Today marks the 30th anniversary of the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week. 30 years of tracking, cataloging, documenting, and reporting attempts to remove books from the shelves of schools, libraries, and bookstores forever.
The truth of the matter is that censorship has existed for as long as the written word itself; from the earliest days of chiseling images in stone to the printing press and beyond.
I visited Washington, D.C. while on an ambassador program in high school. During that formative experience I was able to view an exact replica of the United States Constitution (the original was in a vault below to temper its exposure to sunlight). I read it over and over again, basking in the immensity of one of the world’s most influential and brilliant documents ever written.
One of the things that stuck with me is that the First Amendment is pretty clear in its scope. It doesn’t contain any ifs, ands, or buts; it’s an all-or-nothing approach. Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but it doesn’t end with the words “except in the case of…”
Unfortunately there are plenty of people who believe it does.
We’ve seen just about every excuse put forth by the torch-and-pitchfork-wielding pundits of censorship, including religious viewpoints, sexuality, language, racism, and claims that a book is unsuited to an age group.
All of these issues have been dealt with time and again throughout this series, and from the look of things the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. These are nothing more than the thin layers covering a very rotten onion; peel them off and you discover the nasty worm eating its way out from the rancid center feeding on hate, fear, and ignorance.
On an individual level, the claims come about because something in a book has offended someone’s sensibilities. More often than not, these individuals have never actually read the books they challenge- neither in part nor in their entirety. They base their arguments on something they heard or were told about; sometimes just because of the book’s title, a character, a single passage within, or who the author is.
These misinformed and misguided individuals are not always acting alone. Often the seeds of discontent are watered by socio-political rhetoric from the national level, where censorship is fundamentally all about power; ignorance and fear is how that power is maintained.
Books get challenged and/or banned because the ideas presented are at odds with a political or religious world view and are therefore deemed subversive and dangerous by the state. The status quo is threatened by a fresh perspective and that simply cannot be tolerated.
Those with the power to effect social change, therefore, use their power and wealth to further the lack of knowledge among the masses. After all, an intellectually-stunted populous is easier to control than an enlightened one.
Humans think in words- in structured language and cognitive ideas. So if you can control the words and control the flow of information then you can control thought. If you control thought, then the people are but puppets on a string, ambling along in whichever direction the strings take them.
The evidence of this anti-intellectual campaign is seen on an almost daily basis. From people who rant about “Christian-hating jungle cats” to people who can’t grasp the basic biology of where babies come from. Then there is the Text Message generation that believes a semicolon is called a winky face and has no clue that it was designed long ago as punctuation in writing to join two complete thoughts. There’s also my popular Funny Misspellings photo album on Facebook, chock full of random displays of idiocy and poor grammar skills. Here’s the latest goody:
Change the school curriculums, close the libraries, and keep the masses watching Dancing with the Stars and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Keep them in the dark and entertained rather than informed and intellectually stimulated, that’s how to maintain control.
Even those who have and seek the power are not immune to the effects of this mindset, as we have seen in Mitt Romney’s now-infamous airplane gaffe.
Maybe if Romney was paying attention in science class instead of bullying a fellow student for having long hair, he might know the general science behind why plane windows should never open or that you don’t feed oxygen to a fire.
Beyond Mitt’s latest blunder, though, lies the clearest argument yet against this trend- if you keep taking science, critical thinking, and logic out of schools then he won’t be the last person to spout ignorance like this on the public stage.
If those with the power are not even immune to the effects of a lack of quality information, then the only outcome will be at least another 30 years of censorship. The question we should all be asking ourselves then is do we want our children raised in a world where we no longer look toward knowledge and the light of the future, but to the dark ages of times past.
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://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions