“The harms of censorship”

Banned Books Week highlights the injustice of letting a select few decide our morals

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

I was recently informed in a casual conversation that this week — the last week of every September, in fact — is “Banned Books Week” and asked if The Omega would be doing anything in celebration of that fact.

Strange, I thought, that one who spends so much of his time dealing with words (and in fact is about to receive a post-secondary degree in English rhetoric and professional writing) has not heard of such a celebration.

I knew, of course, a bit about the history of banning books — stereotypically a practice done in the southern U.S. by school boards who don’t want kids to encourage kids to think critically or read about the history of racism. At least that’s what I think most people around these parts think of when they hear about books being banned.

But there’s obviously more to it than that.

“Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read,” says the “about” page at bannedbooksweek.org, before linking to the American Library Association (ALA) website about the same cause.

“By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship,” states the ALA.

This is the crux of the issue.

“The harms of censorship,” as an ideal is not so easily broken down into a nice little package about how people should have access to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it’s a classic coming of age story and regarded as one of the great pieces of American literature more than it perpetuates racism or encourages the misbehaviour of children.

The ideal of censorship is far more than the discussion about what we should or should not have access to. It’s about who should or should not be allowed to decide what we have access to.

An article on The Huffington Post this week, in celebration of this discussion, provides the seven most cited reasons for withholding pieces of literature from the public.

They are (in no particular order, as there is no empirical data provided to back up these claims, but it’s a decent place to start, anyway) offensive language, sexually explicit, homosexuality, violence, religious viewpoint, drugs and nudity.

Who gets to decide what kind of language is “offensive” to people? We certainly can’t give that right to a chosen few in the government, can we?

Which drugs fall under this complaint? The single dad who needs his coffee in the morning before heading off to work might qualify as a candidate for “encouraging drug use” depending on how it’s portrayed.

Then again, he would most certainly qualify under certain “religious viewpoint” discussions if the mother of his child is still alive but no longer a member of the nuclear family.

“The harms of censorship” are exactly this idea. The idea that a select few of us get to decide what values held by society are worth challenging (or a better term for it would be “allowed to be challenged”) within that society.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s right.

Did you know that the Merriam Webster Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary have been banned by school boards in the past because they contained definitions of words in the English language that were decided by said school boards that children shouldn’t be allowed to know?

“When did this happen?” you ask, assuming that such a thing must have been way back in the middle of the 20th century — or even before that.

That happened in California in 2010.

Go read a book that’s been banned and decide for yourself if it offends you.

I’d recommend picking something with a bit more plot than a listing of the words in a language, though.

One Response

  1. Alex Sep. 24, 2013