Banned books

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence

Publications (except RC publications) will be classified as Category 2 Restricted that:

  1. explicitly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or
  2. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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Publications Classified in 2016-17. Source.

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.

 

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Banned Books Week 2016

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Source: ALA.org

Banned Books Week is an American event, but us Aussies have been known to ban books for silly reasons as well. As such, I think this should be a global event. So read something that some overbearing busybody decided was offensive today.

Banned Books: The Huff Post sequel

It seems that the Huffington Post are stealing my article ideas. Only three days after my article lamenting censorship of books, they do an article on the 2013 Banned Books campaign (September 22-28th).

Now I’m not bitter, in fact, I’m currently covered in orange sherbet. So this follow-up article is to add my support to the Banned Books Campaign and talk about the most frequently challenged books of last year. The annual report of the American Library Association had a lot of interesting findings. They are still having problems with publishers allowing them to loan ebooks (sigh – I bet the same arguments were made when libraries first started lending books), the people using libraries still think that they offer a very important service, they have become technology and research hubs for people, but visit rates have dropped a bit. The really interesting thing for me – because I’m not American, let alone a member of an American library, so all of those points are belly lint to me – was the top ten list of challenged books for 2012.

Here is the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books in 2012:

■ Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (offensive language, unsuited for age group) TA: Exactly what were parents expecting from a book with this title?

■ The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group) TA: Oh noes, a young adult book that doesn’t treat the readers like kids!!

■ Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group) TA: Another young adult book that deals with real issues, can’t have that!

■ Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James (offensive language, sexually explicit) TA: An erotica book that is sexually explicit….. Words to describe the stupid, fail me.

■ And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (homosexuality, unsuited for age group) TA: Based on real penguins, must be evil!!

■ The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit) TA: Be warned, the characters aren’t white or Christian!!

■ Looking for Alaska, by John Green (offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group) TA: Written by John Green, so clearly the complainants were too stupid to enjoy the book.

■ Scary Stories(series), by Alvin Schwartz (unsuited for age group, violence) TA: The title clearly didn’t give the game away for some sensitive little souls.

■ The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (offensive language, sexually explicit) TA: Real life is clearly too confronting for some readers.

■ Beloved, by Toni Morrison (sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence) TA: Someone clearly thinks that slavery is a lot more fun than the author portrayed it.

The thing I find striking about this top ten list is that the books are all multiple award winners (except that crud by EL James, which makes up for lack of awards with sales to keep a publishing house afloat). As such, I’d hazard a guess that most of the complaints are coming from people who haven’t read the book, nor let their little darlings near a book. We can only hope that next year people are too busy reading good books to complain about them.

Banning books

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I’m against censorship. Unfortunately many are in favour of censoring books. You may have heard of the outcry over the decision to edit Mark Twain’s classic, Huckleberry Finn, to stop calling the main supporting character, Nigger Jim. What you may not have heard is that schools had stopped teaching Huckleberry Finn because they didn’t want to have to explain the historical and racial undertones and themes of the book. We can’t have a literary book actually studied now, can we! Definitely don’t want to look at Twain’s biting commentary on racism in the south of America, because that would mean discussing racism, and we like to pretend it isn’t still an issue.

It isn’t just the school curricula that are being impacted, it is libraries and book stores as well. The list of frequently challenged books is far too long and the reasons cited are far too ridiculous. For example, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is regularly objected to for being: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit. Seriously? What about the other complaints?

I’m offended by the word ‘sustainable’ as it is ambiguous term that is used politically as a catch-cry to gloss over reality. Does that mean I can complain about books containing that word? And what is sexually explicit? Is it when two characters embrace for a passionate kiss, or when the ball-gag and whips make an appearance? Are parents really concerned about the level of “smut” in the books their kids read or are they trying to have books banned because readers might enjoy them?

I know I have a complaint about the Twilight books. Now, my reasons aren’t like the other complaints (Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence), I just don’t like them because I’ve been dragged to see four terrible films by my wife. Ban the Twilight books so that husbands and boyfriends everywhere aren’t tortured with Kirsten Stewart’s “acting.”