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Censored

October 5, 2008

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.

6 Comments
  1. jessicameats permalink
    October 5, 2008 2:33 am

    “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.”

    Well said. I’m a big believer in letting parents decide what is suitable for their children, particularly since children are not identical copies of each other. A book that might be too scary/sexually advanced for one child might be fine for another of the same age who matures faster.

    I personally don’t see the point in hiding things like sex and violence from children. These things are facts of life. Giving children enough books and information on the subject is going to teach them about the dangers, downsides, possible side effects and so on of, for example, sex. Reading a book which mentions sexually transmitted diseases is more likely to discourage underage sex than banning all reference to sex from a school library and thus making it something forbidden and exciting.

  2. October 5, 2008 7:28 am

    Absolutely agree, jessicameats. Well said.

  3. October 5, 2008 11:17 am

    The one thing more horrifying then a burned (banned) book, the one left unread

  4. October 5, 2008 10:37 pm

    “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.”

    No. No books have been banned in the USA for many decades. http://preview.tinyurl.com/sowell

  5. October 6, 2008 6:21 pm

    Ignoring the fact that in that paragraph I didn’t specifically mention the USA (the ALA’s Banned Book Week ought to remind us all of the ways in which free speech is silenced worldwide):

    When special interests overtake the paramount liberties of the First Amendment, then the chilling effect on free speech is the equivalent of a ban.

    Overwhelming pressure from minorities that circumvents the rights of freedom of conscience and thought of others, does more violence to free speech than a ban in the legal sense, because at least a law can be challenged.

    It is wonderful that no book has been banned in the USA for many decades. Hopefully Banned Book Week will ensure that this long continues. And so long as there are challenges to books on spurious grounds, then the work of Banned Book Week to highlight these challenges (which if themselves unchallenged could turn into bans) should continue.

    Propaganda? Perhaps. But propaganda to enforce the First Amendment serves to reinforce the First Amendment, including the right to protest the exercise of that right.

  6. October 10, 2008 6:40 am

    While Banned Book Week reminds of censorship in literature, there’s still a plethora of censorship in movies.

    It was until I heard David Stratton (a film critic here in Australian and the Director of the Sydney Film Festival for 20+ years) speak about the struggles against censorship that I really got an understanding for how far we’ve come in terms of freedom of viewing/reading. Hearing David talk came on the back of reading Richard Neville (founder of OZ magazine in Australia and the UK) memoirs of the 60’s the the infamous court case in regards to ‘explicit material’ that was published in one particular issue of OZ in the last 60s. And the fact that the police had the rights to confiscate and burn magazines.

    It’s also a good time to remember – that while we in the west enjoy relative freedom of expression, there are those around the world who are jailed, tortured and go missing for writing and expressing their opinions.

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