Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’

It’s Banned Books Week (Sept 30- Oct 6), organized each year by the American Library Association (ALA). The awareness campaign was founded in 1982—the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York school district could not remove Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five from its middle-school and high-school libraries. Well, barely. The court was sharply divided over this decision, split 4-4 as to whether limiting the books would violate the students’ First Amendment rights. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger actually sided with the book banners. The swing vote was cast by Justice Byron White, who concurred with the four that wanted to limit the school board’s ability to withhold books, but he refused to comment on the First Amendment issue. Er, I’m no lawyer, but denying books to students seems a pretty clear violation of both “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press.”

It was close call, but that ruling hasn’t stopped Slaughterhouse Five from being barred repeatedly from school bookstores and libraries, as recently as 2007 in Howell, Michigan. Other frequently banned classics include high-school favorites like A Separate Peace, by John Knowles; As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner; The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; and just about everything written by Hemingway, Orwell, and Steinbeck. Check out the ALA’s list of the Most Frequently Banned and Challenged Classics.

Back in 1918 when James Joyce’s Ullysses came out it was banned from publication in the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and England. Sylvia Beach famously came to the rescue by printing and selling the book from her Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. In 1940, U.S. Post Office actually declared Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls “non-mailable.”

But censorship is not something of the past. Right after the first The Lord of the Rings movie debuted in 2001, a pile of Tolkien’s books were burned outside a church in Almagordo, New Mexico, for being “satanic.” Clearly, these people had not actually read the books (or seen the movie). In 2010, a California school district banned Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary owing to “explicit definitions.”

Last year, the ALA reports there were 326 attempts to remove books from school curricula and/or libraries. The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2011 include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (both repeatedly challenged in the 21st century). Of course, the list includes The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, just as a few years back the target was on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I confess, I feel a bit squeamish about younger children reading The Hunger Games, but that’s a decision for their parents—not the state … or the local town council, seriously?

So celebrate our right to read this week by reading a banned book … or any book. Check your local library for Banned Book Week events. Also, don’t miss the Virtual Read-Out on YouTube. Passages from banned books will be read in video clips by celebrities, famous authors, and just about anyone who wants to upload to the channel. Read on.

30 Year Timeline of Banned Books Week

Top Ten Banned Books of 2011

List of Most Frequently Challenged Classic Books

Banned and Challenge Classics: History by Book

BBW Virtual Read-Out on You Tube

Bookman’s Does Banned Books on You Tube

Flashback Post: Banned Books Week 2011—Celebrate  Celebrate our Right to Read

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As today, January 29th, is the birthday of Thomas Paine, I thought it would be appropriate to address freedom of the press … and on the Internet. Paine was a “pamphleteer” who self-published and distributed many essays including Common Sense, which rallied the colonists to war for independence. John Adams famously proclaimed that “without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” Throughout the American Revolution, Paine continued to publish his pamphlets, collected in The Crisis, which spurred on the rebel cause.

If he were around today, Paine would not be a politician or a pundit on TV, but a blogger. His approach was grassroots, much like that of the masses who rose up during last year’s Arab Spring, sharing their thoughts and organizing their protests via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

It’s pretty clear that freedom of expression on the Internet is inherently tied into freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This has been a hot topic lately, with the recent SOPA blackout and yesterday’s Twitter blackout. I do support the need to protect copyrighted material and understand the frustration of the movie companies and other copyright holders—I try to always link to the official clip, like I did with the Hobbit trailer, or use free clipart. But, there were some draconian provisions in SOPA/PIPA. Internet providers could be forced to block user IP addresses, like they do in, um, China. Also, if someone posted a link to copyrighted material, say as a comment on a blog, that blogger could be held legally responsible and thus shut down. What a relief that these bills have been sent back to the drawing board.

Saturday’s #Twitterblackout protested the announcement that Twitter will begin censoring individual tweets at the request of any country’s government. Hello China and Iran. Reports charge that this new policy is tied to a $300-billion-dollar investment made by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talaj.

However, Josh Cantone at Mashable argues that Twitter’s change will actually aid political activists by highlighting the censorship enforced by these governments. He also says it will be pretty easy for users to get around the censorship. That may prove the case, but I still took part in the #TwitterBlackout. I knee-jerk react against anything that looks to, in any way, limit our freedom of the press. Ok, it was kind of silly, everyone tweeting about how we weren’t tweeting. But it sent a message. Also, the AP reported that “many of the tweets calling for a boycott of Twitter on Saturday—using the hashtag #TwitterBlackout—came from the Middle East.”  So how could I not show solidarity with people who are fighting for the freedoms that we in the US sometimes take for granted?

Also worrisome is the concern that Twitter will begin to kowtow to corporations, who are already sending requests to block specific tweeters and tweets. Check out more than 4000 such corporate cease-and-desist orders.

Whatever you think about Occupy Wall Street, it was pretty scary and Orwellian that such massive civilian protests (with so many arrests!) were not reported by any major media outlet for nearly a month. The only reporting or coverage was online. I was reading the Hunger Games at the time, and it reminded me of the whispered, and covered-up, rebellions in Panem. Chilling. One could almost argue that keeping protests out of the media is as powerful, or more so, than actually suppressing them. After all, it was Glasnost that brought down the Soviet Union, just as social media fueled the Arab Awakening. Information is empowering. Without freedom to exchange information, how can we monitor and protect our other constitutional rights? The Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals. I’m a capitalist, but this is deeply unnerving.

It’s not just political barriers that are being broken down by online dialogue. The Economist reports that bloggers have improved and expanded “the global conversation about economics.” The blogosphere has spotlighted economic theories and ideas that have been largely ignored by academic circles, “advancing bold solutions to America’s economic funk and Europe’s self-inflicted crisis.”

So going forward, I hope we’ll continue to be wary of attempts to regulate or circumscribe voices on the Internet. As Paine said, “such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.”

Thomas Paine via Wikipedia

Pampleteer Thomas Paine Would Be A Blogger

The New Yorker: Was Thomas Paine Too Much of a Free-Thinker?

Twitter’s New Censorhip Plan Rouses Global Furor

Twitter Blackout: Taking a Stand in Solidarity

Computer World: The Real Reasons Why SOPA/PIPA are Real Bad

The Guardian: Stop SOPA or the Web Really Will Go Dark Says Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales

Work Hits Gone Dark to Protest SOPA/PIPA

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The books that the world calls immoral are the books
that show the world its own shame.–Oscar Wilde

Click for interactive US flag of banned book images.

We expect to hear stories like this out of China, which banned Animal Farm “because it put humans and animals on the same level.” But did you know that last year, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary was yanked from all schools in a California district? That ban only lasted a week, but right now many schools continue to enforce censorship. A Virginia district has banned A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. Slaughterhouse Five is currently banned from schools in Missouri.

I was shocked to learn that revered classic To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the most challenged books of 2009. And last year, seminal dystopian novel Brave New World was one of the top three disputed books. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight are the books that seem to make the list of Top 10 Challenged Books in classrooms and libraries year after year. I guess someone does not want kids reading.

In the United Kingdom, some libraries have actually blacklisted The Diary of Anne Frank. Other banned notables there include All Quiet on the Western Front, Madame Bovary, Black Beauty, and, gasp, The Canterbury Tales.

The American Library Association is sponsoring Banned Books Week, to highlight this issue and to celebrate the freedom to read. Get involved:

1.) Call your local library and offer support if they are getting pressure to remove any books from their shelves.

2.) Read a Banned Book:

Most Frequently Challenged Books in US

Most Frequently Banned Books in UK

Banned and Challenged Classics

3.) Visit the Virtual Read-Out on You Tube.
For clips of people, including famous authors, reading from their favorite banned books. Upload a your own video!

4.) Support organizations that get kids reading:

First Book—New Books to Children in Need

RIF—Reading is Fundamental

Uprise Books—Ending the Cycle of Poverty with Banned Books

5.) Check out More Links on Banned Books

Banned Books Week

Top 10 Challenged Books of 2010

Banned Books Trivia Quiz

Five Best Banned Books Made into Films

Time Magazine’s Top 10 Censored Books

NPR Interviews Penguin Editor about Banned Books

Twain Book Returns to Library Shelf 105 Years After Being Banned

Sherlock Holmes Banned by School District in Virginia

Slaughterhouse Five Banned in Republic Missouri

Merriam Webster Banned in California and other Banned Dictionaries

Clickable US Flag Made of Banned Books

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