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Banned Books Week And The Nanny State

Banned Books Week And The Nanny State

This is Banned Books Week, celebrated—if that is the right word—by libraries and bookstores, not to mention authors, all across America.

How does a book get banned—and by whom?

When I was young, there was a phrase, “Banned in Boston,” that indicated that the City Fathers (NOTE: “Fathers,” not mothers) had deemed a book (or movie or other artistic work) too prurient to be sold to, shown to, read by, viewed by, or otherwise purveyed to and consumed by the good people of that once strait-laced town. Bostonians had to almost smuggle in copies of LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER, TROPIC OF CAPRICORN, and other “disgraceful” (read: sexually explicit) works if they wanted to read them—or to see what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, the phrase “Banned in Boston” ensured large sales outside of that benighted metropolis, as people rushed to buy the book, sure that it was juicily titillating, as well as those who merely wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Fast forward, if you will, to today. Although there are no longer such restrictions in Beantown, there remain other places where certain works of literature (or “lecherature”) are, if not outright banned from sale, at least nowhere to be found in libraries, public or school or both. And it’s not just books that appeal to the prurient interest. Books have been challenged on such bases as promoting witchcraft! (And here all along I thought that America promised freedom of religion. The last I was aware, Wicca and even Satanism were considered religions, regardless of your personal opinion of or feelings toward them.)

This time around, it’s not just city fathers who are behind the bans; it’s also actual fathers and mothers who don’t want their children exposed to concepts these adults find abhorrent. And it’s not only children they are rushing to “protect.” In some cases, it’s adults, as well.

But is it the goverrnment’s (or the libraries’) place to decide what children—and adults!—shouldn’t read? I say not!

To begin with, consider the ancient adage, “Know your enemy.” If you want to fight something you find offensive—racial injustice, fascism, or any. other “ism”—don’t do it by ostriching your head in the sand and pretending the evil doesn’t exist. In reading Black history in America, you (assuming you are not a person of color who has been fed the history of racial injustice along with your mother’s milk) may learn something valuable—even by reading racist screeds.

Is there a book I find particularly offensive personally? Surely. How about Hitler’s MEIN KAMPF? Admittedly I’ve never read it, but anything that promotes Naziism, anything that justifies killing 6 million Jews, not to mention gays, Gypsies, and assorted others, is anathema to me. But would I be in favor of banning it? HELL NO! It’s part of world history, and perhaps by innocent minds (and by “innocent” I do not necessarily referr to children) reading it, they will be swayed not to adopt Hitler’s beliefs as their own but, rather, to revile the man and all he stood for—and to fight any politician or movement that tries to follow in his footsteps here in America.

What about shielding our “delicate” children’s minds from S-E-X? Oh, please! Kids have been fascinated by—and found access to—x-rated material since long before the x-rating existed. They discovered their fathers’ “stag films” hidden away in the farthest reaches of the closet, or their older brothers’ “French postcards” buried in sock drawers and other repositories. And they shared these troves with their buddies—mostly boys, but occasionally girls. I recall being shown, by a friend, an “unauthorized” POPEYE comic book in which his biceps weren’t all that was bulging, and Olive Oyl was similarly depantsed. I also recall seeing—and being baffled by—a cartoon of an elephantine face that had an erect penis where his trunk should have been. The image haunted me as well as confusing me, but I’m sure it did me no harm.

If your teenage daughter gets a hold of a copy of 50 SHADES OF GRAY, will it scar her for life or predispose her to sexual servitude? Not if you have had not just “the Talk” but a series of talks with her.

Is it the government’s, the school board’s, the library committee’s, or any other official ruling group’s place to decide what your child—or YOU, yourself—should have available to borrow, buy, or otherwise read? I say resoundingly NO.

Not any more than it was New York’s place to rule that sodas should not be sold in mega-sized cups because they’re fattening and unhealthy. That’s nanny-state thinking, nanny-state ruling. It is not the government’s place to save us from ourselves, whether we are 10, 30, or 65 years old.

Such thinking, and ruling, should be…banned in Boston—and everywhere else.

I look forward to the day when Banned Books Week will be an anachronism, an unnecessary commemoration, because no longer are  books anywhere in the U.S.A. being banned!

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