Banned Books Awareness: “Tarzan”

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Part of growing up in the 20th century was reading the adventures of Tarzan of the Apes, through a series of 24 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs; the novels are considered classic literature by adults, as well. Written between 1912 and 1965, Tarzan has been adapted numerous times for radio, television, stage, and cinema and has been adapted more times than any book except Dracula. But this classic also has a history of being banned and censured.

It may seem hard to understand just how the tales of Tarzan and Jane could be offensive enough that some would demand that readers be denied their right to them, but the sad truth is that it has happened several times.

Among the reasons for censoring the books is because Tarzan and Jane live together without having been “married in the eyes of God”.

All of the Tarzan books were banned in Los Angeles, California, in 1929 because it was reasoned that, even though he is a fictional character, Tarzan, was living in the jungle with Jane without being married.

The books were likewise pulled from the shelves of the public library in- the appropriately named- town of Tarzana, California in the 1930s. Authorities said the adventure stories were unsuitable for youngsters since there was “no evidence that Tarzan and Jane had married before they started cohabiting in the treetops”.

Ralph Rothmund, who ran Burroughs’ estate, protested that the couple had taken marital vows in the jungle with Jane’s father serving as minister. “The father may not have been an ordained minister,” he said, “but after all things were primitive in those days in the jungle.”

In the cinematic adaptation of “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934), an underwater nude scene of Maureen O’Sullivan’s double (a professional swimmer) had to be removed before theaters would show it. After Ted Turner bought the MGM library in the 1990s, he had the scene restored.

Pictured at left, Burroughs holds a copy of the first German edition of Tarzan of the Apes, published by the Dieck Company of Stuttgart, in 1924. After the publisher’s death, Burroughs sent Dieck’s widow enough money to keep her out of the poor house- because the Tarzan books had been banned in Nazi Germany and she had fallen on hard times.

It is often noted that the Tarzan books and movies use racial stereotyping, but that- to a degree- was common in the times in which they were written. That does not serve to dismiss those claims, but rather put them in an historical context for deeper understanding. This led to controversy in the later years of the 20th century, especially after the changing social views and customs in the 1970s.

A Swedish character was described as having “a long yellow moustache, an unwholesome complexion, and filthy nails”, and Russians cheat at cards. The aristocracy and royalty- except the House of Greystoke, of course- are habitually degenerate.

The early books give a negative and stereotypical portrayal of the Africans of the day- both Arabic and Black. In The Return of Tarzan, Arabs are “surly looking” and call Christians “dogs”, while Blacks are “lithe, ebon warriors, gesticulating and jabbering”. One could make an equal argument that Burroughs was simply depicting villainous characters as such and the heroes in a brighter context- as in Chapter 6 of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar where Burroughs writes of Mugambi, “…nor could a braver or more loyal guardian have been found in any clime or upon any soil.”

In later books, Africans are portrayed more realistically as people. In Tarzan’s Quest, while the depiction of Africans remains relatively primitive, they are portrayed more individualistically, with a greater variety of character traits, good and bad, while the main villains are Whites. Burroughs never loses his disfavor for European royalty, though.

The “superior-inferior” relationship is evident in virtually all interactions between Whites and Blacks in the stories- and similarly in most other interactions between differing people; although it can be said that these interactions are the heart of the dramatic narrative and without them there is no story, especially in the conflict between past and present and the definitions of ‘civilization’ and ‘humanity’ that the books explore.

In Tarzan of the Apes, details of a background of suffering experienced at the hands of Whites by Mbonga’s “once great” people are repeatedly told with evident sympathy, and in explanation or even justification of their current animosity toward Whites.

Burroughs’ opinions, which manifested through the narrative voice in the stories, reflected other common attitudes in his time, which in a 21st-century context would be considered racist and sexist. According to James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, this may be a result of Burroughs’ having been from Oak Park, Illinois, a former Sundown town (a town that forbids non-Whites from living within it).

He isn’t spiteful in his attitudes, either. His heroes don’t act violently against women or different races.

Feminist scholars have criticized the presence of other sympathetic male characters that engage in this violence with Tarzan’s approval. In Tarzan and the Ant Men, the men of a fictional tribe of creatures called the Alali gain social dominance of their society by beating the Alali women into submission with weapons that Tarzan willingly provides them. Following the battle, Burroughs writes: “To entertain Tarzan and to show him what great strides civilization had taken, the son of The First Woman seized a female by the hair and dragging her to him, struck her heavily about the head and face with his clenched fist, and the woman fell upon her knees and fondled his legs, looking wistfully into his face, her own glowing with love and admiration.”

While Burroughs writes some female characters with humanistic equalizing elements, it is commonly argued that violent scenes against women in the context of male sociopolitical domination are condoned in his writing, underpinning a notion of gendered hierarchy where patriarchy is the natural highpoint of society.

However, Burroughs notion of the feminine elevated women to the same level as men and that- in such characters as Dian or Dejah Thoris- portrays a female type who is neither desperate housewife nor full-lipped prom-date, and neither middle-level office-manager nor frowning ideological feminist-professor, but those who exceed all these in her realized humanity and in so doing suggests how ridiculous such views were to begin with.

It has been suggested- and supported in various experiments and real-world examples- that when we are removed from our modern world of convenience and elevated sense of civilization we revert to primal instincts and behaviors. There is hardly anyone out there, who when forced into a similar situation as Tarzan, would find many of our “values” skewed and modified in order to survive.

In the end, all of these “issues” are lost and unnoticed by the children reading of exotic lands and wild animals while fantasizing about high adventure and danger. Once again, adults- who have forgotten and forsaken their childhood imaginations and innocence- look with a magnifying glass at these tales with a larger world-view than is needed for them.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/

Sources: Wikipedia, WikiAnswers, ERBzine, The Week, Cyber College, LA Times
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Bare-Faced Messiah”

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Scientologists have kept a book out of American stores for 27-years because it alleges that L. Ron Hubbard was a racist and a fantasist with a penchant for bizarre sexual rituals; but it is finally getting published.

Written by British journalist Russell Miller, it was finished the year after Hubbard’s death in 1986. Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard explores the myths the father of Scientology created around himself.

Bare-Faced Messiah was published around the globe, but was blocked in the United States after two years of litigation in both the United States and United Kingdom from Scientologist leaders. Miller’s American publisher gave up; but now, finally, it is being released with a newly-written introduction from Miller by Silvertail Books, who, in February 2014, were granted world English rights to the book.

The biography was cited quite often by later Scientology books, including Lawrence Wright’s bestselling Going Clear, but few Americans had a chance to read it.

The evidence clearly shows that Hubbard lied about his education and childhood in official Scientology biographies and refutes the assertion that he was one of the nation’s first nuclear physicists and a doctor. In fact, Hubbard failed the one class he took in nuclear physics and dropped out of George Washington University after his sophomore year, never earning a degree.

Hubbard would also observe and document bizarre sex rituals with a prominent Caltech rocket scientist, Jack Parsons, who lived in Pasadena and was a well-known eccentric. Parsons was a devotee of the occult and Hubbard allegedly stole his girlfriend from him. Hubbard moved into Parson’s home, where they would engage in bizarre sex magick rituals that followed the teachings of Aleister Crowley. Parsons intended to create a ‘moonchild’- with assistance from Hubbard – who would be “mightier than all the kinds of the earth”, and whose birth Crowley had foretold.

Hubbard would come to realize that by branding Scientology as a religion it would be better for “business concerns”-

Sam Merwin, then the editor of the Thrilling Science Fiction magazines, was quoted in Bare-Faced Messiah:

“…Hubbard was invited to address a science fiction group in Newark hosted by the writer, Sam Moskowitz. ‘Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous,’ he told the meeting. ‘If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion.’

This is why Hubbard, and the current leadership of the church, specifically target celebrity devotees such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta- so that it would remain in the news.

Religious gullibility is, perhaps, superseded only by religious fundamentalism.

Hubbard extolled a life in Montana, where he claimed he grew up breaking wild horses on his grandfather’s ranch. However, Miller exposes that Hubbard’s grandfather was a “small-time veterinarian who supplemented his income renting out horses and buggies from a small barn.”

Miller also asserts that Hubbard lied about his service in World War II and only counts around 25,000 people as followers instead of the millions the church claims.

According to Scientology legend, Hubbard had served in “all five theaters” of the war, had been the first American casualty in the Pacific, had survived being machine-gunned and blinded and had broken various limbs, and had commanded American “corvettes” in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

These official church accounts of his wartime experience paint him as a hero and keen military commander on the level of Alexander the Great, but his official government wartime record reveals that Hubbard was a naval lieutenant whom oversaw the re-fit of a trawler in Boston Harbor and was relieved of its command before it ever sailed and, while he was in the Pacific, he was handed command of an anti-submarine vessel that never left the coast of Oregon.

The most astounding event of Hubbard’s war was when he fired on Mexican territory for “target practice” and set off an international incident.

Hubbard is claimed to have traveled Asia intensively, where he developed his love of philosophy and mysticism after spending time with holy men who thought him to be quite gifted. All Miller could find evidence of, however, were two trips to Asia as a teenager while his father was stationed in Guam; including a passage by Hubbard noting that “the Chinese could make millions if they turned the Great Wall into a roller coaster”, but Hubbard ultimately dismissed the thought because “The trouble with China is… there are too many chinks here.”

In researching the legal reasoning for the U.S. ban on Bare-Faced Messiah, a New York Times article from 1989 was found involving a Federal appeals court in New York rejecting the argument that the First Amendment should be taken into account in determining whether publication of a book may be barred even when only a small amount of previously unpublished material is quoted. The right of historians and biographers to quote from letters, diaries, and other unpublished primary source material had been challenged in the case.

The decision escaped much publicity because it relied on a technicality to uphold a publisher’s right to print the unflattering book about L. Ron Hubbard. A Danish corporation related to the church sought to bar the book on the ground that publishing parts of Hubbard’s diaries and journals constituted a copyright infringement.

The concern of the plaintiffs were that Miller’s research includes material such as Hubbard’s teenage diaries, personal correspondence to colleagues, employers and the FBI, as well as government documents.
Miller wasn’t concerned with only debunking a legend. He was documenting a remarkable life. While Hubbard told lie after lie about his accomplishments, he actually did live a chaotic and full life, getting into and out of trouble with pretentiousness.

If he was too busy to attend his college classes, for example, it was because he was ‘barnstorming the country with a friend in a biplane’. Through it all, he was increasingly turning his talents for exaggeration into a budding career as a writer.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/

 Sources: Daily Mail, NY Post, NY Times, Washington Times, The Bookseller
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Censorship and Rape in the American Heartland

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The residents of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, are no strangers to the practice of censorship. In 2006 they witnessed attempts to ban such works as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Sonya Sones’ One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. Now the English faculty at Fond du Lac High School is asking that district administrators get rid of their new censorship policy in the wake of the latest controversy to spark in the community.

16 members of the school’s English department signed and presented a 22-page statement supporting an open forum for student expression in response to Superintendent of Schools James Sebert and high school Principal Jon Wiltzius establishing a new policy, known as “School Guidelines Determined by the Principal regarding Student Publications,” that states all materials created by students are subject to review and possible refusal.

Fond Du Lac High School’s Cardinal Columns magazine made national news when the administration took exception to some of the content published in the February 2014 edition- namely an article entitled “The Rape Joke”, written by senior Tanvi Kumar. The article was an investigation into the rape culture in the school that included anonymous stories from three rape victims.

School officials also disapproved of an editorial that advised students of their right not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The faculty statement reads in part: “Such guidelines are not only a clear path toward censorship of student expression but also drastically alter the relationship between school publications and the administration and break sharply with roughly 100 years of district precedent regarding such publication.

“We believe that the story itself stands as an exemplar of high-quality, responsible journalism that has helped countless readers feel supported, speak up, seek help, and come together in a way that has undoubtedly resulted in a more positive environment in our school.”

I read Kumar’s article and I have to agree that it was the most heart-pulling, jaw-dropping, and best piece of journalism that I’ve read in a while. What’s even more amazing is that it came from a student. If she keeps up that level of mastery we’ll all be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

The statement also asks that the superintendent and board either abandon the new guidelines or put them on hold “until new guidelines or a new policy may be drafted in collaboration with the students, community, and experts in the field.”

An anti-censorship petition posted online at change.org specifically calls upon Sebert to reverse the administrative mandate. Every time someone signs the petition an automatic email is sent to Sebert’s email. As of today there are over 5,300 signatures in support of the Cardinal Columns staff, including a signature from myself. That’s a lot of voices going to his inbox- but will they be heard or just tossed in the recycle bin?

When The Reporter contacted Sebert, Wiltzius, and School Board President Elizabeth Hayes for reaction to the teachers’ request to revisit the guidelines, Sebert issued the following statement:

“I believe that the guidelines are a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication. The district has a responsibility to protect the educational process, environment, and the interests of all students.”

He declined an interview on the matter.

Cardinal Columns co-editor-in-chief, Rachel Schneider, says, “It’s great the teachers are willing to take a stand for the students because they should have the opportunity to express themselves.” She added that students plan to attend a 5 p.m. school board meeting on Monday to address board members directly.

Matthew Smith, Fond du Lac High School print journalism teacher and adviser to the Cardinal Columns staff, is among those who signed the statement. He points out a clause in the statement that says: “The existence of a policy of prior review has been found to increase the possibility of a school district being found legally liable for articles that are libelous or invade privacy, as evidenced by a report by the Student Law Center.”

School Board Vice President Susan Jones said she is for free speech as long as it isn’t offensive and she believes the issue should be revisited. She commented that Kumar’s article was “really well done” and that some teachers were even reading the article aloud in their classroom, holding it up as a piece of journalistic excellence.

“This is what democracy is all about, this is America and these kids are pretty mature. It’s a big issue in the high school and we should all be concerned about what is going on.”

Sebert and Wiltzius listed concerns about content printed in Cardinal Columns, including the possibility that the subject matter might not be appropriate for immature audiences, the photos might be too suggestive or edgy, that some students may have had their rights violated, that the cover could reflect poorly on the school, and that the issue may not include enough of a “positive focus”.

Well, let’s be honest. If there exists a status quo of rape in the school then the administration has nothing to be positive about and praise should go out to Kumar for exposing it to parents and others in the community.

One issue was with a picture on the inside cover that shows a woman described as “lying lifeless” in the middle of cardboard boxes. On that page the editors explain their cover photo selection process and why they rejected that image for the cover.

In a recent video about the new school guidelines made by broadcast journalism students Wiltzius is asked if predators also need to give consent before journalists can report on their alleged offense and he answered: “Both alleged victims and alleged perpetrators- both have rights.”

Vincent Filak, associate professor in the department of journalism at the University of Oshkosh, has been following the controversy. He said the approach Wiltzius appears to be taking regarding the policy is disturbing.

“I don’t know Jon Wiltzius personally, but his statements on the video paint a disingenuous picture of this policy and how it can be enforced. In one breath, he’s saying that he would offer suggestions or ‘just tweak’ things he thought were problematic or controversial. In the next breath, he admits that students have certain rights, including the right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, but that this is the kind of thing that shouldn’t be part of the school paper. Under this policy, he would not be merely offering suggestions as he says, given that suggestions can be ignored or freely accepted. Instead, he would have the power to remove content he does not like, leaving the students without the right to publish as they see fit. That’s censorship.

“The intent of the superintendent and Mr. Wiltzius might be good in their own minds, but from the perspective of someone who values a free and unfettered press, this is a horrible policy that can lead to disastrous consequences.”

Filak said he would be joining the students at the school board meeting Monday.

The debate has incited a flood of comments on the magazine’s Twitter account @cardinalcolumns and Kumar’s personal account @Tanviiikumar, where she spoke up in a publicly-posted letter to Sebert. In it she states the article had “a lasting effect on this student body and inspired many people” and that she was repulsed by the behavior exhibited by people in the high school, pointing to a supposedly student-run Twitter account called “Ethan the Rapist,” that pokes fun at a very specific rape incident and rape in general.

“This story is not false, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, or profane. Unless you view survivors of horrendous atrocities speaking out against a culture that oppresses them as ‘profane,’ or ‘vulgar’ rather than revolutionary or novel,” she wrote.

School Board President Elizabeth Hayes said she objected to the headline “The Rape Joke” because people might not understand it, as well as the article on the Pledge of Allegiance.

“This publication is supported by taxpayer funds and it should be held to a high standard,” Hayes said. “And we should also be encouraging students to hold high standards of respect.”

First of all, if there are members of the student body whom think it okay to joke about rape on a daily basis and engage in such behavior then this school has a lot of work to do regarding “standards of respect.”

Additionally, those public taxpayers, as well as the students at the school, are citizens of the United States of America and they have a right to express themselves freely; readers also have a right to choose whether they want to engage in the conversations that those thoughts stimulate. If there are restrictions to the rights set forth in the First Amendment to the Constitution, then exactly what kind of a society are citizens pledging allegiance to? If it is one in which rape is a norm and those who dare speak out in defiance of it are silenced, then it isn’t one in which I would want to live, and neither should you.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/

Sources: Fond Du Lac Reporter, The Northwestern
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions