“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky
Yesterday marked the beginning of Banned Books Week – A celebration of American Censorship. Okay, that’s not the real tagline, but it might as well be. America has been banning books as long as America has been America. The idea is to “protect” people (Mostly children. Ugh.) from difficult ideas or subversive information. Often bans (or “challenges” to a book) come as a result of a parent, or group of parents using their kids as an excuse for censorship. Because children need protection from sex and language in books. But not in cartoons, video games, movies or… life in general.
The First Amendment protects us from idiot Parent Groups (and other people) trying to censor what you are allowed to read. It says that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because “society” finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Basically, if someone wants to write a book about a tribe of naked ladies who assassinate trolls while riding on horse sized house-cats, they can. And you can’t stop them. If the idea of a tribe of nude women upsets your delicate sensibilities, or you are morally outraged at the idea of “troll assassination”, then DON’T READ THE BOOK. You are not allowed to dictate what the rest of us can read. I’m a big girl. I understand complex ideas, and I kind of dig the idea of naked ladies riding on huge house-cats.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid if you told me that a book was banned it would just make the book that much more appealing. This week marks the 32nd year in which we celebrate books that someone told us not to read. In a time when people can read anything from The Story of O, to Fifty Shades of Grey, (in public!) it seems rather backwards that the US should be in the business of banning books.
Yet we are. Even now in 2014. Schools across the country pull books from their libraries because of fearful parents. Kids shouldn’t need a note from home to read a book. Parents shouldn’t be dictating policy in schools, much less what children are allowed to read. If you think your kid shouldn’t be reading Charlotte’s Web because, “showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and an insult of God”, then great. Limit your child. Cool. Cool. Cool. But don’t take away a great piece of literature from EVERYONE just because you are too simple, scared, or backwards thinking to understand a talking pig.
Banning a book because it’s “values” don’t line up with yours isn’t okay. This may come as a shock to some of you, but not every person in the US is a “christian”. Using “christian values” as a way to demonize a book just doesn’t work. If I don’t share your views on sexuality, religion or violence, then how can you decide what is appropriate for me? You can’t.
And that’s what it comes down to, or should. Freedom of choice. An writer should be able to express herself without the fear of censorship. And readers should be given every opportunity to explore different types of writing, different types of stories, and different types of books. Sex, profanity and racism are often the primary complaints against books, but those are also the things that make a book worth reading. What would Huck Finn or Anne Frank be like without the language used? What would Beloved be like without the horrid abuse and rape? Sometimes the issues that are hardest to take are exactly the ones we should be reading about. For how else do we learn?