This week is the American Library Association’s 2016 Banned Books Week. I celebrated on my campus with two of the groups I spearhead, Secular Student Alliance and The Tower (my campus’ literary arts magazine). Members of these groups and I put together a “Get Caught Reading a Banned Book” photo booth, where students, faculty, and other passerby could get their ‘mugshot’ taken with a banned or challenged booth.
It was a wild success. We had over 200 participants, which for a school our size is massive. People were practically enraged by some of the titles we had on display. Junie B Jones and Captain Underpants earned some of the most outrage. Among our other titles were The Great Gatsby, to Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Harry Potter, Lolita, and Anthem. It was wonderful to see so many people be angered and surprised at the censoring of books, and to realize how ineffective and stupid it is. But this also brings me to my point.
They were surprised.
I found myself wondering the entire time, how do you not know? Censorship is still very much alive in America today. It happens on our television screens, in the clean versions of songs, in the theatrical and director’s cuts of movies, in the ratings of movies and video games, and even in our elementary schools. Censorship is not dead simply becuase our constitution guarantees us free speech. Realizing this raises another question.Why isn’t this information being shared? I have a theory on this. American citizens like to think they are free, when in reality and practice, we are as censored as any nation. But here’s the funny thing, the kicker, the cherry on top.
We do it to ourselves.
The majority of the books my colleagues and I were peddling for photos were books we read in elementary school, in middle school, in high school, and again in college. They’re books parents read in school, to their own children, put in their classrooms to teach to everyone else’s children. But in some places in the United States someone said that these books, that these ideas, were bad. They decided they were wrong. They took it upon themselves to protect their children, and everyone else’s, from these Satanic themes, this witchcraft, these bad attitudes, and communist/socialist/outlandish theologies. They didn’t want their child exposed to that. Now, supposedly preserving the innocence of your own child is one thing, but why take this book from others?
There seems to be a theme in parenting about protecting children at all costs. Parents want them to remain innocent for as long as possible, becuase let’s be honest, the world sucks. It’s awful. It’s soul sucking. Children deserve a little innocence. But here’s my take on keeping books or shows away from them to “preserve” this innocence. There’s no point. Children simply aren’t neurologically advanced enough to fully comprehend everything that is happening. They’re children. Their minds haven’t developed much. It’s why Disney can get away with so much adult humor. Adults pick up on it, children don’t, and are left confused as to why adults found it so funny. The most a book is going to do is make a child ask questions. The type of questions depends on the book. In Judy Bloom’s case her stories will raise queries on menstruation and puberty, something children go through.
Don’t give me that bullshit that young adults are the one’s who face puberty. I began menstruating at 10 years old. I was in fourth grade. I could physically bear a child at 10. I developed breasts and stained my underwear at 10. I had no idea what was happening. It wasn’t a conversation had with me in great detail becuase I was a child. I had read so much, so much at that point, but nothing I had ever read talked about this. In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Bloom addresses this because she recognizes it as something young girls experience.
So many books that are challenged with parents deal with issues like menstruation, or puberty, suicide, coming out, death, of a loved one, rape and molestation. Theses are all things that happen to children. Books don’t normalize these acts and tragedies in any capacity, they simply open up a line of conversation between the child and the person who should be their go to when they have a question. Their parents. By removing these titles and subjects from school curriculum and libraries parents a re removing information and learning experiences from their children under the idea of preserving innocence.
I call this lazy parenting.
You can answer a child’s questions without sacrificing their innocence. Atticus Finch explains rape to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird as “the carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent” (135). Children asking you questions about how their body works, about LGBTQ+ issues, about suicide and death allows you to control the information they get before someone else does. It allows you to communicate with your child. What a concept, open communication. But I think it’s more than just a wanting to preserve innocence. I think that censoring books children and young adults read through school is about control. You, as a parent, want to control the information and ideas given to your child. You want to control your child. You want to control their minds. You want to control the very ideas and thoughts they have. you want to mold their cognitive development into a perfect image of you and your thoughts and ideals and beliefs, just like your parents wanted to control your thoughts and ideas and their parents wanted to control theirs and their parents upon parents before them. You, or rather, we, as parents want our children to do what is right, always in our eyes. Anyone who says they want to see their child do right in God’s eyes is pressing a faith and set of religious beliefs onto a child. Indoctrinating them. Cloning them. By withholding any type of book, be it Catcher in the Rye or Captain Underpants you are aligning your child more with yourself, and stripping a little more decision and individuality away from them. This brings me to my last point.
Children are people too. They are capable of making basic decisions, of thinking for themselves, and of forming opinions. Do they understand a lot? No. But they need room to grow. Children do not exist to become carbon copies of their parents. They don’t begin walking so they can use the same rhetoric, read the same books, believe the same things. They are here because their parents made them. They are here to be their own person.
Censoring books is a direct censorship of information, of ideas, and of entertainment. It’s an act of control. It’s a subtle act, one that flies under the radar of university students, at least at my university. It’s subtle, but it’s effective. Banned Books Week is about more than starting an outrage becuase some schools don’t stock Junie B. Jones on their shelves, and don’t require students to read 1984. It’s about considering the connotations of censorship. Orwell thinks Big Brother is always watching, and maybe he’s right. But maybe it’s never been a brother. Maybe it’s a ‘concerned’ parent, who thinks that And Tango Makes Three will somehow turn their child gay.
The good thing in censorship, in banning these books, is that it seems to do quite the opposite. Parents seem to want these books sponged completely from classrooms, thrown away, or burned. But yet, that doesn’t seem to happen. ALA hosts Banned Books Week, which libraries and schools nationwide participate in. University groups such as my own host their own events. people like me write whole editorials on it’s stupidity. ALA does annual blog posts on why book censorship is harmful. If parents really wanted to keep these books away from children, wouldn’t that want to find a less controversial way to do it? By banning a book you’ve guaranteed it’s fan base. I only read 50 Shades of Grey because it was being challenged. I consider it a terrible book, but it has a following. So does every other book on ALA’s banned and challenged lists. By removing a book you’re creating a discussion about it. You’re starting a discourse. That should be the exact opposite of what you want. Logically it would be easier to simply dissuade your child from reading said book, and not make a big fuss about it. You already want to control them anyways.
But please, lobby against books. Have them removed from your schools and libraries. Burn them if it makes you feel better. But know that nationwide you just guaranteed that hundreds if not thousands of children are going to be handed that book just to spite you, and to support our lovely first amendment rights.