While visiting the Evanston Public Library earlier this month, I came across a brochure advertising their events for Banned Books (awareness) Week. I know book banning and censoring has been a trend throughout world history, but I was surprised to find that it is still considered a legitimate enough problem to merit a national awareness campaign every year.
Sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Association of American Publishers, this event has been observed since 1982 and is geared toward supporting complete freedom of expression, regardless of whether one’s point of view is or is not traditional. While certainly a noble cause, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a necessary campaign. In the 21st century, in a country founded on the ideals of free speech, do people really think some books should not be published or distributed? As I unfortunately discovered soon after, the answer is yes.
According to the American Library Association Web site, their office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 “challenges” last year suggesting that certain material should be removed from schools, libraries, and other public places due to their content. While still a form of censorship, “challenges” differ slightly from “bans” since they suggest that certain material be removed only from specific locations, not barred from the entire community.
Of the ten most challenged authors of 2007, one is a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Toni Morrison), another was called “the father of American literature” by William Faulkner (Mark Twain), and another has twice received the Newbury Medal for Children’s fiction (Lois Lowry). Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings claims the prominent number eight spot of the top ten most challenged books of 2007, just under The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at number five and above The Perks of Being a Wallflower at number ten.
With such highly regarded writers and books appearing time and time again on the ALA’s list of challenges, one begins to wonder what the people making these requests could possibly be so afraid of: their children learning something beyond a pre-determined list of acceptable morals? Rebellion against the ‘right’ and ‘true’ values of our country? Complete social chaos? For Charles le Jeune, a student at Hillsdale college in Michigan, the desire to restrict literature appears as nothing more than a reaction to values of the liberal society he abhors. Unlike most of the 420 challenges referenced on the ALA’s website, le Jeune not only encourages the banning of certain materials, but also the burning of them.
On his controversial Facebook group, le Jeune brazenly insists that anything written from a non-Catholic point of view, is deemed worthy of death by flame. This extensive list includes–yet is not limited to, –classic works of fiction, such as Les Miserables; religious texts, such as the Quran; and historical documents, such as the United States Constitution.
In its self-penned description, his group’s page unapologetically claims that “a silly stigma — formed upon little contemplation — resulting from five centuries of foul liberal culture, has acted to enshrine awful ideas and thoughts merely because they are presented in books with the imprimatur of some publisher.” A strong proponent of the return of Catholic monarchies, le Jeune has accumulated just over 200 young people to join his cause. As disturbing as his message may be, certainly le Jeune still has the right to proclaim it — why then does he insist the opposite for those who disagree with him?
While most of the over-protective parents submitting challenges to the ALA certainly don’t have anything like le Jeune’s intent in mind, it is still necessary for us to remember how almost all censorship leads to greater destruction. Throughout history, when any government has attempted to entirely control the cultural pursuits of its subjects, repression, rebellion, and fear have risen. Since supporters of book banning often remain unnoticed, few consider the grievous effect their policies, if instated, would have on our quality of life. Perhaps we should remember more often that, as Oscar Wilde said, “the books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”