Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: In the Night Kitchen

In the Night Kitchen was written in 1970 by Maurice Sendak- the same Sendak who wrote the Little Bear Series, Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup with Rice (a book that I still read aloud over and over with a childlike enjoyment that is somewhat disturbing, given my ripe old age of 20).

In the Night Kitchen is a weird, trippy tale about a little boy's dream in which he is baked into a loaf of bread. It caused a stir because the little boy is pictured naked.

Some say that the nudity in this picture book teaches kids that child molestation is okay. "Children are taught that their private parts are private." But Mikey isn't flashing anybody- he's just having a dream. We all occasionally dream about being naked. That isn't wrong.
To link dreaming about yourself in the buff with being molested is dangerous and confusing to a small child. What if they are unable to recognize bad touching if it happens? What if they falsely accuse an innocent person?

What happens if they catch a glimpse of Michelangelo's David without his leaf?

To me, sensitizing a child to nudity is the opposite of morality. You are teaching them that every depiction of the human body is sexual, "pornographic". That they are meant to be titillated by any honest depiction of the human body. It makes me think of the men in the Middle East who say that women must be covered head to toe so they won't get aroused.

One wonders what kind of horn-dog would be incapacitated by the sight of a wisp of hair. Probably the kind of horn-dog whose parents and teachers have sexualized everything in an effort to teach "morality".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell's classic tale of the American South was an instant sensation. The main character is the spoiled, haughty Scarlett O'Hara whose life of leisure is torn apart by the Civil War.

The book caused some scandal in it's day (1936), because of the use of words like "damn" (gasp)and "whore"(heaven help us!). The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (seriously?) objected to Scarlett being married more than once. The Watch and Ward society in Boston wanted to get people upset over the prominence of Belle Ward (a madam) in the novel, but book sellers were making way too much money to care what censors were saying.

In recent years, it's the novel's depiction of Negro slaves and use of the word "nigger" that have drawn complaints. In 1984, the Waukegan,Illinois school district wanted the book removed from the reading list along with Joseph Conrad's The Nigger of Narcissus,Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird,Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Of course, a little bit of scandal never hurt anybody. Gone With the Wind is one of the bestselling novels of all time, one of the greatest films in history and has spawned a legend all its own. All of the "negative publicity" probably didn't hurt.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Black Like Me

In 1959, John Howard Griffin underwent a thought-provoking experiment. He darkened his skin and posed as a black man in the South.

In this 1961 book, Griffin recounts his experiences. The men he hitches rides with ask him bizarre, racist questions about his sexual experiences. One white man tells him about his conquests of black women and threatens him with death if he causes any trouble. Griffin had to plan carefully because there may not have been anywhere nearby to get water or use a bathroom.

For exposing the truth, John Howard Griffin recieved death threats.

Challenges to this book name "vulgarity" and "obscenity" as justification for banning. In 1967, an Arizona school removed the book because of "four-letter words". A 1977 challenge was denied in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In 1982, a Missouri school put the book on a closed shelf when a parent complained that the book was obscene, vulgar and "because of black people being in the book."

There is nothing like showing people their hypocrisy. Griffin held up a mirror to American society of the time and it is a shame that high schoolers would be kept from seeing this historical experiment because of the true-to-life conversation in the book. Hiding the truth because it might offend our delicate sensibilities is wrong.

But then again, I guess the complaints about profanity were just a cover.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Lolita

From its first publication, this 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov has been the target of censorship. In December of 1956, it was banned in France. Soon after, the ban was repealed, re-instated and finally permanently removed, after the publisher sued the French government.

In 1955, British Customs instituted a ban of its own, Argentina followed suit in 1959 and in 1960, New Zealand's government banned the novel under its Customs Act of 1913 calling the work "indecent". The book was again banned in 1974, in South Africa. That ban stayed in effect until 1982.

Lolita is told from the first person point of view of Humbert Humbert, a man who marries a woman in order to get to her pre-teen daughter, Dolores. After his wife's untimely death, Humbert completely takes over the girl's life. We see it all through his eyes: his voice is comic, witty, condescending and repulsive.

Anyone who has thoroughly read this novel cannot see it as an endorsement of pedophilia. It is about irony, dark impulses, tragedy and above all oppression. Humbert takes Lolita's childhood, her chances at friendship, her freedom and even her name (she is Dolores, not Lolita). "Nabokov himself described Humbert as "a vain and cruel wretch" and "a hateful person" (quoted in Levine, 1967)." He is not the "hero" of the story.

In the same way that Humbert takes Dolores and robs her of her identity, people take this novel and try to change what it is. Some take their literary interpretation too far, claiming that this is a romance novel, that somehow, what Humbert does is portrayed as legitimate.

But this novel is not a how-to manual for perverts. Simply, it is a mind-blowing, heart-wrenching work of mainstream, contemporary classic literature.

I highly recommend it.
Wikipedia "Lolita"
Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds
by Dawn Sova