My timing is, as ever, a little off. Last week, rather than NaNoWriMo, I should have spent the time on something a little more topical.
Because this past week was the American Library Association’s annual Banned Book Week. Officially it ended yesterday, but the week exists merely to promote awareness that, even in the 21st Century, books get banned. Free speech gets squashed. Even in democracies that have constitutional safeguards that prohibit such actions. Banned Book week is over, but that does not mean for the other 51 weeks we shouldn’t care about the banning of literature.
The ALA, as part of the campaign, have released the list of the ten most challenged books of 2007. Philip Pullman appears at number four with Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, a fact which absolutely delights him. As he points out, censorship doesn’t work. It only serves to interest more people in the banned material, and ”any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn’t get hold of [his] novel, to the bookshops, where they could.”
Indeed, there is nothing quite like having your book banned for making it popular. There is something very seductive and tempting about the forbidden.
I must agree with the points made in some of the commentary on Banned Book Week. If you are banning a book because of a political viewpoint then you are a coward. If you are banning it because of a sexual content then you are somewhat perverted, or perhaps that should be perverse – the internet now ensures that children and teenagers can access materials far more explicit than any available in the objected to books.
Censorship achieves nothing. It only draws attention to the censored material. Worse, it is overkill – it deprives those who do not object to the content of the opportunity to read; often the objected to content is a minor part of the work, but ensures that none of it is available; the sledgehammer of the censor is seldom appropriate to tackle the nut of personal sensitivity.
Is there material that is objectionable in books? Of course there is. But if you object to the content, that is a sign that you should not read that book. If you are a parent, do you have a right to decide what your child should be exposed to? Of course you do. But you have the right to decide what your child, and your child alone is exposed to. To seek censorship deprives other parents of the right to make that choice for their own children, and outwith the confines of a school (censorship also affects public libraries) it deprives adults from making an informed choice.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf are more dangerous than And Tango Makes Three. But none of these titles deserve to be banned. Censorship shows that you are frightened of an idea, that you have no argument against it, and if your only recourse is the clunking fist of suppression then you have already lost. Censorship is weakness, and is the hallmark of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, not of democracies.
Support your freedom to think. Oppose the banning of books. Allowing others to decide what you may and may not read is only a short step from allowing others to decide what you may and may not think.