In case you hadn’t heard, it’s Banned Books Week!
Every year book bloggers celebrate the power of the written word and remind others to fight against censorship…because despite what you may think, banning books is still alive and well, even in America where we’re supposed to value the freedom of speech and print.
Just a few days ago, NPR reported that a North Carolina county voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which discusses the nuances of black identity formation and the battles for racial equality. Apparently the state failed to see the irony behind removing from view a story about an individual’s social invisibility.
It’s news like NPR’s which makes me grateful for living in a more liberal state, since my California high school wasn’t about to let a little violence and incest get in the way of providing its students with a culturally diverse and historically meaningful education.
I’ve brought up the topic of censorship before, like when I asked whether young adult fiction was too adult and whether books should be rated like movies. I, like almost every other book blogger, sides with the First Amendment. But in case the good ol’ Constitution isn’t reason enough, let me spell it out for you:
1. It is vital that we challenge reinforcement theory. Mass media scholars suggest that our egos are so sensitive that we’d rather hide behind the bubble wrap of our previously held beliefs than risk coming across something that makes us uncomfortable.
However, learning from different perspectives forces us to re-evaluate our opinions and our relationships with other people–which is a good thing! We could all use some empathy by reading a mile of someone else’s journey.
I’m not saying that you have to agree with the Westboro Baptist Church, but they have the right to spout off their nonsense. Don’t like it? Speak up and make your voice the one that your local politician hears the loudest.
2. Censorship is a slippery slope. As I learned from Reading Lolita in Tehran, banning books on the surface might seem a minor infringement of personal freedom, but usurping control of what thoughts are deemed worthy of publishing will ultimately lead to the loss of many more rights.
And what’s even scarier than a country like 1970′s Iran actively fighting against revolutionary restrictions and failing is a society no longer interested in fighting at all, as seen in Fahrenheit 451, another frequently banned book. In that satire, people became so obsessed with television that they didn’t even care that the totalitarian government banned books. Their tiny attention spans couldn’t be bothered.
3. Banning books is hypocrisy at its worst. Other media are often censored, but how many movies, music videos, or video games are outright banned? Sure, we can label things explicit or give them “R” ratings, but we don’t seem all that concerned about enforcement.
I mean, no one batted an eyelash when the latest Grand Theft Auto, a video game in which killing cops and prostitutes is encouraged, earned over $1 billion in three days. I highly doubt all those copies will be played by only those 18 and up.
And let’s not gloss over Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (or Miley Cyrus’ VMA’s rendition of the song). It seems that the majority of folks don’t mind the promotion of rape culture and exploitation of women as long as the tune is catchy.
But did you know that Catcher in the Rye was banned, among other complaints, over Holden Caulfield’s dealings with a prostitute? Or that Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God were considered too sexual?
I can’t stand the double standard that sex is harmless when it’s allegedly just for fun or to sell a product, but when it’s depicted in a context where people might actually learn something of value from it, it’s branded as too inappropriate.
The take-away? I’m not trying to be a prude or a buzz-kill. In fact, I’m proposing that all media, not matter how controversial or offensive, should be protected from censorship. As adults, it’s our individual right to decide if we want to read a book or not.
And as for the kids, if you’re sooooo concerned about Little Timmy reading To Kill A Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…
It’s called home-schooling. You’re welcome.
Final note: Please spread awareness of this issue by educating yourself on the most challenged books and where they’re being removed. Celebrate this week by following #bannedbooksweek on Twitter and checking out Google Hangouts with banned authors!