October 1, 2009
(Yes, I’m way more entertained than I have any reason to be by finding a way to title each blog entry this week with “I support…” Alternate titles for this post are “Thoughts on Banned Books Week” (*yawn*) and “Fear of a Gay Penguin,” which of course I keep accidentally mis-typing as “Fear of a Black Penguin,” though that works, too, I suppose…)
Here we are again: Banned Books Week. I support the goals of this week as traditionally stated, because I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and I think more often than not people challenge books not because those books would truly be damaging to children/adolescents or the general public, but because they make them uncomfortable in some way. It’s intolerance, or it’s fear. I love the way commenter adipocere over at MetaFilter put it:
I love the thought processes behind banned books. “I find this offensive; I want you to remove this from my reality and everyone else’s.” It’s at once passive and blustery. MY FEATHERS ARE ALL PUFFED OUT; DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
That said, though, it seems like the momentum for Banned Books Week isn’t there this year the way it’s been in past years. And I think, maybe that’s just me, I’ve been sick, I’ve been travelling, I’m tired — but then I see it reflected elsewhere on the web. Read the rest of this entry »
December 3, 2008
(How is it December already?)
On Thanksgiving and how it relates to, affects, and is regarded by North American indigenous peoples: Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians and Teaching The Young To Disrespect Indigenous Culture by Renee at Womanist Musings
On expectations for children with Down syndrome: More on Peter Singer and Jamie Bérubé by Michael Bérubé
On freedom of speech: Why defend freedom of icky speech? by Neil Gaiman
It’s not exactly cheery material, so “happy reading” doesn’t seem appropriate. Still, I think an exhortation to enjoy wouldn’t be out of line, since I personally enjoy thought-provoking reading. So: enjoy!
October 3, 2008
The publisher’s blurb for Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak reads as follows:
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
The “something” Melinda is trying not to think about is the fact that she was raped at that end-of-summer party, which is also the real reason she called the police.* The rape, the way Melinda is treated by her classmates (including the rapist), and her reactions to both are a big part of why the book is assigned so widely in schools — for example, one summer (2002) when I was working at a bookstore the book was assigned as summer reading to a large number of local high school students. Of course, that content is also why the book is frequently objected to (a line from a one-star review on Amazon.com (the last review on the page): “This book should be for mature readers because of offensive language and adult subject matter”) and challenged (one such challenge is discussed by the author here). Read the rest of this entry »
September 26, 2008
Banned Books Week starts tomorrow! I’m thinking I’ll profile a few books that are frequently challenged or banned over the course of the week. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let me know. The ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of this decade (2000-2007) is here (pdf).
September 3, 2008
According to this Time article, Sarah Palin supports banning books from public libraries on the basis of offensive language:
Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.
It’s a third-hand account, so it could very well be false — does it really make sense for an elected official to be so bold about her motives? On the other hand, two paragraphs later the head of the local chamber of commerce is quoted as saying, “We like to call this the Bible Belt of Alaska,” so who knows. At any rate, it seemed worth mentioning, since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.
UPDATE (9/10): It appears likely that Palin did indeed inquire about whether books could be removed from the library, but “[a] former town official and Palin ally says Palin’s questions were only rhetorical.” Okay, then.
April 9, 2008
Or, to be more accurate, across one’s chest.
Via Cara I came across this horrifying t-shirt, which reads, for anyone who’s wary of clicking through, “serial rapist.” The author of that post refers to other shirts, which confused me at first because whoever was selling the t-shirt pictured only has one other design available, one that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with rape. But then I saw that there’s a whole category of CafePress shirts relating to rape. Many of them are inspirational in nature, stating that the person wearing the shirt is a survivor, or that one should speak out against sexual violence. Some reference Darfur; others refer to rape as part of a larger point, such as in the statement, “Spreading democracy through war is like spreading virginity through rape.” Others, though…
Browsing through the t-shirts available, I found such gems as “I put the sensual back in nonconsensual,” “No means Yes,” and a picture of the chemical makeup of rohypnol (”roofies”—a rape drug). I don’t even know what to say. (from the SAFER blog, linked above)
And there’s worse. Oh, is there worse. I’m horrified that these shirts are available, and horrified further that there is apparently a market for them. And frankly, I’m a little stunned that there are companies, or at least one company, that’s willing to sell merchandise as blatantly offensive as some of the things found under the rape category. I poked around some and came across CafePress’s Content Disclaimer:
CafePress provides users complete e-commerce tools needed to create and sell a wide variety of products featuring their ideas, designs and art. All merchandise content is created by users of the CafePress Service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CafePress.com.
I appreciate that CafePress’s business model is essentially “we’ll put whatever you want on a t-shirt.” And I further appreciate that when that’s your business, your customers’ right to freedom of expression is essential, and censorship would be problematic, to say the least. Furthermore, I know that “offensive” is subjective; I know there are plenty of people who would take offense at the “Rebellious Jezebel” shirt I’ve been coveting. But — and this is that age-old question when it comes to the issue of censorship — is there ever a point at which a line must be drawn? Disclaimers aside, to what extent is selling a shirt that says “calm down — don’t make this rape into a murder case” promoting criminal activity?
What say you?
October 3, 2007
In honor of Banned Books Week (September 29-October 6), I thought I’d post a couple of poems by Shel Silverstein, whose collection A Light in the Attic is on the ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000.
This first one is a favorite of mine, because it’s very much me — and was even more so when I was a child:
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!
—Shel Silverstein, 1981
Some of you may have heard of, or even seen, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). I personally have a videotape of the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing it that I’m afraid I’m going to wear out. Here’s a clip — The Comedies:
It’s silly, complicated, a bit bawdy, even potentially offensive at points — rather a lot like Shakespeare, in fact.
Recently a theater company from New York was performing the play in Arizona. 700 students from the Higley Unified School District’s sixth through twelfth grades paid five dollars each to go on a voluntary field trip to see the play. 40 minutes into the performance, the district’s director of visual and performing arts, Tara Kissane, stopped the show. Read the rest of this entry »
September 18, 2007
LEWISTON, Maine — A Lewiston woman who said she was “horrified” by the content of an acclaimed sex education book has checked out copies from two libraries and refuses to give them back.
JoAn Karkos made her feelings known in letters to the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries. Each letter was accompanied by a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of the book, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health.”
In one letter, Karkos wrote, “I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents. I will not be returning the books.”
I love that she was “sufficiently horrified,” like she has a threshold of horror. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? Well, it was pretty horrifying… just not sufficiently horrifying. It’s Perfectly Normal, on the other hand…
The library’s reaction:
Lewiston library director Rick Speer returned the check, along with a form Karkos could use to request that the book be removed from the shelves. But he said he may seek help from police if she doesn’t return what she borrowed.
Spper on Tuesday told News 8, “This is a first. We’ve never had someone come in take it out, remove it on their own accord and decide no one else can have it.”
Good news, everyone: book-banners are taking matters into their own hands! Read the rest of this entry »