Banned Books, Weak
From September 23rd-30th, 2000, retailers and libraries have blown off the dust and moved the usual suspects, such as Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye, from their Literature sections to displays in the front of their buildings to show that they\'re in the vanguard on the fight against censorship. They\'re feeling righteous.
Only thing is, Banned Books Week is . . . well, weak. I like the general principle, but there are several problems with it in practice.The book-stores, libraries, Web sites, and other parties involved in the festivities always choose the books that are easiest to defend. There are still a few people who have a burr up their ass about Tom Sawyer and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but these books are laughably easy to find and they\'re recognized as classics, which are easy to defend. Sure, a bookstore will trot out Fanny Hill (originally published in 1748), but what about Macho Sluts by Pat Califia?
Some libraries may display Mein Kampf, which is still controversial in a way, but it\'s attained the level of cultural artifact and is therefore so safe that its current publisher is the mainstream Houghton Mifflin corporation.
These libraries may pat themselves on the back for being so daring, but then why not also display The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, White Power by George Lincoln Rockwell (American Nazi Party founder), and Holocaust-revisionist publications? If you want to show a censored book of Mark Twain\'s, how about Letters from the Earth? His estate blocked its publication until the 1950s, and its mocking of the Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell is still controversial.
Libraries and book-stores also use odd definitions of censorship. Maybe a South Dakota high-school principal threw a hissy fit over Of Mice and Men, but does that hold a candle to the multi-pronged governmental attacks on the photography books of Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, David Hamilton, and other artists whose subjects are often nude young people? Several city/county governments charged bookstores such as Barnes & Noble with felonies for carrying these books. Think we\'ll see those books displayed this year? How about a display of drug books, which came under major attack by Congress over the past year? What about the very few books on explosives that are still in print after the 1998 federal law threatening publishers with 20 years in jail? Don\'t hold your breath.
In this age of litigation, a lawsuit will more likely take a book out of print than a governmental edict. A few bookstores might display In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which was the subject of the longest lawsuit in the history of American publishing, but what about the books that are currently being attacked, such as Running Scared (an expose of casino kingpin Steve Wynn), The Downing of TWA Flight 800, and (heaven forbid) the publications of the group that everyone loves to hate, NAMBLA? Let\'s not forget about the books that have been attacked but survived: Fortunate Son (the Shrub bio), Lo\'s Diary, A Piece of Blue Sky (Scientology expose), and L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, among others. It would also be nice to see a roll call for the books that were burned because of recent litigation: Hit Man, The Senator Must Die, and The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror.
There are also inexplicable gaps in the canon of banned books. Yes, Salman Rushdie\'s life is still in danger though the fatwa was technically lifted, but Taslima Nasrin still has a Islamic death warrant on her head because of her novel Shame. I\'m sure a few bookstores and libraries will trot out The Satanic Verses, but I\'ll eat my hat if more than five in the whole country show Nasrin\'s novel.
Between the oversimplified, uneven definitions of censorship, the tendency to display the same old easily-defensible warhorses, and many other problems, Banned Books Week has a very long way to go before it lives up to its promise, or even its name.
Research by Russ Kick