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Unformatted text preview: 1Ali Haider Bray, Jennifer Portfolio II 3/28/2008 Censorship: Blacking Out The Words Words convey thoughts, ideas, and messages. They are powerful and can be highly influential. As with most things, there are good and bad sides to such a powerful force. Words can be used to harm or discredit an individuals as well as an entire group of people. In America, we have the First Amendment guaranteeing all of its citizens the freedom of speech, religion, press, petition, and assembly. The issue of banning or censoring certain books is a multi-faceted hot button topic that has sparked much debate and controversy. Should we selectively ban or censor certain books based on their content because they might destroy the morals of society or should we embrace the freedom of expression whole heartedly? For example, many of the books that have been placed on the ban list were supposedly promoting profanity, explicit material, and/or homosexuality. I will be examining the power and oppression dynamic involved with banning books, that is, how the power shifts from those who authorize the placement of a book on the ban list to those who might be seen as oppressed by not having access to the written word. To do so, I will examine the history behind censorship and banning of literature as well as some more contemporary examples. First of all, for the purposes of this essay I will at the outset explain that banning books falls under the category of censorship as it in essence disallows the whole portion of a book. Censorship has very deep roots. One of the first instances I have been able to find was the Stage Licensing Act of 1737. L.W. Conolly is a professor at the University of Guelph and writes in his book, The Censorship of English Drama 1737-1824, "it has been political fears which persuaded the original introduction of the censorship and it has very largely been political fears which has sustained it ever since" (Conolly 1). The Act which in essence gave approval to an arm of the government, was brought about by Lord Chamberlain in England. However, Conolly also writes that there has been censorship "for over two hundred years before the act was passed" (1). My point for bringing up this old historical fact of drama censorship is to give an overview of historical censorship, why it was done, and what the reaction to it was. Drama of the theatrical kind is an extension of literature and books so it is very relevant to the discussion. Before the power was in the hands of Parliament, censorship was unofficially done by managers who deemed it would be rejected by the audience due to the audacity or obvious offence that would be taken. Leonard Conolly also explains the audiences role, "[It] could still be ruthlessly altered by the audience...demanding the omission or revision of speeches deemed objectionable on moral, political, religious, or personal grounds" (Connoly 3). So power was initially in the hands of the masses until the Licensing Act was passed as the official means of censorship, essentially passing the power to the government. An example of censoring was the deletion of the following paragraph from Henry Siddons' The Sicilian Romance, "If those are our only recommendations, I am afraid we shall sleep in very damp Lodgings. Charity's an unfashionable virtue that never pops its head among the great; and for religion they never name it but to laugh at it." (6) This was a jab at the aristocracy of England at the time and Conolly explains that it would have been seen as seditious to the Examiner responsible for approving plays at this time (Conolly 6). Sarcasm or plays that could be classified as satires that criticized the government or the state of society were usually put down immediately. This means that the status quo would remain the same, deterring social progress and the development of new and fresh ideas. Another argument that Conolly brings up is the quality of dramatic literature. He writes that the, "[examiners] did not, of course deliberately set out to discourage the writing of good plays, but their determined efforts to prevent the involvement of drama in social and political discussion inevitably dealt the drama a crippling blow" (182). This means that without the involvement of commentary of the personal or social nature, or any debate on morals or religion and especially political engagement, drama was seriously handicapped and not allowed to progress. The reactions to this censorship was defense and acceptance by the general populace in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The reason swallowed by the public was that what occurred in theater was too important in it's political, social, moral, and religious consequences to allow the drama its freedom. America declared itself an independent country in 1776 and in 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified. This contains the First Amendment, which among other things protects the freedom of speech. So, if we are allowed to say what we want, according to the Bill of Rights, why was it that books are still censored and/or banned entirely? The same reasons that were discussed before come into play here as well. The government has a responsibility towards its citizens to protect them from harm. The question is, however, whether or not words have the ability to harm a citizen and what sorts of effects a book has on a person is considered harm. Curtis Bok, in his essay Censorship and the Arts, writes that "there is a constant strain between the right of free speech and the fear of it" (114). Bok cites a few books and why they were censored and destroyed. "...Don Quixote was once burned because of the sentence: "Works of Charity negligently performed are of no worth"...that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were once charged with corrupting the morals of children; that Jane Eyre was called too immoral to be ranked with decent literature..." (115) Bok tackles the subject of censorship or banning of books when he discusses the event of somebody's hypothetical daughter reading books that contain frank eroticism such as Lady Chatterly's Lover or even Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex. He argues that it is up to the parents and indeed if their daughters life is filled with the average amount of diversion in the way of schooling and homework, they will show little curiosity in such books (120). However, the hiding of such books and denial of the subject matter, in essence, an oppression of the readers, leads the oppressed to find other means to read up on such topics outside of the "library [and instead] behind the neighbor's barn" (120). His argument is that people deserve a "deliberate and informed choice of decency" (120) and that it is more honorable for that choice to be made out in the open rather than behind closed doors. Bok mentions the First Amendment but also makes an interesting point about the Fifth Amendment which denies the "taking of life, liberty, or property without due process of law" (122). He says that some people are worried about it overtaking the First Amendment as it allows for a great deal of police power within the confines of due process. This is a very interesting strain in the power and oppression dynamic of this topic. If we are allowed the freedom to speech and thereby to expression of all forms, then when do we give up this freedom to those in power such as the police. In the essay, Bok cites a court case of Whitney v. California in which Justice Brandeis said, "No danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion" (123). Lets examine two books that were banned in the United States, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The books was written by Mark Twain in 1876 and 1885, respectively. In 1876, The first book was first removed from the Brooklyn Public Library and the Denver Public Libraries (Haight 57). In 1905, the reasons given by the Public Libraries was that they were "bad examples for ingenuous youth" (57). However, the wrongdoings in Tom Sawyer can be looked at as a means of entertaining children and to enforce in them a love of reading, rather than as a subversion. The book does many things very well. It provides a very good window into the history of that time period and what things were like, including the prevalence of superstitions. In the book, the main character receives very little education and as a result he rarely has a place to sleep or even enough food to eat. In Huckleberry Finn, it was said to be obscene for the use of racist terms, and therefore not acceptable for publication. However, the main character befriends the slave, Jim, and treats him more humanely than his peers and even those older than him. It shows compassion and equality at a time when that was a largely unpopular stance. Another book that is more modern was The Catcher in the Rye which was published in 1951. Beginning in 1955, the book has seen its fair share of censorship attempts, most of them being successful. In Minnesota, a group attacked a high school administration for permitting it in the library (Haight 101). The book includes obscene language, sexual references, and violence. The character Holden Caulfield is racist, rude, sexist, and very confrontational. The first paragraph of the book highlights his character extremely well: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them". (Salinger 1) Michael Granberry, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article called Books Are Being Banned, in which he argues how books are increasingly being banned by both liberals and conservatives for multiple reasons ranging from sexual nature to messages of ageism and racism. A survey done by People for the American Way in 1991-92 showed that there were 119 cases in the Midwest, and the fewest were in the Northeast with 59 cases (Granberry 65). Despite some people protesting that this is a disturbing trend for a country claiming it to be a free democracy, the groups challenging the books say they also "care about democracy and [intend to do something about it]" (65). Robert Simonds of the National Assn. Of Christian Educators said, "There is a place for censorship...for security reasons, or because something is inappropriate" (65). John Whitehead, who is the president of a Christian legal foundation, argues that censorship was used to protect the public good and that those opposed to it are using it as a charge to slander decent people who just want to see morals taught in the classroom (65). One of the most recent books that is being criticized by censors is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series due to its subject matter involving witchcraft. When the book was released, the American Library Association was approached by parents who wanted to restrict the content of the book. Despite the Freedom of Press under the First Amendment, schools are not completely free to incorporate any piece of literature into the curriculum. Schools are torn between indecision. Linda Harvey writes in USA Today, "No school includes everything. Few public schools would accept books advocating drunken driving, bulimia or rape. And it's rare to find novels in school libraries about teens who proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ" (Harvey). Dominic Schmidt, a father and writer for the Los Angeles times writes, "The manipulation, lying, violence and rebellion in Harry Potter books are without a doubt unfit for young minds that don't have a strong safety net at home. This book series has the same sugarcoating used by the alcohol and tobacco industries and, for that matter, your local drug pusher, as well as the clever marketing that the publishing companies use to lure us into thoughtless choices--many with lifelong consequences (Schmidt). Renowned author Judy Blume had this to say about the recent banning of Harry Potter books: "The real danger is not in the books, but in laughing off those who would ban them. The protests against Harry Potter follow a tradition that has been growing since the early 1980's and often leaves school principals trembling with fear that is then passed down to teachers and librarians. What began with the religious right has spread to the politically correct...And now the gate is open so wide that some parents believe they have the right to demand immediate removal of any book for any reason from school or classroom libraries. The list of gifted teachers and librarians who find their jobs in jeopardy for defending their students' right to read, to imagine, to question, grows every year"(Blume). Books by Judy Blume, including Forever, has been the target of censors in the United States. What seems to be the major contention with religious right groups about the Harry Potter books is its idea of situational ethics. The Harry Potter series has, "roots in a devilish invention called situational ethics, the idea that values can be relative. The religious right, firmly believing in absolutes, does not want anyone discovering alternatives. Situational ethics has hit the schools like an epidemic, they feel it must be wiped out" (Cain 601). John Gardner's Grendel was published in 1970, and has been regarded as a book having valid reasons for being banned. It is an alternate view of the poem "Beowulf", which was written hundreds of years ago, author- unknown. It tells the same story, however, it is told from Grendel's point of view. The story begins and ends in the spring, and in between you are told of the torturing of men and their towns by the villain. The reason for this book to be censored, is the great detail and imagery that is used to describe these events (Gonzales). Grendel is the type of book that has been both praised as well as criticized for its content. (Grappling).This is a differing in opinion on the content. Some critics praise its ingenuity and openness. However, when those critics that argue that it is much too violent and described in much too detail, they are referring to the terrorization of Hrothgar's kingdom (Sova, 150-152). Another opinion that such critics take are the nihilistic and existentialist viewpoints of Grendel that they deem unsuitable for children of a young age (Gonzales). Parents generally agree with this line of thought, citing the extreme violence being unsuitable for children and the school curriculum (Sova. 150-152). However, there is the converse side of the argument which uses many of the same arguments of the other side. When they look at the gloomy and vengeful viewpoints of the main character, they say that it helps to bring out the moral side of the book. They claim that it is a very important extension of the original poem, "Beowulf" and extends the themes of "Good vs Evil" even further than its predecessor (Gonzales).Proponents of the book being a part of mainstream America and the school curriculum say that the violence shows the fantasy of Grendel and above all his frustration with man (Grappling). Those supporters also say that as the book is about a villain, violence is unavoidable and wishful thinking (Grappling). Another reason that opponents have for censoring Grendel is the Dragon. The Dragon in the novel is a depressing character who is highly cynical despite Grendel's high praise (Gonzales). The viewpoints and gritty and graphic violence are concerns for censorship (SFReader). There have been very few groups that have tried to censor and as a result ban the book. Parents of a student from Douglas, Colorado tried to get the book banned after the student complained about the book. John Sheehan, was a member of the Board of Education member at the school and agreed that it was a disturbing book that was "gut-wrenching, existentialist, and very nihilistic" (Gonzales). At a Viewmont school, a mother gathered some support, and mustered up a crowd that utilized the Freedom of Assembly and Petition to protest against the book. They were successful in that the school decided on a policy that would make the board review all of the books, and see if they were proper to be taught in the school (Grappling). Ultimately, Grendel has been a failed attempt on those who are in support of banning certain books. It is not banned in any schools and neither is it censored. However, most schools will teach the book at certain grade levels and ages, whereas some are more liberal in their allowance of their reading material (Gonzales). Those who feel that the books should be banned, would consider themselves oppressed in a society that they think is losing its morals. They feel that education should be free from literature that represents anything that they see as obscene. As a result, they have pushed back as previously seen, in an attempt to regain power by forming groups of like-minded individuals. They bring pressure down on the librarians and school boards to ban certain books. This is a grab at regaining power that they see as having been lost. However, on the opposite side, there are many who are looking at the banning of books as being oppressive by hindering their right to read the material they wish. They fight back the censors, trying to keep books with literary merit off of the banned lists. Their attempt at regaining power is in direct conflict with the other group and so it seems to be a strain that goes back and forth between the two groups. When looking at the arguments that have been presented, I noticed trends in the types of rhetoric used by both sides. Throughout the discussion of the effects that such books have on young adults and society in general, those who supported the banning of books widely used the pathos mode of persuasion. Much of their arguments tried to appeal to the emotions of mainly parents and those who had a stock in the youth of the country. Their arguments centered around the degradation of morality and how the obscenities contained in certain writings were harmful or detrimental to the mental and emotional health of young children. The other side fired right back with a pathos argument of their own that the banning of books is an infringement upon the personal rights of citizens of this country. The appeal to peoples sense of freedom is a very strong one and borders on a logos argument. They argue that if we are banning books and the written word then we are in effect disregarding the First Amendment that protects speech and press. They draw conclusions from one act to another act. Both sides used the ethos appeal, citing professionals such as authors and religious group leaders as their spokespersons. These are useful in making the audience much more prone to receiving a message from a given speaker. A good example of this was the censored author, Judy Blume, speaking against censorship. What becomes very clear in this debate is who those are that are paying the price, good or bad. The conversation centers around society and the youth. One side claims that it is protecting the youth from harmful messages, while the opposing side argues that it is educating and opening the minds of the youth, preventing them from becoming mindless automatons. Clearly, there is a difference in interpretation of those freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights depending on what your objective is. We have seen that both sides view themselves as being oppressed by the others and are fighting for power. Proponents of banning certain books seem to have a looser interpretation of the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment and adhere more strictly to protecting the minds of the youth. Those against banning books are very staunch in their support and strict in their support of the First Amendment freedoms seeing any restrictions as authority stepping on their freedoms. Society, in the world and the United States, over the ages obviously reflects those in power as opposed to those who are oppressed. As I discussed previously, the spoken and written word has been censored for a long time. However, over time, great leaps have been made in removing books that were previously banned from the ban lists. This reflects the tension in the power and oppression dynamic between the two groups, exquisitely. There are books that are still censored and removed from school and public libraries, however there are also books and graphic novels that have escaped the hands of the censors. Both groups have utilized the freedom of assembly to combat efforts by the other group to achieve their own ends. Groups have been created and people on both sides have utilized their access to the news outlets to get their message out. Dominic Schmidt, who was previously quoted, writes for the Los Angeles Times, and used his article to present his conservative point of view utilizing a pathos line of reasoning to reach his readers. The conservative side of the debate has had much success by assembling and bringing pressure on the school committees and public libraries to achieve their goals. Clearly, the protest by both sides has voiced their oppression as well as sparked action. Those who are in favor of banning books have set a moral precedent for establishing themselves while those against banning books have argued the legal precedent for their own establishment. Both sides say the opposite about permanent damage being caused by the other group to the society. The censors claim that society is being corrupted by the allowance of obscenities by the other group whereas the other group claims that society is being damaged by censoring ideas, thoughts, and expressions. The controversy is a highly complex issue that has been around for a long time and is still going on to this day. It shows no sign in decline as it is one in which both sides win small victories but neither delivers a crushing blow to the other team. The power shifts in one direction and the oppression swings to the other side and vice versa. Works Cited Blume, Judy. "Is Harry Potter Evil?" The New York Times. 22 Oct. 1999. 17 Nov. 2000 http://www.lexis-nexis.com/universe. Cain, Michael Scott. "Crazies At The Gate." Portals Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking. Eds. Mary T. Segall and William R. Brown. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999. 599-608. Connoly, L.W. The Censorship of English Drama 1737-1824. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1976 Gardner, John C. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books. 1970. Gonzales, Lee Ann. "Douglas county (Colorado) News-Press". Is Challenged book really optional?. 25 Dec.1996. Douglas county News-Press. 9 Nov. 2002. <http://douglas.lib.co.us/your_community/news press/961225.html> Grappling with Grendel or what we did before the censors came. Feb 1997. NCTE-Kenneth L. Zeeman. 5 Nov. 2002. <http://www.ncte.org> Granberry, Michael. "Books Are Being Banned." Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints. Dr. Byron L. Stag. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1997. 64-69. "Harry Potter faces biggest foe yet in book censors." USA Today. 6 Sept. 2000. 17 Nov. 2000 http://www.lexis-nexis.com/universe. Haight, Lyon Anne. Banned Books. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1970 Harvey, Linda. "Protect our Kids." USA Today. 6 Sept. 2000. 17 Nov. 2000 http://www.lexis-nexis.com/universe. Karolides, Nicholas. Literature Suppressed On Political Grounds. New York: Facts on File, Inc. 1998 Schmidt, Dominic. "Choice, Not Censorship, Is the Issue Over `Harry Potter' in School." Los Angeles Times. 7 Nov. 1999. 17 Nov. 2000 http://www.lexis-nexis.com/universe. SFReader: Grendel by John Gardner. 2 Feb. 2002. SFReader.com. 9 Nov. 2002. < http://www.sfreader.com/read_review.asp?ID=40 > Sova, Dawn B. Banned books: Literature suppressed on Social Grounds. New York: Facts on File, Inc. 1998. ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course ENGL 1302 taught by Professor Bray during the Spring '08 term at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi.
- Spring '08