Saturday, May 30, 2009

Banned Book? The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Now, here is one sick, twisted read.
It's a children's picture book about a little caterpillar who eats a lot. It was allegedly banned in Herefordshire, England during a healthy eating campaign because it was believed that it promoted obesity and overeating.

See, when a kid has eight chins and gets winded just by pushing the buttons on his Ipod, , it's not because he's allowed to eat two happy meals in one sitting or because he puts butter on his sausage at IHOP.

It's because of that food obsessed psycho Eric Carle & his twisted butterfly fantasy. No wonder today's five-year-olds look like Mini-Coopers! We are a nation of emotional eaters and it all started with multi-legged brainwashing during circle time in "kinney-garden".
This bug must be stopped.

Now, I don't know for sure if the book was actually removed from the library. It seems that the story has been repeated often, even on information sites. So, forgive me for jumping the gun on this one- most of the other banned books on this blog come from multiple sources.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Twilight

You knew it was only a matter of time, right? I heard about this on Twilighters Anonymous:

A series of fantasy novels about a vampire and his teenage girlfriend were banned Friday from middle school libraries in the Capistrano Unified School District over concerns about age-appropriate content, but reinstated today.

Librarians were instructed to remove all books by Meyer from their collections and send them to the district office, where they were to be redistributed to the district’s high school libraries.

But in a follow-up e-mail sent Tuesday afternoon, Gerfin instructed library staff to “disregard” the initial e-mail. She did not offer an explanation to library staff

So, Twilight was banned and unbanned in a California middle school library for being too "mature". What exactly is "mature"? At 14, a teenage girl should be able to read this book- but then again, doesn't that depend on the 14 year old?

For the record, there is no premarital sex in the series and the author, Stephanie Meyer is a devout member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (probably paying some serious tithes, too, but that's none of my business).

There have also been many complaints about Twilight being "anti-feminist". Twilight hate groups have sprung up all over the Internet in the most colossal waste of energy I have ever seen. With all the words typed up saying how horrible Twilight is, someone could have written a better book by now- but they haven't and I'm guessing they won't .

Despite being a bit of a book snob myself, I am excited about Twilight. Pre-teen girls need to cut off the television and read- if Twilight will make them do that, then what's the big deal?

People might complain that it's anti-feminist, but once they're done devouring these vampire romance stories, they'll turn to other books. I've seen it happen.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Banned & Censored Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 3 It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. "
-Romeo, Romeo & Juliet II.ii

First published in 1597, Romeo and Juliet is William Shakespeare's classic tragic play about two young lovers from rival families. It is the basis of West Side Story and other movies, books, etc. The balcony scene is probably the most famous theatrical moment in the English language (perhaps second to Hamlet's soliloquy).

Shakespeare didn't invent this story idea: Shakespeare was a playwright and many of his most famous works were dramatizations of historical events or works that were well-known in his day.

So, why has this play been banned and censored?

According to some, Romeo & Juliet encourages teen sex, disrespect of authority, teen drug use, violence and suicide.

What Romeo & Juliet really "teaches" is romance & beauty. It teaches culture and history. It is the ultimate story of tragic love for our culture & scores of literary, cinematic and artistic works refer to it.

When you deprive someone of exposure to a quintessential work like this, they will never have a deep understanding or appreciation of literature : half of all literature will be a mystery to them, as if they were hearing the punchline without knowing the joke.
When they start pulling works like these, that's what "education" becomes: a joke.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Banned: The Whole L*sbian S*x Book

Earl Adams from Bentonville, Arkansas sued his local public library for $20,000 , demanding that The Whole Lesbian Sex Book be removed from the library's stacks.

It seems that his sons were looking through the library for some books about military academies and came across The Whole Lesbian Sex Book which they proceeded to read. Their father now says that the book traumatized his poor children, ages 14 and 16. Hmm...

Adams claimed that God had spoken to him and told him what to say to have the book removed.

And then apparently, the Lord said "Get thee unto a law office and milk ye this for all it's worth."

There are so many things wrong with this.

1. Most people are familiar with a thing called the Dewey Decimal system- so it occurs to me that a lesbian sex manual would not be in the same place as books about military academies.

It just seems like they threw the bit about military academies in there, in an attempt to show how God-fearing and America loving they are- but I'm afraid I don't buy it. The boys were probably in the sexuality section, being giggly and pervy as teenaged boys are wont to do.

2. The title kind of speaks for itself, don't you think? If I came across this book in the library, I'd think to myself: "hmm- I am not a lesbian...and I am not in dire need of a sex manual at the moment...not really a fan of "hot girl-on-girl action" and here's the mind-bending part: I would leave the book there.

I picture them standing there flipping the pages and saying "gee, this is so terrible...gee this is so can I stand looking at this?, lesbians are so evil..." give me a break.

How dare Bentonville remove this book because of one guy's complaint? Don't they know how many people are going to want to read it now?

His suit was thrown out, but as far as I know, they haven't put The Whole Lesbian Sex Book back where it belongs- much to the chagrin of the good Christian boys of Bentonville, Arkansas.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Banned, Censored Challenged: Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert wrote this classic work in the 19th century. It is a biting satire of the French bourgeoisie, the petty, social climbing snobs of the middle road.

The central character is Emma Bovary, a smart, ambitious woman who finds herself married to a gentle buffoon. Exasperated by boredom, Emma aspires to wealth and the finer things in life. She has two affairs, fails as a mother and barely disguises her contempt for her well-meaning husband. She spends too much money and wracks up large amounts of debt.

She's a bad girl, Emma Bovary, but she is bad for a reason. Flaubert believed that women were stifled by the lives they were expected to lead at the time. Emma has no control over her life- her incompetent husband does. While her lovers leave whenever they feel like it, she is stuck.

What scandalizes the reader now (and when Flaubert first wrote it) is that he never condemns Emma. He agrees with Emma that the only thing she can use to free herself is her body. But she isn't good at it. She leaves a trail of debt and letters. Flaubert condemns her sloppiness- as if to say "She's not stupid for committing adultery- she's stupid for getting caught."

The novel comments on the trends of the time, using Emma as a mouthpiece to show France's upwardly mobile middle class as unsophisticated, gaudy and materialistic.

The book was published in 1857. It ignited such "moral outrage" that Flaubert and his publisher were put on trial for obscenity. They were acquitted, but the book would continue to be challenged and censored even to modern times.

Flaubert had this to say of his masterpiece: "Emma Bovary, c'est moi."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Burn This Book!

I recieved an email this week informing me of a new book that is coming out. It's called Burn This Book and it is a collection of essays on censorship by Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, John Updike etc. The book is edited by Toni Morrison.

Sounds like it's right up the dangerous readers' alley, huh?

The email also informed me of a petition at The Right to Read. The petition is to stop book censorship. You can go online and sign it, to add your name to the list if you want books to be freely available to people who want to read them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Banned Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This book is an autobiography-the first in a series. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about Maya Angelou's childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, where her grandmother ran a general store during the Depression, in the heyday of Ol' Jim Crow.

Maya Angelou tells about a segregation so complete, that as a child she never really believed that white people were real.

Angelou's parents' divorce leads them to send the little girl and her brother to Stamps to live with her father's mother. She later goes to live with her mother up North and encounters indoor plumbing among other marvels. She is also sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend. Besides recounting the terrible rape, the book also depicts an unplanned pregnancy, drug use and runaways, all behaviors which, apparently, freshmen high schoolers will immediately imitate.

American teens aren't being taught to think for themselves. If reading an account of a teen pregnancy or rape makes them go out & get pregnant then they have been failed in so many ways that keeping one book from them is pointless.

The point of reading literature in school is to learn to identify & evaluate the ideas within a book.
What censors are essentially saying is that their 15 years can't do that.

The most infuriating challenge on this book was from the Alabama State Textbook Committee, which claimed that the book encourages "bitterness and hatred toward white people." This is the same Alabama State Textbook Committee that also struck The Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum saying that it was "a real downer". Because, apparently, Nazis should be cheerful!

Maya Angelou's book does not encourage hatred toward whites. It does, however, tell the story of racial discrimination.

Maybe in Alabama, you're supposed to pretend that for the most part, slavery was fun and the Jim Crow signs were merely kind suggestions (No Niggers Allowed- Have a nice day!).

We're supposed to pretend that Nazis and Klan members are admirable members of society who were misjudged and the victims of their actions should be silent so we can maintain that pretense.

The historical record as penned and photographed by Southerners themselves shows exactly how Southern society dealt with African Americans, Italian Americans, Jews (like Leo Frank who was lynched in Georgia) and Native Americans.

No, all Southern whites certainly weren't like that, but if you grew up in a segregated society, those were often the only whites you ever knew- that's what it meant to be segregated.

Angelou's autobiography tells her real life story as it is. People who challenge it are denying the mistakes of history. And such people will be the first to repeat them.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Banned Book: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Rafting down the Mississippi river with a runaway slave, Huckleberry Finn comes to see the hypocrisy of antebellum society.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens' (a.k.a Mark Twain) classic story about a young ruffian rafting down the river with a runaway slave is the original Great American Novel. According to the American library Association, it is also the 4th most commonly challenged and banned book in America.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn is just the playmate of the title character but Huck Finn's own story takes on a totally different flavor than Tom's . Although the story was set prior to the Civil War, it was actually published in post-slavery 1885.

It became the centre of controversy during Twain's lifetime for its use of "vulgar", colloquial language and because it "portrayed the South in a bad light".

More recently:

"In 2003 high school student Calista Phair and her grandmother, Beatrice Clark, in Renton, Washington, proposed banning the book from classroom learning in the Renton School District, though not from any public libraries, because of the word "nigger". Clark filed a request with the school district in response to the required reading of the book, asking for the novel to be removed from the English curriculum. The two curriculum committees that considered her request eventually decided to keep the novel on the 11th grade curriculum, though they suspended it until a panel had time to review the novel and set a specific teaching procedure for the novel and its controversial topics."

In 2007 Ibrahim Mohamed, a North Richland Hills, Texas, student, requested the word “nigger” be changed to “the N-word”. According to him, the teacher responded by asking him, “Does it offend you? It hurts, doesn’t it?” A group called “The Coalition to Stop the N-Word” requested the school board send a written apology to the family, give sensitivity training to all the teachers, and ban the book based on the feelings of the Mohamed family. In response, the school board said it would try to find better ways in which to present the novel and its controversial content to students.[28]

n 2009 a Washington state high school teacher called for the removal of the novel from a school curriculum. The teacher, John Foley, called for replacing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a more modern novel.[29] In an opinion column that Foley wrote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he states that all "novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go".

I couldn't disagree with Foley more. It is no coincidence that some of the most important literary works on race repeatedly use "nigger". Not only does Mark Twin use it, but William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker all make their characters say "nigger". Central to the discussion of race in America is the discussion of its use in art & conversation. The idea that schools shouldn't use these books in their classroom because of political correctness just pisses me off, especially knowing that so many kids watch videos and listen to music that uses the word. All of this is covered under the basic human right of free speech. This right is so important because it allows the discussion and free flow of ideas. Stifle it and you have silenced the voice of racial history in the classroom.