Banned Books Week is here — an issue about which the American Library Association likes to make a big honking deal every year — and with it will come, predictably, a bunch of people pointing out that censorship is not quite the issue here in the U.S.A. as it was in, say, Soviet Russia. This issue is already being debated on our library’s website (check the comments on the linked post).
And while it’s true, the event would be more accurately if less alliterativey called Challenged Books Week, and it’s true most challenges come from individuals concerned about what their kids are reading, not government agencies trying to keep information from the populace, I’m still OK with the American Library Association making a big deal out of this and getting some press and attention to the issue of freedom of information.
The reason I am OK with it is that they brainwashed me at the ALA conference in DC back in June. No, wait. I wasn’t supposed to say that! The REAL reason I am OK with it is that the First Amendment is an important one, foundation of our democracy and all that, and having a large influential organization that is hard core in defense of it is, in my opinion, a Good Thing. Would democracy be eroded if fewer youngsters had access to And Tango Makes Three, the gay penguin book that has been high on the list in recent years? Not really. Do I want to live in a country where the most uptight parents decide what books are available in the public library? Or a country where nothing that could possibly offend anyone is available in print? Definitely not.
Besides, I’ve always loathed the argument that because something is available it is being forced upon you. It’s like when people complain about what’s on TV. OK … then STOP WATCHING. Unless you’re being tied down, Clockwork Orange-style, with your eyelids pried open, I don’t see what the problem is.
Speaking of “Clockwork Orange,” that is in my personal Top Three of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen* and I don’t ever want to see it again. But do I think it should be banned? Nope. Am I sorry I saw it? Not really. Isn’t it good for us to be disturbed, to have our feathers ruffled, to think about things that are nasty or upsetting? Not full time, naturally, and I’ve been known to run for the Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer comfort read in a second after upsetting experiences. But dictating what others can read/view based on personal preference or worldview is no way to run a library, or a free country.
I was schooled as a First Amendment zealot by working as a newspaper reporter — and that’s another reason ALA’s role is crucial. These days, with newspapers facing a vastly diminished role in public life, SOMEBODY has to step up and be the First Amendment hardliners. So why not ALA and librarians in general? Happy Banned Books Week!
* The other two, if you really must know, are “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” and “Breaking the Waves.” And “Blue Velvet” finishes just out of the money but I have no plans to see that one again in this lifetime, either. All this is making me wonder: in these times of high-circulation DVDs, do those titles get challenged? Because a lot of the movies are WAY more violent and disturbing than most of the books. But Banned Media Resources Week just doesn’ t have the same ring to it, does it?