Banned Books Awareness: Singapore’s Culture War

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Singapore’s National Library Board has been busy as of late- stopping citizens from reading. Books and comics have been on their hit list because they contain same-sex issues in their content.

The organization last week withdrew from libraries the books and Tango Makes Three, which has been covered previously, and The White Swan Express because of the inclusion of LGBT characters. The action prompted strong disapproval worldwide from outraged people, including an open letter and a petition, calling for the books to be put back.

Gay sex is illegal in Singapore, where a recent gay rally drew a huge backlash in a rare unification of Christian and Islamic groups offended by the rally’s message of tolerance and equality.

In a statement on the NLB’s Facebook page, they defended their position with the argument that it takes “a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors”, and announced plans to pulp the books despite the opposition.

Singapore’s government took a fainthearted stand on the controversy by saying that while it will retain the law to reflect (read “appease”) mainstream society’s beliefs, it will not be “actively enforced”.

A Forbes contributor, Ruchika Tulshyan, who grew up in the country, criticized the decision.  “Singapore has long upheld religious tolerance and racial harmony as a core tenet of the country, but to pretend a section of society doesn’t exist reeks of intolerance to me,” she said.

The removal of the books has brought attention to some of the more repressive policies in place in the region. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the treatment of LGBT people in Asia includes electro-shock treatment as “aversion therapy”, threats of rape to “make you straight”, police kidnapping, family violence, and media harassment.

Now they’ve set their eyes on the classic Archie comic book character because a recent issue featured a same-sex marriage.

Archie: The Married Life Book Three was removed from store and library racks following a complaint by another national organization, Singapore’s Media Development Authority, which claims that it violates content guidelines.

The ban on Archie actually happened earlier this year, but it only became known after the backlash over last week’s incident.

The controversy resulted in a “read in” of the books in the national library’s atrium and three authors resigned as judges from Singapore’s top literary prize in protest.

It also adds fuel to the media fire over the longtime Archie comic strip character, which began in 1941, because next week in heroic fashion Archie Andrews, himself, will die. The United States publication, Life with Archie, will show him taking a bullet for a friend- an openly gay veteran-turned-senator, Kevin Keller, campaigning for gun control- and dying from the wound.

Since its beginning in 2010, Life with Archie has become one of the most unique books to grace the graphic novel industry, with classic characters that address current issues in an intelligent yet manageable way.

“It isn’t meant to be a sob story,” Archie Comics publisher, and co-chief executive officer, Jon Goldwater, said.

“Actually it’s inspirational,” he continued, “because Archie does what you would want Archie to do. He would do that for anybody.”

“Archie taking the bullet really is a metaphor for acceptance,” Goldwater said, adding that the assailant did not agree with Keller’s personal life or political stance.

Jono Jarrett, a founder of New York-based Geeks OUT, an organization that supports gays who enjoy comics, said Archie’s death was surprising.

“I was impressed by the boldness in the storytelling.” Jarrett said.

“Maybe what Archie Comics is saying is that in order to get the world you need, sometimes you have to sacrifice something of the world you have,” Jarrett added. “Archie Andrews is a very iconic all-American hero. To have him literally take a bullet for the ideas of diversity and equality in a comic book is a very powerful statement.”

Whether you take the position that these literary turning points and political statements are marketing stunts or marketing genius, one thing is certain- comics aren’t for kids anymore.

Actually, they haven’t been for a while now, but some people just can’t seem to let go of their idealized yearnings for a yesterday that never was.

These issues have always been there and they’ve always been talked about. The only difference between the literature of 70 years ago and that of today is that the subjects are no longer hidden between the lines with innuendo and code words.

It also takes a certain level of mature comprehension to appreciate the history of literary characters while also adapting them to the multicultural world of the 21st century and shifting societal paradigms. Thor is now a woman; Spiderman is a multiracial teenager; Wonder Woman wears pants; and Archie has left behind the after school activities of sock hops and malt shoppes.

These seemingly shocking changes to beloved characters reflect the truth that the adult world is anything but black and white, cookie-cutter, or easy to explain and our youth will be better prepared for the world and how to deal with complex issues by exposing themselves to these subjects in clever and entertaining ways.

The Life with Archie series is a spin-off that centers on adult interpretations of Riverdale. The provocative issue will be followed by one showing how his friends cope with his death a year later.

Indeed, Archie has also come a long way from the days when his biggest problem was choosing Betty or Veronica.

 

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: BBC News, Forbes, Newsmax, Wikipedia, Reuters
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Tropic of Cancer”

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Henry Miller is one of the most important literary figures in American history, but most people don’t even know his name. His was a true underdog story: a creative and challenging author who influenced such literary and pop culture icons as Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Phillip Roth, Paul Theroux, Erica Jong, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles; but today, 34 years after his death, he remains a marginalized and largely forgotten figure in the footnotes of literature- all because his work was banned from the moment it saw the printed page.

Tropic of Cancer has been described as “notorious for its candid sexuality” and noted as responsible for the “free speech that we now take for granted in literature.”

Anaïs Nin helped to edit the book and Obelisk Press published it with financial backing from Nin, herself, in 1934 in Paris, France. The book’s jacket was wrapped with a warning that read, “NOT TO BE IMPORTED INTO THE UNITED STATES OR GREAT BRITAIN.” Even in liberal Paris, bookstores sold the novel under the counter; but as word spread, copies were bought by American tourists and smuggled home disguised under dust jackets from other books.

The government of the United States made it national policy to ban Tropic of Cancer from being sold or imported into the country arguing, “[it] dealt too explicitly with his sexual adventures and challenged models of sexual morality.” To push their agenda, the government went on to ban all of Miller’s works from entering the United States, regardless of its content or subject.

Set in Paris, France during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Tropic of Cancer is written in the first person and follows Miller’s life and struggle as a writer. Combining autobiography and fiction, some chapters follow a narrative and refer to Miller’s actual friends, colleagues, and workplaces; others are written as stream-of-consciousness reflections that are occasionally epiphanic.

Miller gave the following explanation of why the book’s title was Tropic of Cancer: “[It was] because, to me, cancer symbolizes the disease of civilization, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch.”

The long, twisted road of censorship in the decades to follow is quite sordid.

Upon publication in France and the subsequent banning by the United States Customs Service, Frances Steloff sold copies of the novel at her Gotham Book Mart that were smuggled from Paris during the 1930s, leading to several lawsuits.

A copyright-infringing edition published in New York City in 1940 by “Medusa” (Jacob Brussel) included a last page that claimed its place of publication to be Mexico. Brussel was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison for it.

In 1950, Ernest Besig, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco, attempted to import copies of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Customs detained the novels and Besig sued the government. Before the case went to trial, Besig requested a motion to admit 19 depositions from literary critics testifying to the “literary value of the novels and to Miller’s stature as a serious writer”.The motion was denied by Judge Louis A. Goodman and the case went to trial with Goodman presiding. Goodman declared both novels obscene and Besig appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, where they were once again declared “obscene” in a unanimous decision in Besig v. United States.

Miller, himself, mailed copies of the book to prominent American literary figures hoping for reviews and word of mouth. One of those was to an American friend that intercepted by a Customs official and ended up on the desk of Huntington Cairns, a Baltimore attorney who served as a legal advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department. Cairns, an erudite who counted among his friends H.L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, read the book and, with some reluctance, banned it. Cairns recognized the literary merit of Tropic of Cancer, but was certain that under prevailing standards of decency, it could not be admitted.

When it was finally published in the U.S. in 1961, by Grove Press, it led to infamous obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. Over 60 obscenity lawsuits in over 21 states were brought against booksellers. The opinions of courts varied; for example, in his dissent from the majority holding that the book was not obscene, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno wrote that Cancer is “not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.”

Both national and local authorities attempted to stop its sale. In the fall of 1961, Chicago police would routinely intimidate bookstores found to sell the book, arresting several workers. Grove Press, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argued that it was illegal for officials to interfere with the sale of the novel and spent more than $100,000 fighting these charges nationwide.

Publisher Barney Rosset hired lawyer Charles Rembar to help lead the “effort to assist every bookseller prosecuted, regardless of whether there was a legal obligation to do so”.Rembar successfully argued two appeals cases, in Massachusetts and New Jersey, although the book continued to be judged obscene in other states.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the book was not obscene and it was widely- and finally- regarded as an important masterpiece of 20th-century literature. In Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein, the case Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day) was cited and given as reason for overruling state court rulings.

Miller enjoyed no sense of fulfillment from the ruling because he knew that American readers were consuming his books for their sensationalistic elements and missing the liberating message of deliverance from hypocrisy and shame that lay behind them. In a 1972 interview with Digby Diehl published in the Los Angeles Times Miller declared, “More and more I’ve grown disgusted with my readers. I revealed everything about myself, and I find that they’re interested in this sensational life. But I was trying to give them more than that.”

True to that theme, it exists as an immersive reflection on the human condition. As a struggling writer, Miller describes his experience living among a community of bohemians in Paris, where he deals with hunger, homelessness, squalor, loneliness, and despair over his separation from his wife.

Many passages also explicitly describe his sexual encounters. In 1978, literary scholar Donald Gutierrez argued that the sexual comedy in the book was “undeniably low… [but with] a stronger visceral appeal than high comedy”. In fact, the semi-fictional characters are caricatures, especially the male characters who “stumble through the mazes of their conceptions of woman”.

Michael Hardin made the case for the theme of homophobia in the novel and proposed that the novel contained a “deeply repressed homoerotic desire that periodically surfaces”.

It remains listed by the American Library Association as one of the 100 most-banned classics and has been censored outside of the U.S. as well.

It was on the list of books banned by Canadian customs as of 1938 and The Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized copies of the book from bookstores and public libraries until the early 1960s when, by 1964, public opinions began to shift.

The only copies to exist in the United Kingdom were those few smuggled in after its publication in 1934. Scotland Yard proposed banning its publication in Britain in the 1960s, but decided the act would be political suicide because nationally celebrated literary icons such as T. S. Eliot were ready to defend the book publicly.

Tropic was also banned in Turkey as recently as 1986.

Henry Miller’s writing was a revolutionary literary style that reimagined the semi-autobiographical genre by blending character study, social commentary, philosophical introspection, explicit language, and sexual themes that are instantly recognizable and relatable to anyone who has ever stepped outside their own front door into the real world.

The only thing obscene about Tropic of Cancer is that it contains those subjects and language that society wishes to keep hidden and pretend does not exist as prevalently as they always have in human history. Detractors aren’t upset about others in society being influenced by the themes in Miller’s works; they’re worried about seeing something inside themselves reflected back up from between the stark contrasts of the black and white of the printed page.

 

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, Huffington Post, New York Times, American Library Association, The File Room, LA Times
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Hop on Pop”

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It was reported here two years ago (4/30/2012) that Yertle the Turtle was banned as part of a political dispute in British Columbia. Well, the beloved works of Dr. Seuss are once again within the cross-hairs of censors in Canada- this time in Toronto, Ontario. Joining the list of six other controversial and subversive Seuss titles is Hop on Pop.

Designed to introduce basic phonics to children, the 1963 book was published with the subtitle “The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use” and contained several short poems and characters.

The book is so popular and effective that it is the go-to choice for librarians and teachers fifty years later. In fact, Hop on Pop ranked sixteenth in Publishers Weekly’s list of the all-time best-selling hardcover books for children in 2001. In a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association put it on the list  of Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.

Former United States First Lady Laura Bush, herself an ex-librarian, listed it as her favorite book in a 2006 Wall Street Journal article, saying, “It features Dr. Seuss’ typically wonderful illustrations and rhymes, of course, but the main thing for me is the family memory- the loving memory- that the book evokes of George lying on the floor and reading it to our daughters, Barbara and Jenna. They were little bitty things, and they took Hop on Pop literally, and jumped on him- we have the pictures to prove it.”

Now a ‘concerned citizen” in Toronto has taken the threat of bodily harm seriously and filed a formal complaint to the Toronto Public Library claiming that the book “encourages children to use violence against their fathers” by hopping on them.

They also demanded that library officials publically apologize and pay damages to any fathers injured by being jumped on by children.

Vickery Bowles, the director of collections management at the Toronto Public Library, said that there is a system for processing requests to remove books from its collection, though fewer than one hundred have been filed since 2000. Of those, only five were actually removed “because they contained inaccurate or dated information,” such as a children’s book on dairy farming that contained outdated farming information.

A PDF released by the Toronto Public Library [to see the entire list, and the remarks for each censored item, follow this link] shows library materials being reconsidered by the Materials Review Committee, including Hop on Pop. The actual bullet points from the meeting notes contain the following remarks:

  • · The book is a humorous and well-loved children’s book designed to engage children while teaching them reading skills.
  • · Since its publication in 1963, it has maintained its popularity and appeared on many “Best of” children’s book lists.
  • · Dr. Seuss was a prolific and celebrated children’s author who won the Pulitzer Prize among many other awards.
  • · The children are actually told not to hop on pop.
  • · Retained in the children’s collection

The only words spoken by the infamous Pop in the 390-word title are an warning to refrain from such violent activity: “STOP. You must not hop on Pop.”

It should be noted that all contested titles on the above list were retained during the meeting and remain on library shelves in the Toronto area.

So what say you, fellow readers. Is the potential for violence so high that this book should be removed and its fifty-year reign of terror brought to an end? Comment below.

 

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, geekosystem.com, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Public Library, CNN
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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

Banned Books Awareness: “East of Eden”

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John Steinbeck is synonymous with American literature. He’s considered one of- if not the- greatest author of the 20th century. His novels are considered classics and taught from grade school through university graduate courses here and around the world. Nevertheless, his three most notable works- The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Of Mice and Men (1937), and East of Eden- have also been repeatedly banned or challenged.

Published in 1952, East of Eden is often heralded as his most ambitious novel and was originally addressed to Steinbeck’s sons- 6 and 4 at the time- because he wanted to describe Salinas Valley in detail for them through the complex tale of two families.

Along the way, the major themes explored include depravity, beneficence, love, the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction, guilt, and freedom. He ties these themes together with allegorical references to the biblical Book of Genesis, most notably Genesis Chapter 4- the story of Cain and Abel. The novel’s title was chosen by Steinbeck from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden”. Steinbeck furthered the parallels in the naming of various characters. The first letters of the names of the main characters start with C, A, or both (Charles and Adam, Caleb and Aron, Cathy Ames and Abra).

Just like Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden was banned in Kern County, California because it was considered obscene due to his use of profanity; and a character, Cathy, becomes a prostitute. It was also controversial because residents felt it was “misrepresentative of the County,” causing copies to be burned at public gatherings.

Some of the other most notable cases of censorship include the following:

Opponents in Anniston, Alabama sought to remove it from school library bookshelves in 1982, also labeling it “ungodly and obscene”; it was later reinstated on a restricted basis. The schools in Greenville, South Carolina faced a similar challenge in 1991.

Canadian censors hopped on the bandwagon when residents of Morris, Manitoba had it banned from schools as well.

Steinbeck is the author of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories; he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962; but an unfortunate part of his legacy is that the American Library Association lists him as one of the ten most frequently banned authors from 1990-2004.

What’s more American than putting people on a pedestal and then knocking them down, right?

 

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, Yahoo News, “John Steinbeck: Banned, Challenged, and Censored” by Maurene Hinds, worldandi.com
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Hindus: An Alternative History”

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Academics, writers, and lawyers have voiced strong opposition to the withdrawal of American scholar Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, following a settlement between the publisher Penguin, a division of Random House, and a complainant group, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Under the settlement, all copies of the book will be removed and shredded in India.

A well-known Hindi literary critic, Namwar Singh, called the act as an “attack on writers’ freedoms”. After reading Doniger’s book, he said that he found it challenging. “It is not the kind of book that says ‘yes sir’ to everything. It challenges several beliefs. If Hindutva is so powerful and secure, it should tolerate it, and respond in kind. It is an open market, and the appropriate response to the written word is the written word itself, not a ban.”

In a jointly-issued statement against Penguin’s decision to withdraw the book, several of India’s leading academics, such as historian Partha Chatterjee (Centre for Studies in the Social Sciences, Kolkata), Nayanjot Lahiri, and Upinder Singh (department of history, Delhi University), criticized the situation.

Senior Supreme Court advocate KTS Tulsi also agreed with Singh’s view of countering one book with another. “There is a growing tendency of intolerance in a certain section of society against the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Penguin may have succumbed because they did not want to be physically attacked. It shows helplessness against unruly mobs. It is unfortunate that this should happen in India where we pride ourselves on freedom of speech,” he says.

Banned Books Awareness has catalogued a similar increase in society’s polarization in the United States over the last decade.

However, the lobbyist in the case, Dinanath Batra, couldn’t be happier with the decision because it means that his organization had “won the battle but has yet to win the war against faulty representation of Indian history and historical figures.”

He complained that the book had “a lot of dirt in it that caused me a lot of pain and hurt my sentiments” in reference to what he perceived as overly-sexualized Hindu religious figures and other claims in the book that Hindus once ate and sacrificed cows.

His organization, which is headquartered in Delhi, was registered in 2008 and is, ideologically, right-wing and socially conservative and said to be associated with the RSS. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the literal translation of which is National Volunteer Organization or National Patriotic Organization, is a right-wing, paramilitary, volunteer nationalist group. The RSS states that its ideology is based on the principle of “selfless service to the nation.” When asked, his legal team refused to confirm or deny the claim of association.

The RSS has been busy in recent years. In 2008, the Delhi high court had directed the removal of 75 “objectionable” paragraphs from history textbooks following a petition by the group. The organization has been particularly active in the field of education in India by insisting that schoolbooks reveal a history that “reflects India’s pride” and has also campaigned against sex education in schools.

The Satanic Verses was banned in India back in 1988. In 2012, when Rushdie was due to appear at the annual Jaipur Literature Festival, his visit was cancelled following reported threats from various extremist groups such as the RSS and SBAS. Even a video conference with the writer at the festival was stopped at the last moment.

Spanish author Javier Moro was sent a legal notice for his book on Sonia Gandhi and was criticized in newspaper reports for “exploiting somebody’s privacy for personal commercial gains.”

The Maharashtra state government banned the book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, by James Laine, in 2004 after demonstrations by Shiv Sena. The ban was briefly lifted in 2007 and again by the Supreme Court in 2010.

Jeet Thayil, who supported the inclusion Salman Rushdie’s infamously banned book at the Jaipur Literature Festival, told The Times of India over the phone that “it is unfortunate that a religion that is known for its tolerance is showing that fundamentalists are the same everywhere.”

Penguin, to their decreased credit, has played the victim card and blames the situation on what they called India’s “intolerant laws” and insists that they are committed to free thought and expression, but that they have the “same obligation as any other organization to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be.”

That may seem a logical and legally-sound position, but the sad truth is that Penguin made its decision to remove the book purely for monetary reasons to save a buck. Had they chose to fight the ban, many legal experts agree that they would have certainly won because there was no fatwa, no official ban, no official court order, just a complaint filed. But now all of the citizens of India will lose because even if they download the PDF copy of the book off of the internet from other countries they will be breaking the law.

Rather than engaging in discussion to point out any flaws in the alternative historical accounts, the closed-minded fools at the RSS and the SBAS who called for the ban cower behind the decision to shred the work and all because it hurts their fragile feelings.

Someone hand them a box of tissues while I read Doniger’s book and await them at the debater’s podium. Somehow I don’t think they’ll show up.

 

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: Times of India, Daily Mail
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

A Multitude of Drops

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Last night I watched Cloud Atlas for the first time. As with any great story, there were lines of dialog that stood out and resonated with me. I just wasn’t aware how prophetic one of those lines would be- which in hindsight is fitting when one considers the central themes of that story.

One of the characters stood in denouncement of his son, who was going off to affect social change by joining the abolitionist movement. He said that his son’s actions would be futile, amounting to little more than a drop of water. What his son said in retort was beautiful:

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

This column started out to simply inform and create discourse, but as the journey progressed it became a cause for change.

In the time since my first article became part of cyberspace I have received some criticism, but also a lot of support. I have thoroughly enjoyed the comments and conversations on both sides as many a reader has shaken their head in bewilderment at not only the titles embattled in controversy, but the reasons for those controversies.

I have received many thanks for the articles from students, teachers, fellow columnists, avid book lovers and readers, and have even had my material become part of classroom literature assignments from middle school through universities around the world. I do not mention this to brag, but to acknowledge that I appreciate the support and that I am proud of my accomplishments.

Today I received another such letter from a woman who is working on a campaign with the superintendent of her former high school regarding books that have been brought before the school board to be banned.

The current book that is up for discussion is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, among others. I had covered that book last September and her research led her to my website.

She explained that she found my column a great help in organizing her thoughts and a valuable resource- so much so that she passed along the information to the superintendent in hopes that “these books will be free to inspire young minds and help them in what I believe is the most tumultuous time of a young adult’s life.”

She concluded her sincere remarks by stating that “perhaps I’ve gone on a tangent here but I really wanted to thank you.”

Kayla, I would say to you that you haven’t said nearly enough and that I hope your voice is heard in your former school system. I am the one thanking you. We are each of us a drop of water, but together we can wash away the fear and ignorance of the world.

The ripples have begun. In time it shall become a tidal wave.

© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: Censorship at Guantánamo Bay (Part 2)

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Aside from the complete lack of due process and blatant disregard for religious liberty, human rights and amnesty groups continue to be baffled by the random and apparently arbitrary reasoning behind what publications are and are not allowed to be read by detainees within the walls of the United States’ political prison, Guantánamo Bay.

Writing to the New Statesman, a Saudi national, Shaker Aamer, who has been held for 12 years without charge, says that his lawyer “amuses himself (and me) by testing what the censors will let through” as reading material.

As reported in Part 1 of this story, that list of “offensive” material includes such childhood fare as Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast; as well as socio-political works like The Rule of Law, by Lord Thomas Bingham- but George Orwell’s 1984 is okay.

John Grisham, who has a rocky history of censorship, had his novel “The Innocent Man” returned to the prison reading list only after his highly-publicized New York Times article blasting the Obama administration for the existence of the infamous prison and its censorship policies was published (8/11/2013).

The Innocent Man was Grisham’s first non-fiction work, but it reads with all of the suspense of his other thrillers.

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle, if not for a descent into alcohol and drugs. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was brutally murdered. The local investigation led nowhere, until, on the weakest and most circumstantial of evidence, it led to Williamson. The washed-up athlete was charged, tried, and sentenced to death in a trial that was littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would allow the true killer to go free.
It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence, but maybe that’s what frightens prison officials and hits too close to home for many of the unfortunate souls under their watch. After all, that whole “innocent-until-proven-guilty” nonsense is so troublesome.

Other famous authors haven’t been so lucky- but that’s because they’ve been dead for over a hundred years and don’t have a PR team like Grisham-

One of those more prominent novels on the “no no” list is Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Like many other titles on the list, this literary classic being included defies logic and no other cases of censorship have been found against this book since it was published nearly 150 years ago- so why now? Why here?

For those who may not remember their literature classes, the novel centers on the mental distress and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor student in St. Petersburg, who formulated and executed a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argued that with the pawnbroker’s money he could perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of an evil. He even justifies his actions by comparing himself with Napoleon Bonaparte- believing that murder is permissible when in pursuit of a higher purpose.

Perhaps it is this allegory that frightens prison officials because of its parallels to the mindset behind jihad, but the United States would be highly hypocritical and ignorant of its own history if that were the case.

The list, and the hypocrisy, continues, as there are many other titles on the list that haven’t been discussed yet. In the meantime, read Grisham’s NYT Op-Ed- it’s a shocking revelation on the atrocities committed by the United States’ State Department.

 

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: New York Times, Wikipedia
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions