Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stop! You can't read this! We're burning it back behind the library!

Next week, September 30-October 6th, is Banned Books Week!

I'm an author. I've done a lot of editing for newspapers, books, copy- I've covered the bases. I've managed a university radio station. I've written political copy. A politician attempted to sue me over truthful written commentary, content that was protected by the First Amendment. I understand censorship.

I've dealt with the issues raised by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) when my DJs wanted to play the "heavy metal" music in the late '80s that would pass for pop now. The PMRC was founded in part because Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore, Senator and later, Vice President, heard the Prince Song, "Darling Nicki," while with her daughter and was highly offended. Tipper and other patrons of banality formed the group and the battle was on.

Tipper Gore's PMRC Legacy
While those of us in radio at the time understood Wasp's "Animal-Fuck like a beast" (number 9 on the PMRC "Filthy Fifteen) probably shouldn't receive airplay at noon on a Sunday, we laughed at the idea of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" (#15 on the list) being banned.

But alas, fear over the FCC swooping in and grabbing our license found me meeting with jocks and discussing playlists. Over and over, I heard "censorship." That was just the beginning.

But I digress.

I've read just about every book on the countless "Banned Book" lists. Just about because every day, someone finds a new book to cluck about. From rape to incest, civil disobedience to drug use, parental abuse and child abuse, to mental illness, race and sex, books are targeted for their content. Lost in all this controversy is the fact that we need to discuss these subjects, both to prevent crimes like rape, incest and child abuse from happening and to make sure those affected by the bad that happens in our communities feel comfortable with coming forward to report the crimes and get the help they desperately need.

Books make us think. I'm becoming a strong believer in the theory that censors don't really care about the subject matter- they just don't want others to think for themselves. Some parents, self-appointed moral guardians and self-appointed religious experts think that if you allow a fourteen year-old to read a book mentioning masturbation, menstration, sex and relationships, it might give them the wrong ideas.

Shocking news- most fourteen year-olds rank schoolwork at about 56 on their personal interest list, with the first four subjects I mentioned taking, well, the first three spots (sex and relationships generally tie for first).

I was 14 when I read
Forever. I remember
wondering why people
wanted to ban it?
So, when you find your kid reading Judy Blume's "Forever," they're not picking up new ideas. But if you discuss "Forever" with your kid, you have a unique chance to get your child to think about their views on relationships, early sex, birth control and the opposite sex. You got it. Time to think, time to help your child define who they are- time for independent thought and we can't have that.

Teenagers face challenges in their lives- drug and alcohol abuse, the breakdown of the family, questions about sex and their sexuality, figuring out who they are and their place in the world. Books help them to understand they are not alone in their quest for their identity.

But our children aren't the only ones allegedly being "protected" by the censors. In February of 1989, the late Ayatollah Rudollah Khomeini, then-spiritual leader of Iran proclaimed a Fatwa, requiring author Salman Rusdie to be executed because his book, Satanic Verses, was "blasphemous" against Islam.

Imagine a story allegedly
so offensive it's author is
under a death sentence for
writing the book.
I remember my dad, a bookmaker (actual books, hard and soft cover, not a bookie- hell, we would have done much better financially if he were one) worked at one of the companies contracted to print "Satanic Verses." Dad got a copy as a keepsake before it was released and a warning from his boss to hide it. He told me about the security caused by the book and the threats made against anyone involved in publishing the book. Satanic Verses was eventually banned in  twelve countries that I'm aware of.

Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of Verses, was stabbed to death, while Italian translator Ettore Capriolo and Norwegian Publisher William Nygaard have both been attacked and seriously injured. Rusdie remains a target of the Fatwa death sentence to this day.

"Holden Caulfield is 
only a frozen moment
in time" - JD Salinger
...the lost thoughts.
 Banned books run the gamut, from "The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939, for its use of "vulgar words" to the  haunting "Catcher in the Rye," first attacked in 1960. The reason given in  a 1988 attempt to remove the book from a school library was that the book was "blasphemous and undermines morality." 

And the demands for censorship continue. "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" and "Prep" were both in the cross hairs of would-be book banners in the East Penn School District, just outside Allentown, PA, within the last couple of weeks.

Rather than allowing people to read books and form their own opinions, the book banners demand we deny our intelligence and demand our children do the same. Rather than getting together with their kids and discussing the drug use in "Kool Aid" or the sexual issues of "Prep," the banners would rather we sweep these issues under the rug. An unmentionable issue apparently doesn't exist.

I could be wrong. Maybe it's laziness or a fear that talking with our children will encourage them to use drugs and be promiscuous, because certainly, the failure to address these issues in the past has led to a better society that these evil books threaten.

Not Banned...Yet!
I find myself wondering about my own book, "In Another Life." In the book, I write about a character, "Chuck," who is gay. When I wrote the book, I didn't consider having a gay character to be unusual. Margie mentioned "Chuck" the other day, telling me that a gay character could get me banned from some christian bookstores and maybe a couple of school libraries. While I reminded her that the language alone might bring down the "wrath of God' types, I had to admit she was right.

Then she mentioned the chapter involving child abuse, something that never happens in the real world. "The graphic content would have the censors ripping pages out," Margie commented.

I never even considered the abuse of children as something to be censored. Hell, I'd stand on a steet corner banging a drum about it if I could prevent some of the stuff I've seen and heard about. I said as much out loud, in my own low-key way (one soap box for rent, heavily used).

"Yeah, Dad," Miranda jumped in.  I'm only in high school, where everyone is a virgin and no one uses drugs. How could we be permitted to find out child abuse happens? I'm appalled at your lack of helicopter parenting. I may have to call YES on you."

Our daughter the sarcastic smartass activist. Did I mention vegetarian? Margie and I are so proud!

When it comes to controlling the minds of others, there's no threat to the book banners' control like a gay character and a few fucks. After all, blatant free thought can only lead to all of us all becoming homosexuals who curse all day (Margie, in her infinite wisdom, said, "what the fuck's wrong with that?")

The problem apparently is, that could lead to a country of people actually capable of  the greatest freedom of all, thinking for ourselves.

Take a moment this week, read a banned book and celebrate freedom by discussing that book with your family and friends.

* Banner reprinted by permission of the American Library Association

Not Banned....Yet!

If you haven't already done so, click on the title for a free copy of Thirty and Two,  and a sample of  In Another Life! 

And after you finish the sample, don't forget to buy a copy of In Another Life!

I received my first five star review on for "In Another Life" this week. In the midst of life, few things make an author pause like a good review. Suddenly, the world is fresh, new and alive! For that, I simply say to my reader, "thanks!"

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