September 25th to October 2nd is banned books week — a campaign that primarily celebrates banned books in America.
I’m sure such things seem silly to a lot of people. Why celebrate banned books?
Well, because the censorship of information is something that despite our jingoistic cries of freedom, we still live with. Every year a list is compiled of the top 10 most contested books in America — and while many more are challenged, the top of the pack gives us a cross-section of what we (as a culture) refuse to accept. Unsurprisingly, homosexuality and sexuality in general are at the top of this list.
Of course, this topic also has local ties as this past year a book was contested (and banned) in a local school system as well as the county library chain. The book in contention? Revolutionary Voices, by Amy Sonnie — an award winning anthology of stories focusing on gay, bisexual and transgendered youth. While the book had been in the system for a number of years, it was banned after complaints were filed against it by members of Glenn Beck’s 9.12 project, a conservative-leaning activist group.
The book was apparently targeted for being “pornographic” and “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate” by members of the group, and thus they wanted it to be removed from Rancocas Valley’s High School library. This eventually chained into the book being complained about (and subsequently removed) from the Burlington County library system.
While this all happened a few months ago, I feel like it deserves to be pulled back into the light, given the “celebratory” week.
First off, my support of the book (or of any books being censored) is not just to be controversial. We live in a country that praises freedom (or at least claims to) and thus no book should ever be banned in my view, for any reason. Great works of literature and culture have been attempted to be censured in the past often because a vocal minority cannot accept the content with the book. Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye — and we aren’t even going back very far in our history.
In the case of Revolutionary Voices, the book was censured for a very obvious reason — because it depicted homosexuality. Sexuality in general is a firecracker in America because of how incredibly uncomfortable we are with the subject. Add in any “different” sort of sexual or gender issue and people panic and run to the streets. A woman was quoted as (I’m really not making this up, seriously) saying “We did it for the children.” Yes, these people wanted to ban this book to protect the children. Your children.
I want you to remember something. Glenn Beck — the leader of the 9.12 group — describes himself as a libertarian.
Someone who wants the government out of your life, someone who thinks everyone needs to mind their own business and that we should adhere to a strict interpretation of the constitution.
From the 9.12 project’s very website: “My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.”
So they apparently want to make you — the parents — the ultimate authority in your child’s life, but they want to do it by choosing what books your child will and will not read in the public classroom.
This isn’t a blog based around comedy, but that has to be one of the most humorous things I’ve seen in the past year.
Coming back to my original point however, it is clear that some Americans are not comfortable with the idea of sexuality in their child’s books — and while I don’t think that is very productive, that is perfectly okay. That is their choice — not the government’s and it also should not be the choice of a public library, especially when they are under the influence of a group that can’t even figure out its own principles.
You see, the problem with banning a book like this isn’t just that it violates someones personal liberties — but it also violates their psychological health, in my personal opinion. When a child who is struggling with gender or sexuality issues sees a book that was created for them banned due to “questionable” content, how do you think they will feel about their internal struggles? When the content is called “pornographic,” how do you think they will feel? Warm and fuzzy that some grandmother decided they don’t deserve the same shelf-space that the other kids do?
Of course, that issue was never even brought up or considered. For now, Revolutionary Voices is banned and it most likely will remain that way. Perhaps one day we will look back on it much like the other books we cherish today and realize how silly we were as a country.
Until then, check out Banned Books Week here and celebrate by cracking open your favorite censured novel.