there is no better novel to promote kindness, equality and a sensible moral code than this one.  Herper Lee was pretty bang on with her wonderings.

Also, there is probably nothing more effective at shifting copies of a book than to ban it.  Mark Twain seems to have cottoned on to this early enough, saying 
"Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!"

Modern-day controversy surrounding Huck & Tom Sawyer tends to focus on the representation and treatments of African-Americans and slaves and the frequent use of what are now racial slurs.   Contemporary objections were to the mischievous, unruly and parental-authority-ignoring  behaviour of the boys.  What people object to will change, but they will always find something.

The reasons for imposing bans seem to be various, but the full list (of the American Library Association, at least) is Anti-Ethnic, Anti-Family, Drugs, Insensitivity, Nudity, Occult/Satanic, Offensive Language, Racism, Religious Viewpoint, Sex Education, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group and Violence.  Essentially Sex, Religion or Politics.

I challenge anybody to name a decent book, one that held your attention and made you think or feel things that hadn't occurred to you before, that doesn't touch on at least three of the above.  Unsuited to age group is one that baffles me particularly.  Many objections to adult books seem to be their potential damaging effects on children...

Books that are deemed racist/violent/sexist often draw attention to the issue of racism/violence/sexism.  Characters' words and behaviour aren't necessarily the actual, real-life thoughts of the author, they don't want you to repeat them.  They want you to see their effect in a fictional world, so it doesn't happen in the real one.

Read as many banned books as you can, not just this week.  Censors seem to be under the impression that reading a novel where unjust, sadistic or unpleasant events/people occur results in people adopting and acting out these themes.  Because everybody is just that corruptible and insane.  American Psycho does not make you go out and kill people.  It makes you wonder what the hell Patrick Bateman's problem is, and whether he's a massive crazy or a massive liar.  You think "This guy's a dick, 1980s New York sounds like a dump".  If something makes you queasy, contravenes your world view or just generally disagrees with you, you can do one of two things.  Put the book down, move away from it and pick another, or persevere and see what happens.

Reading a couple of top 10 banned lists this week, I've found a couple of interesting bits that I thought I'd share...

Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Seuss' whimsical rhyme-fest was banned in China between 1965 and 1991 because it apparently portrayed early Marxism.  There really aren't many lines to read between, but that's what was dredged up by important Chinese readers...
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - An unfortunate and obscure Marxist namesake on the part of the author meant that Brown Bear was banned by the Texan Education Board in 2010.  Most of these bans come from the 1930s and 1960, so they seem pretty ridiculous and archaic now.  But this was 2 years ago.  Pretty depressing. 
In present day Australia, restricted print publications are sold to over-18s only, shrink wrapped and labelled with this sticker. Things are submitted for restriction classification if they " are likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult to the extent that the publication should not be sold or displayed as an unrestricted publication; or are unsuitable for a minor to see or read."  Not all books are classified, but ones that are submitted for classification are considered then either made restricted or deemed to be OK.  I've read that American Psycho is still sold like this.

You can find a full list of all the books that have ever been banned in the UK here on BannedBooks.Org.  Pick one, read it and find out what's so utterly, world-endingly terrible about it.

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