Posts tagged ‘censorship’

January 10, 2011

Whitewashing History In Mark Twain

by thiszine

BY SWEETMAN

Mark Twain has been surrounded by controversy since he began publishing his writing. Witty, satirical and irreverent, William Faulkner hailed him as “the father of American literature.” Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910, and his novels and essays were a reflection of his life and times. Twain’s writing is often light and humorous but he was equally infamous for his penchant to delve into sobering societal hypocrisies and inhumanity toward others.

For these dark themes, Twain’s most notable novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) have been mired in controversy over the appropriateness of teaching them to young readers. They have been banned from libraries, schools and curriculum since they were first published. The controversy surrounding Twain’s these novels still rages into the 21st century; his two most famous novels still rank in the top 100 of the American Library Association’s most frequently challenged and banned books.

Enter Auburn University Professor Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar who decided, after forty years of studying and teaching the writings of Twain, to change the content of both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His changes substitute racially derogatory words for African-Americans and Native-Americans for, in Professor Gribben’s opinion, the more socially acceptable 21st century terms “slave” and “Indian” (wouldn’t “Native American” be the more politically correct version?). He reasons that by substituting the n- and i-words for more socially acceptable words he is eliminating “preemptive censorship” of the novels and thus preventing further cries of inappropriateness in public schools. Professor Gribben defends his edits as offering to teachers and general readers “an option for a more palatable reading experience.”

Well doesn’t that just make altering a dead author’s work The Right Thing To Do! And maybe the politically correct white-washing of Classic American Literature will revise our unsavory and uncomfortable history of slavery, segregation and racial inequality!

Censorship is censorship. No matter how earnestly one feels he/she is defending an author, alteration of the author’s final text to make it more “palatable” to the masses is censorship. Mark Twain did not use the word “slave” 219 times in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and no amount of good intention by Professor Gribben gives him the right to change Twain’s work. Furthermore, using a less inflammatory yet definitively wrong word as the substitution for a highly offensive, racially charged word sets Professor Gribben squarely on a path of whitewashing then rinsing an unfortunate part of American History.

There is a word for Professor Gribben’s particular brand of censorship as he is not the first well-meaning expert to try to gloss a work of literature to make it less offensive. Thomas Bowdler, an English physician, decided to expurgate the works of William Shakespeare and Edward Gibbons to render them more appropriate for the delicate eyes of 19th century women and children. His edits were soundly ridiculed and rejected. The term bowdlerize is now eponymous with literary censorship.

Gribben’s bowdlerization of Twain’s writing is an act of incredible vanity. During a reading as part of the NEA’s Big Read Program in Alabama, Gribben read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and routinely substituted “slave” for the n-word to make for a more comfortable reading. Apparently Professor Gribben liked the swap so much that he is perfectly comfortable tweaking Twain’s works in writing to make it easier on our modern eyes.

Censorship of Twain’s novels does both the author and the content of the novels a tremendous disservice. It is impossible to know if Mark Twain would make politically correct changes to his novels today and we can only guess what he would want. Twain wrote in the vernacular of the time. The derogatory slang use of the n-word in the 1870s is not burdened with the unspeakable weight that it carries in the 21st century. Yet that unspeakable weight is the burden of a society that has to live with the acts and deeds of its predecessors, like it or not. Difficult as it is to read, write and speak, censorship of a novel that reflects true historical times does not protect or teach young readers and bowdlerizing literature to make reading more palatable teaches nothing.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are tremendous novels with a sad truth still present today: our capability for committing inhumane acts. As a society, we haven’t changed enough to read Twain’s novels with any historical distance. To the contrary, the power of Twain’s writing has drastically changed to make his words uncomfortable, taboo and unspeakable in classrooms. Expunging those words changes nothing within our present culture. It’s just censorship.

January 10, 2011

Who Can Say the N-Word?

by thiszine

Writer, poet, and activist Ishmael Reed is interviewed by the BBC’s George Galloway on the controversy surrounding NewSouth, an Alabama-based U.S. publishing company, whose new edition of Mark Twain’s novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have removed the n-word, a derogatory slang term for blacks, and replaced it with “slave.” A derogatory term for Native Americans was also removed and replaced with “Indian.”

 

September 30, 2010

Poetry Against Censorship: Musings on Terry Jones

by thiszine

White Moustache
by John Coleman

I read in the newspaper
about a man with a white moustache
who said he wanted to burn the Qur’an.
His moustache looked just like Hulk Hogan’s,
and it reminded me of white bread.
Fake, like white bread –
so overworked and distant from nature.
Bleached, misshapen, manipulated, unnatural.
Unreal – like wrestling.

The moustached man said that
if they built a mosque where
(people can pray)
so many innocent people died,
that would comply with the enemy.
He didn’t have mighty arms like Hulk Hogan does,
but he worked in the same way:
to bring down the enemy.
And I thought,
I belong to the most violent generation.
But not like,
My generation is so violent, it’s absurd.
My thoughts wandered to the conclusion that
I live in the most violent generation ever.

That’s all burning the Qur’an is anyway, right?
Violence.
Instead of burning the Qur’an,
this man really wants to burn the enemy.
He really wants to burn human beings.
But burning the Qur’an sends the same message:
red-white-and-blue
(so easily, how it flows)
wants you to die.

Target, burn, kill your enemy
preached the white moustached man.
It made me want to burn
red-white-and-blue mentality.
I want to burn my Wonder Bread.
I want to darken my white bread mind.

Because my side
(culture)
is being strung up
(hung)
like a(n) flag
(enemy).
I feel misrepresented.
I don’t believe in flags.
Because of the man with the white moustache
I will never believe in God
because believing in God means being hung.

There is a mosque in my neighbourhood in the GTA.
Little mosque on the concrete prairie.
It’s like a church in a school gym
with a Coke machine in the entrance
where my neighbours pray to
Jesus.
But opposite
(wrong).
Right, white moustached man?

I later read that Hulk Hogan
stepped down from his challenge
and that bruised his integrity
because he was fake.
If he was real he would have
burned all the Qur’ans.
But some Hoganites were still going to
carry out the crusade,
the original plan.

They said:
This is the right thing to do.
The only thing left
but more so right
thing to do.
Burn people that burn you.

And a friend, or two, or many of mine read the Qur’an.
Read, or pray, or wander in thought,
then we all watch wrestling.
Hulk Hogan on the screen in fiery yellow and red.
When he powerslams the enemy, the violence is
fake, thin, blank.
Like Wonder Bread.
But there is always a small city who thinks
it is worth standing up to say
“Hulk Hogan is the best,
I would do anything he tells me.”
It is the most violent generation.

September 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Censorship

by thiszine

BY URSULA K. RAPHAEL

If you’ve paid attention to recent news, you’ve probably heard about Terry Jones, the preacher who proposed burning the Qur’an. Alas, book censorship is still alive and well in the United States, the country that totes freedom of speech as our national mantra. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s a shameful waste of millions of trees. Unfortunately, there are people who are so desperate to protect others from what they consider “harmful reading material,” they are probably recruiting computer hackers to create viruses to stop the downloading of “dangerous ideas” to Kindles everywhere.

Number one on the banned/challenged book list of 2000-2009, compiled by the American Library Association, is *drum roll please* the Harry Potter series. This series has been accused of promoting witchcraft/atheism, encouraging children to misbehave and make bad decisions, and being just plain frightening. (I’m not sure if trying to fly on a broom falls under “witchcraft” or “making a bad decision.”)

I personally thought the Harry Potter books were a fantastic collection of mythology and folklore interwoven into a story of an abused boy who makes something of himself despite not having a loving family environment and having to ward off attacks on his life every year. But, I was probably reading too far into the storyline and overlooked the details enticing children to the dark side with promises of owl-delivered invitations to a wizarding school.

I will be the first to admit that Harry and his friends do lie, break rules, and disrespect authority figures, but so do most school children (which is why I homeschool). I would also like to point out that if fictional characters always told the truth, followed the rules, and showed more respect for others, stories would be pretty boring, probably not go anywhere, and miss the point of creative writing.

The complaint that makes me laugh the most is the accusation that the Harry Potter series is too scary for children. Honestly, I think the news is the scariest thing I’ve read on any given date. At least when they read the books the kids can tell themselves “it’s just a story.” Of course, any sensible parent would read what their kids read, be aware of what is age-appropriate and realize that, in our world, children are no strangers to suffering and death.

My personal experience with the Harry Potter books includes reading the series, watching the movies, and collecting some of the memorabilia (which includes a sorting hat). I have thrown Harry Potter themed parties for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. I had craft tables where the kids could make their own wands with unicorn hair, dragon scales, and phoenix feathers. We sorted participants in the four houses of Hogwarts (by drawing names out of my sorting hat), gave prizes for trivia questions about the books, and shared a Harry Potter birthday cake. In return, our guests were asked to bring new books (any children’s books) that were donated to children of families who could not afford the luxury of reading material.

Some people would say that a kid reading anything without discretion or standards is not an accomplishment, but I say that kids reading books and sharing that love of reading with less fortunate children is something to be proud of.

September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week

by thiszine

The 2010 Banned Books Week is September 25 – October 2. Sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), banned books week was founded to highlight issues of censorship around reading and free speech. During Banned Books Week, the ALA looks at books that have been banned (formally removed from school or library shelves) and books that have been challenged (where someone has lodged a formal complaint against a book). Over the course of the week, we look forward to sharing with you our experiences with banned books and our thoughts on censorship and free speech.

Why are books banned or challenged?
The Office of Intellectual Freedom cites the following three reasons for challenging materials:
1. the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
2. the material contained “offensive language”
3. the materials was “unsuited to any age group”

Why should I care about banned books?
Intellectual freedom, which the ALA defines as “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular” is integral to the free and open access of information, democratization, self-belief, and self-expression. When restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society, the foundation of that very society is at risk.

The ALA’s list of frequently challenged classics reveals an interesting irony: George Orwell’s 1984 is on the list. Here are the others:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
38. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
39. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
40. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
41. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
52. Howards End by E. M. Forster
53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
57. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
59. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
68. Light in August by William Faulkner
69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
72. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
85. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
87. The Bostonians by Henry James
88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
93. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster
99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
100. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

June 16, 2010

iPad Resolves Graphic Novel Controversy

by thiszine

In time for Bloomsday, Apple reversed its decision to reject panels of Robert Berry’s graphic novel adaption of James Joyce’s Ulysess , titled Ulysess Seen, that contained nude drawings. Both the author and the publisher noted the irony that Joyce’s novel was the source of controversy 75 years ago in the U.S., after the U.S. appeals court overturned an obscenity ban on the novel but thanked Apple for reconsidering their case. In an article for The Washington Post , Berry poses a question about content, created by artists, and sellers of that content who must make decisions about what is acceptable to offer to a range of customers: “Who decides the way we see new content on these very exciting new devices: The artist reinterpreting them for a new and exciting venue, or the grocer or newstand seller who knows nothing about the content but talks incessantly about the kind of product they have to offer?”

Apple’s conservative taste in graphic novels also extended to a graphic novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Tom Bouden, which featured several panels of men kissing. Apple allowed the graphic novel for it’s iPad after resubmission. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller noted that “we made a mistake.”

Apple’s initial decisions in both cases begs the question as to how much the visual element was the reason for the ban. The iPad carries hundreds of novels where nudity and same-sex relationships are discussed but, because the onus is on the reader to visualize these scenes, Apple can more easily justify offering these novels to their customers.

Read selections from Robert Berry’s adaptation of Joyce’s novel here.

April 25, 2010

Would you let your child read this?

by thiszine

by Lacey N. Dunham

Recently, the American Library Association (ALA) released its list of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009. I don’t know what school principals, teachers, parent associations, churches, individuals, libraries, politicians, or whoever else are challenging these books but it seems that they have a problem with issues and themes that are ripe for the age groups these books target: sex, sexuality, and rebellion through language (’cause who didn’t relish the first time they said “fuck” to their parents?).

However, Eleanor Barkhorn, in a blog post at The Atlantic, complained that the ALA list was “dismaying.” Much of her complaint stems from how the ALA compiled its list (which represents approximately 25% of challenges nationwide, a dismal number even discounting that challenges are underreported.

In her post, Barkhorn writes that “when parents complain about what their children read, it shows that books are doing their jobs: affecting young readers so much that they are transformed. It’s scary to think of books being removed from libraries because they’re controversial. But it’s even scarier to think of a country where books are so irrelevant, parents don’t even care enough to complain.”

Are books still a force of controversy today or is the trend of fewer complaints a reflection that issues like sex, homosexuality, drug use, and racism have moved into the public discourse and are no longer consider taboo discussion topics except in a few, select areas of the country? Maybe the fewer books that are challenged is a hopeful sign that in our ever diverse, ever multicultural society, things that shocked my grandmother fail to raise the eyebrows of her children and grandchildren. Book apathy might not be the blame for the ALA’s results. Mainstreaming taboos into the status-quo could be a much larger, and far more welcome, culprit.

————————————–

The ALA’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009

1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. The Color Purple Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

EXTRAS:
–For more on how the ALA develops its annual list, read their website.

Review of #2 on the ALA’s 2009 list, And Tango Makes Three , by this editor Lacey N. Dunham, originally written for The Feminist Review.