Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Share a Bathroom with the Thought Police, or Neo-Facism and Me

Yesterday when I went to work, I was kind of excited, because it is Banned Book Week.

Banned Book Week is the one time each year that I feel utterly free to fly off the handle about censorship, insist that books (so horrific I would never read them) are displayed loud and proud for their artistic merits.

I got to work, greeted my co-workers, and went upstairs where I pulled a bunch of books off the YA shelves and displayed them prominently. They deserved it. They've been through a lot (well, not them exactly, but other copies of the same books).

I wrote this blog post on the WCPL Young Adult Blog.

When I finished, I posted it and was proud. I liked the way it turned out. I thought it dealt nicely with the seriousness of the issues we face in the Book World while still having a little funny.

Paul came to visit me at work, and I made him read it. He liked it too, enough so that yesterday evening, we started talking about it again.

See, I like this book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It won the National Book Award, so I'm not alone.

This novel was also banned, due to a couple of pages in which the protagonist, Junior, describes how much he enjoys his own company and how certain he is that you enjoy yours. Yes, I am talking about what you think I'm talking about. He claims that being ambidextrous is helpful in this pursuit, and that this is the reason God gave us all thumbs.

Now, if I was just reading through a novel and I found that, I would be grossed out. But through the remainder of the novel, Alexie takes readers through multiple instances of escapism, both on the reservation where Junior lives and in the all-white school he attends (following a collision between his geometry teacher and geometry book in which Junior played no small part). So, as I read that section, I thought: "Hey--escapism! This is so totally relevant to the novel!" And the lit buff in me smiled because it wasn't just there for shock value. The book is incredibly well thought out, nothing is there that doesn't need to be, and I loved it.

I explained to Paul why that book was banned. Then we talked about how stupid it was to ban something, anything, because you want to control access to information about sex. Paul made the point that those young people who desire (clears throat) will get it, whether alone (cough) or with someone else. And if they are ignorant about the process involved, they will end up getting pregnant, sick, or worse. So, basically, Knowledge is Power (we watched a lot of after school learning programs on PBS growing up).

He has a good point.

I told him so.

Then I started on my favorite irrational book banning story, Vamos a Cuba, which I explain in detail in the other post. Long story reduced to one sentence: That book was banned because the little boy was living in Cuba and happy at the same time.

Apparently, that's physically impossible.

Or at least it is when you live in the Miami-Dade area of Florida, where many Cuban immigrants settle after fleeing Castro and his gang of crazy folk. See, Castro likes to tell his people what to think. So, to solve this problem, people who flee his regime choose to tell everyone here what to think since they couldn't do it back home.

Sure, I get that life can't be all daisies and DeBrand's chocolate over there. But doesn't the whole book banning thing kind of defeat the purpose of leaving a country without free speech for one with free speech? I mean, didn't you just come over and bring the problems you wanted to leave?

I'm sure not everyone is this way. But someone must have been, because look what happened! Not just one book, but all twenty-four in the series!

So I threw my Laura fit, Paul listened and threw in the right affirmations when he ought to have ("Yeah!" or "That's right!").

Then I brushed my teeth, to get the taste of dystopia out of my mouth. Yuck.

As I did this, Dad walked around the corner and asked Paul what we were talking about. Paul then filled him in, and made the fatal error of telling Dad what he really thought about something. Never do that. Always deflect, Paul. Always.

The trick is to stop arguing about Issue X when he walks around the corner, and answer his questions with, "What do you care? Don't you have a whistle to play?" Or the kinder options, "Your face!" or "The per diem of a hit man." or "Where to hide the body."

Dad actually laughs at these, you do too, and the family dynamic remains healthy...ish.

Paul cited my blog entry (here!) as a good argument against book banning. The blog thing I heard, so I rinsed the minty toothpaste out of my mouth and came out of the bathroom to see what was up.

Here is where the family background fits in:

Dad was an English major. Journalism was his thing. He did all the classes, with a bunch of lit ones too, I would think, because that's the way it usually works. Or did, back when he was a student.

The thing you learn in lit class is that you might absolutely hate the book you are reading. You might drop-kick said book across the mall in rage (sorry) or want to light it on fire as soon as you finish it (sorry, it was Dreiser). But what you like or don't like is irrelevant to the artistic significance of the book in question. Although Sister Carrie I think was just written as a torture device for the world...

Dad never got this. If he finds something boring, stupid, too "pretentious," or just too thought-provoking, he won't read it. Which makes it unsurprising that he totally turned against all that is English to become a drawling Midwestern pastor, for good or for ill.

Dad does the preacher thing, and I get it. He sees the worst outcome of every scenario. And one of the things he finds the most evil is, you guessed it, porn.

Back to the story...

Dad waited until he was sure I was anti-book banning to try and drop his bombshell, though I knew it was coming and it wasn't very surprising. See, Dad gets this furrow in his brow when he's judging you. And he had it.

I did the classic argument that I save for Evangelical Christians, who want us to live in a Christian fundamentalist state, not unlike an Islamic Fundamentalist state, but substitute the Bible for the Qur'an.

Here it goes...

In the Middle Ages, books were copied by hand and their dispersal and availability was controlled universally by the Catholic Church. This meant that all books written, translated, or duplicated were policed by religious scholars, or at least people who could read and write (which passed for a theology degree at the time). One day, a really smart dude figured out how to rub ink on blocks that he rearranged...and we had a printing press. This came at just the right time, because tons more people weren't dying of plagues just then, and so kids got to learn things like how to write their own name or even their own language instead of just Greek and Latin.

So what happened? Some guy (John Wycliffe) thought it would be freaking awesome to have a Bible that people could read in their own tongue, without having to spend years learning to read Greek, Latin, and calligraphy. So the Bible was translated and copied out and all hell broke loose (metaphorically). The Pope was still so mad that over 40 years after this dude died, he ordered the guy's bones dug up, crushed, and scattered in a river. But he got owned, because my Bible isn't in Latin--is yours?

Still, the Bible is one of the most popular books...and so it's also on the list of titles people try to ban.

Now we go back to Vamos a Cuba.

The court that first heard the case threw it out because the criticism against it was so political. Clearly, the court claimed, this was a First Amendment issue. But then, the people who hated it appealed the ruling and it went to the Eleventh Circuit Court which is also the newest Circuit Court and a very conservative one (Alabama, Georgia, and Florida). Because it went there on appeal, and was about the First Amendment, naturally the court overturned the original ruling and let the books be banned.


And now, it is being appealed again and the Supreme Court can have its say. If we are unlucky, we will lose all kinds of library rights.

And from there, we have the snowball effect. Ban one book and you have precedent to ban others. And if we are one day not in the religious majority, it will be easy to ban books on religious grounds (since it's so easy to ban them due to political reasons).

Back to the story:

Dad said, "So you don't think we should ban books?"

And I knew where it was going, but I stood firm. "No!"

"No books should ever be banned?"

"Heck no."

"What about pornography?"

And I said, "We already have laws governing the dispersal of pornographic materials." And then I said, "If you ban something with the intention of keeping it out of the hands of teenagers, the teenagers will find a way to get their hands on it by any means necessary. Besides, look at drugs! We banned the use of drugs and now we have a huge illicit drug trade booming in our country and several others that supply our habit. The same thing would happen if you tried to ban something like porn. People will find a way to get it."

Anyway, if people banned that, everyone would still just get it for free on the internet like they do now. Who pays for that kind of thing when they e-mail it to you when you don't even want it?

That's what spam is all about.

"You don't think that some books are just immoral and evil?"

"No, but I think some people are immoral and evil. But, Dad, if you really don't want your kids reading certain books, just don't let your kids read them! Keep them reading stuff you want them to read. That's the responsibility of parents."

Dad kept arguing. He wanted me to back down and tell him, sure ban all the stuff that's immoral in the world. Why not?

But I don't believe in book banning. Especially if what's in the book and deemed inappropriate is nothing compared to the content of our latest blockbuster movie. Especially if I go to R rated movies and find kids inside, little kids, like three year-olds or infants.

"Okay," I finally interrupted. "We are never going to agree on this. That's pretty clear. So let's just be done. Book banning is just wrong, but you can think what you like," and I walked away.

As I walked, my rage grew. George Orwell wrote a whole book about people like this! And it was scary! And I have to wait for Big Brother himself to finish trimming his nose hair so I can go to the bathroom in the morning. By the time I reached the main room with the TV and Mom in it, I had proceeded from muttering under my breath to speaking full voice to almost yelling.

Darcy and I took a walk.

My Dad is a fascist. A complete and total fascist. It's bad enough that he thinks I should have less of a right to argue with him or other people because I'm a girl. Now, though, I find out he's a badge carrying member of the Thought Police. What is wrong with him?

He is so lucky I didn't start piling up all the anti-Muslim lets-hate-everyone books people from church give him in the front yard for my own little Bonfire of the Vanities. This goes both ways, you know. First you're telling everyone not to think Cuban kids can be happy, then you're burning smut, then you're burning religious texts, then you wake up and it's Fahrenheit 451 and our civilization has fallen apart.

Why does he not see this?

I mean, he's always talking about how Christians in some countries can't even get a Bible because of all the government restrictions. He wants these people to get Bibles...he wants people over there to break the law to read the Bible. How is book banning here any different than book banning over there?

I can think of some more reasons that involve name-calling, but I think the real reason is that Dad thinks he is right. And rightness is not a justification for censorship.

Gosh, guys, this is super-long. Sorry. I just can't help myself. --Laura

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