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Banned Books Week: A glimpse into the wingnut mind

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, September 29, 2008 15:42 EDT
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Thanks to Cynthia Samuels for reminding me that it’s Banned Books Week. It’s a noteworthy year for this issue, because we’ve got a book banning supporter running for Vice President. It’s interesting, because the whole incident—Palin fired a librarian because she wouldn’t take certain books off the shelf, but the community was outraged so Palin had to hire her back—really showed where there are fissures growing in Western communities where more libertarian-minded people clash with the utter right wing nutjobs. Differences have been kept under wraps for a long time, mainly because they all vote Republican, even though the libertarians are fooling themselves. But now the seams are showing. The wingnuts have always tried to do a political kung fu move to explain that book banning is so about liberty, because it’s about local control, and we all know how that’s a fetish for right wingers of all stripes. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just more evidence, and really obvious evidence at that, that “states’ rights” is and always has been about denying people individual rights, in this case to read what they want to.

I haven’t seen a verified list of books that Palin wanted out of the Wasilla library. I’ve seen lists, but they apparently seem to be cribbed from lists of books that are just commonly challenged. It seems that Palin inquired about having the general power to ban books, and fired the librarian after being told that she couldn’t go on these sort of seek and destroy missions. That said, Salon reports that the major book that Palin was gunning for was “Pastor, I Am Gay” by Howard Bess, a book by a Baptist minister denouncing religious homophobia and pleading for greater tolerance.

This makes sense to me. In the more intellectual media, the wars about religion are posed as a clash between atheists and members of very small minority religions in America and everyone else. Republican politicians take advantage of this, pretending that there’s such a religion as “Judeo-Christianity”, and that everyone under that umbrellas is holding hands and singing together about how atheists and Muslims are undermining this country. But the reality is more complicated. Theocrats of the Palin stripe consider atheists and Muslims an unknowable Other, good for demonizing but very far away. Jews are also an unknowable Other, but they’ve been exonerated in the fundie mythology as of late, in no small part because it makes fundies feel superior to the theocrats in places like Iran because they don’t bash Jews non-stop. (Still, for all that fundies get that they’re supposed to like Jews because they’re the Chosen People, they still flocked to the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, so there’s a disconnect there.) But other Christians pleading for tolerance within Christianity are all too real to them. No wonder a book promoting Christianity was the first targeted by Palin—a different, more tolerant form of Christianity feels like more of a threat than atheism.

The ALA keeps track of book challenges, which luckily rarely result in censorship thanks to the strong wills and stalwart moral values of our librarian population, and it’s always interesting to see what books get challenged a lot and why. Right now, the assholes of America are mainly worried that young adults are going to learn about homosexuality. Before, the concern was that they’d learn about puberty. Hard to say which is a dumber concern, because both rest on the faulty premise that if they don’t know about it, they won’t become it. Books that address racism in this country are frequently challenged, and challengers will sometimes hide behind concerns about “racism”, when in fact their main concern is with dragging racism into the light so that we can kill it. Here are the books:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Harry Potter has fallen off the list and been replaced by Philip Pullman’s fantasy series “His Dark Materials” that rebuke C.S. Lewis’s religiosity and criticize religion in general. Maya Angelou is a perennial favorite for challenges, and so is Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War”. I haven’t read it, but it seems that its major offense, theme-wise, is that it deals with the struggle between conformity and individuality.

It’s also unsurprising that a sex education textbook has climbed into the top ten now that the battle between abstinence-only non-education and comprehensive sex education has grown fierce as proponents of the former lose out in the popular consensus.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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