Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Power of Ideas

“The burning of a book is a sad, sad sight, for even though a book is nothing but ink and paper, it feels as if the ideas contained in the book are disappearing as the pages turn to ashes and the cover and binding--which is the term for the stitching and glue that holds the pages together--blacken and curl as the flames do their wicked work. When someone is burning a book, they are showing utter contempt for all of the thinking that produced its ideas, all of the labor that went into its words and sentences, and all of the trouble that befell the author . . .” 
― Lemony Snicket

Welcome to Bad Shakespeare’s coverage of Banned Books Week! Technically, it started yesterday but I don’t post on Sundays (That’s Walter White’s Day...) so the “celebration” of banned books began yesterday. 

Previously on Bad Shakespeare: I did talk about Banned Books last year about this time. I’m going to do my best to make sure I don’t cover the same stuff, but I can’t promise I won’t make some of the same points but hey... these points are important. In 2013 America, we shouldn’t be talking about banning or challenging books. We shouldn’t be talking about stopping the free flow of ideas to people because someone pretends they’re inappropriate but in reality they’re afraid of the ideas, and rather than “discussing them” they’ve decided to take the path of “putting their fingers in their ears and screaming ‘la la la I can’t hear you’” until people give up. 

Here’s a few things to think about as we head into this week, and as I get on my proverbial soapbox. (In reality it’s a red couch. It’s quite snazzy and would get me noticed in the public square if one still existed.) 

These books are just banned in a few places, why do we care? Because it starts with a few books in a few places, then it spreads. Because if someone thinks it’s ok one one place, whats’ the stop them from going further? Today it’s Hunger Games, but what’s going to happen when it’s Beloved, Romeo and Juliet, or 1984? Unless 1984 is being banned ironically. Then banning 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 is actually kind of hilarious. But after than, then what do we ban? Who do we worry about? Should we reduce all literature and ideas to a simple few pages that’s approved by one group? How do we pick the group? 

Why is banning books such a big deal? Because it’s not the book that’s being banned, it’s the ideas contained within the book. I believe it was the famous Klingon General Gowron that said, “Have you ever fought an idea, Picard? It has no weapon to destroy, no body to kill...” which is inaccurate. Ideas are wonderfully resilient, but are very easily removed. Get rid of that book, the idea tends to, vanish. The idea of Banned Books week is to call to attention ideas that are being removed from the classroom.

Don’t parents know what’s best for their kids? Sure. Sometimes. I have plenty of pictures in sailor suits that may say otherwise. I’m not talking about taking things away from them. But part of going to school and being exposed to a world outside is also being exposed to different ideas to built. The problem is that once you see “concerned parent that wishes not to be named” when a discussion of banned books, it doesn’t always happen to be a “concerned parent.” And those that do, I just had to do a year of classes, pass three major tests, and I still have a year to go before I’m allowed to teach English. I’m wondering, those parents that want to ban books, how much training did they go through? Just as I’m not the person to come to when discussing tort reform (I’m not sure what that is. Some kind of pastry?) or how to put out a fire, I’d like to think that perhaps parents, who have not read a book or have some vague memory of a book, would not come into my office tell me how to do my job. 

But what about inappropriate content? Define “inappropriate”. What’s inappropriate to some people is just fine by others. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with “inappropriate” comments or things that challenges you. I’m not saying that you have to accept every banned book, I’m saying that if you’re not going to accept it, howzabout you be intelligent and informed enough to tell me why.

That includes naughty words. Can we stop pretending that reading a book that has the dreaded “F-Word” in it will be the first time that a kid has heard something like that? Because it’s not. I promise you. Also, it’s a word... we’ve discussed the giraffe out of that word.

You’re right! Tar and Feather the Book Banners! No. I’m not calling for tarring and feathering anyone, that’s an outdated practice that’s only mentioned because of the power Washington DC Tar and Feather Lobby. It’s important to remember that some people do want a book removed for legit reasons. Maybe they feel their kids won’t understand it. Maybe they do feel the ideas are too advanced. (and “hiding it” is easier than “discussing it.”) 

Let’s take for instance, a book that someone attempted to ban here in Fairfax County and I talked about a few months back. The parent was concerned: her son was having nightmares brought about by the book. That’s a real concern. One that could be solved by discussion. But I can understand why a parent’s first instinct would be to remove the book. (Of course, a little  digging showed us that her son no longer went to the school and she had a history of attempting to ban books that didn’t fit into her worldview. )

  It doesn't make it right to want to ban books. But it is important to remember that generally, people aren't acting out of malice, they're acting out of fear.

I have a lot of fun stuff planned for this week as we work together to stop the senseless banning of books. I hope you are able to stay tuned throughout the week.

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