Banned Book Week: The 7 Most Ridiculous Reasons For Banning Books, 2009-2010
Since 1982, the last week in September has been observed as Banned Books Week, during which readers are reminded that there are still people out there trying to get books like "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Diary of Anne Frank" -- yes, "The Diary of Anne Frank" -- banned from schools and libraries. In the year 2010. Yeah, I know.
Comics have been a frequent target of book-banning for decades -- as we all learned from Dr. Wertham, sequential art has always been the most effective way of warping young minds with subversive ideas -- but according to the ALA's list of books that have been either banned or challenged (meaning someone unsuccessfully tried to have them banned), concerned parents are still going after them, and as usual, their reasoning is often absolutely insane.
That's why, in order to show solidarity with the people trying to keep these books -- comic and otherwise -- from being taken away from readers, I've gone through the ALA's list and picked out their seven most ridiculous reasons in order to do what I do best: Make fun of them for being stupid.
Unsurprisingly, "Twilight" books are frequent targets of banning attempts, which pretty much comes with the territory when you're the most popular books on the market. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who I believe responded to frequent allegations of her "Harry Potter" books being tools of Satan by saying, and I quote, "Haters gonna hate," and then brushing her shoulder off.
I may be confusing her with Jay-Z. I do that a lot.Anyway, according to the ALA, "Twilight" and its sequels are frequently removed from school libraries for being too sexual, and loath as I am to defend Stephenie Meyer, I have to ask: Really? Is there a segment of the populace that finds longing looks and tedious moping to be unbearably erotic?
Admittedly, I've only actually read "Twilight" and half of "New Moon" and a librarian friend tells me that they do pick up a little, but descriptions of beds that collapse under the weight of their passion don't really seem all that bad, and while the birth scene in "Breaking Dawn" is, by most accounts, truly horrendous, that's less sexual and more just awful.
I mean, at that point, why not ban it for Meyer's misuse of the word "literally," or for the fact that Bella is a completely unlikeable protagonist, or because Edward's a straight-up creep? If we're going to start banning things just because they suck, we're going to be here all day.
I have a pretty hard time believing that anyone would think the height of Alan Moore's literary fan-fiction was actually harmful, because seriously, what's the worst that could happen from reading this? They might get interested in finding out where all the literary mash-ups originated and read some PG Wodehouse or George Orwell? Perish the thought! I do have to admit, though, that there is a pretty good chance it'll turn you off Jack Kerouac forever.
Of course, coming to that conclusion assumes that the people who want to ban these books actually bothered to read them, and I'm pretty sure that's not the case.
That said, I can understand why someone might want the book removed from their local library, even if I don't agree with them. After all, in some places, comics -- all comics -- are still shelved with kids' books, and as it draws from "Fanny Hill" and features a Tijuana Bible set in the world of "1984," there's an awful lot of sexual content in there that folks might not want their kids picking up alongside the Berenstein Bears. But saying that it "constitutes a public safety issue in that it encourages sexual predators?" That might be going a little bit far.
Even more hilariously, the petition in Nicolasville, Kentucky that sought to ban "Black Dossier" also went after a few other library, including two books by "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk and the DVD "You Can't Fix Stupid" by Blue Collar Comedy Tour mainstay Ron White.
I would genuinely like to see the criteria that was used to determine that these two works were even remotely similar, but my theory is that while they went after Moore for "Black Dossier's" sexual content, their beef with White was more about how he referred to them as unfixable.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Newberry award-winning 1967 novel tells the story of a bunch of children with a keen interest in archaeology who secretly play a game where -- as you can probably tell from the title -- they imagine themselves to be in ancient Egypt. It's gotten praise for encouraging both imagination and research in kids, but critics have pointed out that the plot, which involves someone murdering other children in the neighborhood, may be a little too dark for the intended audience.
The complaint raised in Witchita Falls, Texas last year, however, had a slightly different problem:
"I'm not going to stop until it's banned from the school district. I will not quiet down. I will not back down. I don't believe any student should be subjected to anything that has to do with evil gods or black magic."
You might think that sounds a little crazy, but brother, I hear you. You let your kids read a book that includes descriptions of how Egyptians worshipped four thousand years ago, and pretty soon, you've got a house full of fifth-graders with jackal heads, weighing hearts against feathers and tracking mud from the banks of the Nile over your carpet.
According to the ALA, The first volume of "Dragon Ball" was removed from middle school libraries due to its violence and nudity, and while I haven't watched or read anything "Dragon Ball"-related since high school, that sounds a little extreme. I mean --
Well, you know, cultural differences in Japan allow for --
...yeah, all right. Maybe save that one for high school.
Considering that it was explicitly designed for thirteen year-olds, it's a little surprising that "Stuck in the Middle" was pulled from middle school libraries. It is, after all, a book where sixteen cartoonists, like "Ghost World" creator Daniel Clowes and Aaron Renier of the highly underrated "Spiral Bound" relate stories of their own middle school days...
...so if nothing else, you'd think that the true story aspect would spare them.
That's not the case, though, and according to the ALA, it boils down to the fact that it includes "words most parents wouldn't want to hear from their children," which makes me think that somewhere, there's a master list of words parents don't want to hear that each book has to get checked against before it can be put in a library. And that, my friends, is a list I want to see. After all, while "hey, I bought a drum kit with my allowance" and "don't get mad, but I borrowed the car" are definitely on there, I can assure you that "mom, I'm dropping out of college to become a freelance writer" ought to be somewhere close to the top.
When Stephenville, Texas's Independent School District decided to hop on the ban wagon, they went all out, Not only did they ban Richelle Mead's "Vampire Academy," they also banned the entire series, including books that haven't come out yet.
Putting aside for the moment that the Supreme Court has, in the words of Walter Sobchak, roundly rejected prior restraint...
...I actually have to respect that Stephenville ISD is so committed to censorship that they are shattering the space-time continuum to literally ban books from the future. It's one of the weirdest things I've ever heard, and it just so happens that Richelle Mead is actually a friend of mine, so I was able to get her take on it as well:
ComicsAlliance: What's it like to have a book banned IN THE FUTURE?
Richelle Mead: I first heard about the banning from a sci-fi artist who lives in Texas and is very pro-active about arts and whatnot down there. The FUTURE part came from a special time machine. Er, actually, I found out about the future part from another Facebook friend. Who may or may not be from the future.
But to seriously answer the question, The situation is more amusing to me than anything. First, because when I hear "banned books," I think of the greats -- Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger. How "Vampire Academy" is in those ranks is beyond me.
Second, I can understand how whatever board came up with this list in Texas thought they were doing something good. But, the fact that they've banned the series in its entirety -- before the content can even be reviewed -- makes it hard to take seriously. It makes me wonder just how careful the review was. Not that I would approve of banning even if someone had read the book a hundred times. It feels unreal.
CA: It says you were banned for "sexual content or nudity."
Mead: Well, here's the extent of the content. In Book 1, clothes are shed and making out ensues. In Book 2, two teens have (protected) sex essentially "off-camera." In Book 3, sex again, very "fade to black." Book 4, making out. Book 5, heavy semi-clothed making out. And Book 6... is not available to the public.
CA: I think you mean "Only available to the public OF THE FUTURE."
Mead: Yes. That is exactly what I mean.
I applaud the school district for their forward-thinking initiative in banning books in the future, and look forward to local legislation finally putting an end to space-drugs and jet-pack crime.
So what beats banning a book in the future?
This actually happened.
"Pulled from the Menifee, Calif. Union School District (2010) because a parent complained when a child came across the term 'oral sex.'"
It's the Dictionary! It's got the definition of "Family" in there, too; are you saying you're against families? Against "religion?" Are you, dare I say it, against "America?" Seriously, Concerned Parent, I'm not a judgmental person (note: this is a lie), but if you think The Dictionary is too hot for school, then I've got to assume that the problem here does not lie with Merriam-Webster.
The ALA's entry goes on to say that "Officials said the district is forming a committee to consider a permanent classroom ban of the dictionary." It does not, however, identify whether officials added "Oh yeah, that's totally what we're going to do," nor does it identify how hard officials rolled their eyes, or whether other officials were invited to "get a load of this moron."