Recently in Australia, there was a lot of moralising outrage about books being banned in school libraries. Was this Political Correctness Gone Mad?
No. No, it wasn’t.
Yes, that’s right, the moral outrage brigade hadn’t even bothered to check any details. That shouldn’t be particularly surprising to anyone who, you know, thinks, but what I did find interesting is the sort of hyperbole used on this issue that never seems to make it to the actual censorship that exits.
I’ve previously discussed the Banned Books Week, an awareness-raising campaign in the USA. Since the USA is a big and influential book market, there are flow-on effects of books being challenged and banned there – although the Streisand Effect can apply here and be a net positive, just ask Dan Brown. Australia also has a censorship board and historical lists of previously banned books have been made public.
When you read through the lists of books that were previously banned in Australia but are now available, you can see how we aren’t/weren’t allowed to talk about sex. We also don’t talk about Aboriginal history. Not talking about sex is still a common theme in today’s Australian censorship standards:
Publications will be refused classification (RC) that:
- describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or
- describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or
- promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence
Publications (except RC publications) will be classified as Category 2 Restricted that:
- explicitly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or
- depict, describe or express revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult and are unsuitable for a minor to see or read
Publications (except RC publications and Category 2 restricted publications) will be classified as Category 1 Restricted that:
- explicitly depict nudity, or describe or impliedly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults, in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or
- describe or express in detail violence or sexual activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or
- are unsuitable for a minor to see or read. Source.
Now obviously the classifications could be very broadly interpreted and implemented. Plenty of books have themes around drug use and abuse, crime is an entire genre, cruelty is in any political memoir, and violence could be retitled thriller. We don’t tend to see those titles banned or restricted. So what does get restricted? As an example, American Psycho has a Category 1 restriction on it and is sold in shrink-wrapping… you know, just in case the words leak out and accidentally encourage someone to take up cannibalism or investment banking.
The number of books impacted by an RC classification is minimal. The 2016-17 figures show none were banned, as compared to video games which had 2 titles banned.
But it does show that a large number of titles were restricted in some way. This is without even touching on the censorship that occurs in access to titles, such as which titles are stocked in stores, which sites can be accessed to buy books, and what ends up in libraries. The restricted categorisation is clearly going to have impacts on where those titles will be available. So I wonder where the moral outrage is over this. Isn’t this Political Correctness Gone Mad? Or is it okay because the people who got outraged in the above video would be the “reasonable adults” who would be offended by these restricted titles?
Or maybe this would all require too much reading on behalf of those wanting to complain about books being banned.