Friday, December 12, 2008

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Black Beauty

Black Beauty was banned in South Africa because it used the words "black" and "beauty" in the title. Of course, there aren't even any black people in the book, since it is set in 19th century England. During apartheid, the censor in South Africa assumed the book was some kind of black rights novel. He did not even read it.

The book is actually about animal rights and Black Beauty is a horse. It was written in 1877 by Anna Sewell.

Banned Books: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

In this story, a child named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a strange backwards world where hatters are mad, cats smile and all of the adults are tyrannical and confused.

It's funny, it's nonsensical and it's the quintessential girlhood story- even though a lot of men love it, too.

Written by Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1865 the story was banned in the Hunan province in China in 1931, because it depicted animals talking.

It "put animals and human beings on the same level" the authorities said. "Animals should not be using human language."

Duly noted. Although, someone really should tell the animals...

Banned , Censored, Challenged: The Diary of Anne Frank

This book has been repeatedly censored throughout history. Let's not forget that it was originally a young woman's diary and as such contained discussion of menstruation, sexual feelings, and her criticism of her mother.

Keeping kids from reading Anne Frank isn't going to keep them from talking about menstruating, nor will it stop sexual feelings or occasional anger toward their parents.

Teens do that anyway. What's healthy is to give them a book that shows that everyone goes through such things- even when they are being persecuted.

One parent of Arab ancestry once objected to the book because it portrays a Jewish girl (so now, we have to take all the Jews out of the books? Should Arab children not read about Einstein or Isaac Asimov, either?)

In 1983, four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the ban of the Diary of Anne Frank because it's a real 'downer' .

I can see how a book about a teenaged girl and her family having to hide from the Nazis during the Holocaust might be called a "downer". I fail to see why the historical account of true events should be manipulated to produce a sunny, happy lie.

People who think this are part of the reason why the Holocaust happened: they turn a blind eye to prejudice, ignoring the suffering of others. Then, they ban the books that tell the story: books like this one and The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

To teach a human being that blindness is a virtue is unforgivable, but that's what the banning of books does: it lets you believe that that the only thoughts you ever need to entertain are the ones that confirm your own view of the world.

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Lorax

This is a banned Dr Seuss book. You shouldn't be surprised:the point of censorship is to block ideas.

The Lorax is classic Seuss: zany, whimsical language with an underlying lesson. In this book, an unnamed narrator tells how he made Thneeds (the thing everyone needs) from a chopped down Truffula Tree. The Lorax (who speaks for the trees) warns the narrator against doing this, but he doesn't listen.

Eventually, every truffula tree is gone and the air is filled with smoke, so the Lorax and all the animals leave. I still read this book for pleasure. I read it at least once a week and I love sharing it with children I know.

But the book nazis of the Laytonville, Calif. Unified School District didn't think so. They banned the book in 1989 because it "criminalizes the foresting industry".

What are they saying? That if a child reads this, they might think chopping down too many trees is bad? And they're right- that's just what Lorax readers are meant to think. In fact, the foresting industry is required to re-plant for this very reason.

In fact, the last scene of the book shows the Once-ler giving a seed to the boy- the last of the Truffula seeds.

The foresting industry should have been able to use this book to their advantage- if they don't destroy all the trees, if they don't put junk in the water, if they aren't disrupting the eco-system, then this book should never have been a threat to them. This book criticizes these actions.

While others continue to insist that this book is communist, a child would read in it the idea that people should be responsible for the environment.

Banned, Censored, Challenged: James and the Giant Peach

This children's novel, written by Roald Dahl, is absolutely delightful. It is the story of an orphan named James who runs away from his evil aunts and flies away in a peach with a group of supersized insects. It is funny, childish and irreverent but it has the word 'ass' in it.

So does the Bible...oh, wait, book Nazis got that one, too. (see The Bible)

The literary gestapo also claimed that the book teaches kids to disobey adults. The little boy James in this story is horribly treated by his two wicked Aunts. So he escapes and lives in a flying peach.

Does that mean if children read it, they are going to run away in a giant peach?Are they going to throw snow balls at Cloudmen?

The first basic fallacy in this argument is the idea that a child will copy everything last little thing they see. Children don't see sex, drugs and immorality everywhere-unless an adult points it out to them.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Sutherland read it to to our class. And I adored it. She must've just skipped over the ass business. All I remember is picturing the fluffy, vindictive, cloud men and picturing that sweet glorious peach...

Read this book to your kids. Read all of Dahl's books to them.

Banned Book: Fahrenheit 451

The irony of banning a book about banning books was obviously lost on those who censored this novel.

Fahrenheit 451 is a novel set in the dark future where everyone's movements are watched and regulated. In this dark future...I can barely type this...ALL books are banned(!). The main character's job in the novel is to find books and burn them- no exception. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature that the 'firemen' use to burn the books. Books in this world are perceived as dangerous. (They are, if you're trying to control how people think).

It's one of those really good dystopian novels that doesn't get lost in theorizing.

Apparently, a California middle school distributed copies to their students in which hundreds of words had been blacked out- mostly 'hells' and 'damns'. After considerable public complaint, the school promised not to use the censored copies any longer.

In the book, Christian Bibles are burned, too. This is another reason why the books have been banned, even though this book is clearly and explicitly against the burning of books, censors said that the book "advocates" the burning of Bibles. If you've read the book, you know how ridiculous that is.

At West Marion High School in Foxworthy, Mississippi, the book was challenged for using the word "God damn", although the challenge didn't come about until a month after the assignment was given, when the final report was due.

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Color Purple

A meek black woman overcomes sexual and physical abuse to find spiritual awakening.

The Color Purple is an epistolary novel told from the point of view of a woman named Celie. Set in early 20th century Georgia, the story begins with a violent rape and Celie's subsequent marriage to an abusive husband, referred to through-out the novel as "Mr.___". Celie is separated from her beloved sister Nettie early in the novel and never loses hope that she will see her again. She lives as a silent drudge, cleaning Mr. ____'s house, caring for his children and taking his beatings, until one day, she meets the sassy rebellious blues singer known as Shug Avery.

The language of the novel is raw, but changes as the heroine herself changes. Characters in the Color Purple don't always say a word like "shit" just to be profane, but because they are uneducated and have so few words.

In 1984, the Oakland, California Board of Eduction challenged the book because of "sexual and social explicitness" and its "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." In 1992, the Souderton, Pennsylvania book Nazis called it "smut" and refused to allow tenth graders to read it.

The book has also been targeted by black activists who claim that the book presents a negative image of black men.

Personally, I love this story. I love it as a novel and a film. I am dying to see the play. What I admire most about it is the way it draws a line between the many forms of abuse that human beings can suffer- child abuse, rape, imperialism, racism- linking them together. It's all chained to the same violent act that destroys Celie in the beginning.

I do not care for the spirituality in this novel because I think it's bullshit. But since that's how I feel about most 'spiritual' things, I can overlook it.

The 1984 ban is interesting in it's choice of words, since its clear that the Oakland B.O.E wanted to weed out 'troubling' ideas, like lesbianism and unorthodox religious views. But ideas should not be troubling to you simply because they are in opposition to your own. And if those ideas (which are so prevalent in society) are wrong, why is it a bad idea to explore them as part of an education?

As for the image of black men, I get tired of the idea that all black people are responsible for any single depiction of a black person. Besides, there are male characters in the story who have great qualities. Somehow, critics of the novel always overlook these characters.

I believe that literature is conflict. It is meant to disturb your way of thinking. A good book will make you cry, laugh, cringe, shiver- anything but stand still. It is not there for you to approve or disapprove of- it's there for you to consider. You may or may not agree with the author's intended meaning. That's the whole point of reading.