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Book Less

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964

You know the old puzzle: if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?  Using that logic, if a book is published, and no one finds its content offensive, is it obscene?

Obscenity seems to be subjective.  Right-wing extremists certainly feel that way, as they have (once again) assumed the role of moral overseer and decided they have the authority to determine what books are and are not appropriate for others to read.  To we writers and other artists, the term censorship is like holy water to a devil worshiper: it’s terrifying!  Whenever we learn that some people are challenging the presence of certain materials in a public venue, such as a library, we bristle.  But, instead of running and hiding, we’ve been known to stand and fight.

In the latest battle, the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee decided to ban the 1986 Art Spiegelman book “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” from its library.  The illustrated tome is Spiegelman’s recounting of his parents’ experiences as prisoners of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.  It won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize and, in 1992, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition displaying his original panels for the story“Maus” had been party of the school district’s lessons on the Nazi Holocaust.  The McMinn school board’s complaints about “Maus” are the usual gripes: language and nudity (animal nudity in this case).

It’s worth noting McMinn County, Tennessee is near the location of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, where the concept of evolution became intensely controversial.  In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, a bill banning the teaching of evolution in its schools.  Evolution, declared legislators, contradicted the Christian Bible as the single standard of truth in public arenas, such as schools.  The move astonished – and frightened – many across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded immediately by vowing to support any educator in the U.S. who dared to teach evolution.  A popular young high school teacher in – of all places, Tennessee – named John Scopes offered to be the defendant, if the state decided to make good on its promise.  They did.  On May 7, 1925, Tennessee authorities arrested Scopes and charged him with violating the Butler Act.

The ensuing legal battle made headlines across the country and the world.  The judge in the case showed his deference to the state by opening each session with a prayer and refusing to let Scopes’ defense call any scientific witnesses.  Ultimately Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.  The ACLU hoped the case would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Tennessee State Supreme Court reversed the decision on a technicality.  Still, the repercussions were widespread.  The Butler Act was never enforced in Tennessee again, and similar measures in other parts of the U.S. met with failure.  But progressives realized they could never relax in the face of extremist ideology.

So, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century, where the U.S. has come out of two brutal Middle East wars and is now facing an onslaught of urban violence.  We experienced 36 mass shootings in the month of January, resulting in 101 injuries and 42 deaths.  That’s just in the month of January 2022 alone!

But, as usual, social and religious conservatives are more upset with books.  In October of 2021, Texas State Representative Matt Krause asked the Texas Education Agency for information about 850 books in school libraries.  He wanted to know how many copies of these books were in each library.  It didn’t surprise observers that the majority of the books are by women, non-Whites and/or LGBT authors.  The imperial Krause is concerned that taxpayers are funding the presence of these books in school libraries.  Yet, my tax dollars are wasted if those books are removed because he and other like-minded folks find them unacceptable.

Some disputes have become hostile.  Police in Leander, Texas got involved in a controversy over one book, “Lawn Boy” in 2021.  Author Jonathan Evison says he received death threats because of it.  Texas – where any restrictions on guns is considered anathema – isn’t the only state under siege by moral zealots.  Similar attempts at censorship and assaults on free speech have played out in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“If I had a statement, it would be ‘Read the book or sit down,’” says Evison. “I feel like these people are frightened because they’re losing the culture wars.”

Yeah!  Sit down and read – more than the Bible or the TV guide.

I will concede parents have the right to be concerned by what their children view and read.  But I feel banning books from a school library is just one step away from banning books in any library or elsewhere.  It’s truly not an unrealistic stretch to envision such a scenario.  The world has witnessed such activities in totalitarian societies, and the results are often sanguineous.

Once again, though, what is obscene?

The 1920s was a decade of both progress and excess, particularly for the growing film industry.  Although silent and in black-and-white, movies had begun to show a variety of mature content – mainly heavy alcohol consumption and sexual behavior.  Concern over the material became so intense that, in 1934, Will H. Hays – then head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – introduced his personally developed “Hays Code”, a standard production guide for what is and what is not acceptable content for motion pictures.  The code remained until 1968, when the MPAA introduced its film rating system: G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance recommended), R (Restricted) and X (mainly for sex, but also for violence).

By the 1960s, films were presenting increasingly controversial subject matter – and headaches for the MPAA.  The 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” shocked audiences with its blatant use of foul language and served as one catalyst for the rating system.  The 1968 film “Vixen” became the first movie branded with an X rating.  The following year John Schlesinger released “Midnight Cowboy” with Jon Voight in the titular role.  It, too, was branded with an X rating.  Despite that, it went on to win the 1969 Academy Award for Best Picture – the first and (to date) the only X-rated film to win such an honor.  Viewing both “Vixen” and “Midnight Cowboy” now might make somebody wonder what the fuss was all about.

The film rating system took an odd turn in 1983 when a remake of the classic film “Scarface” came out.  The MPAA initially granted the movie an X rating because of its excessive violence.  Director Brian DePalma reluctantly trimmed some of the footage, and the film was rebranded with an R.  If it had gone out with the X label, “Scarface” would have been the first movie released as such because of violence.

Another X controversy arose six years later with “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”.  The film’s gratuitous sexual content garnered an X rating from the MPAA.  As with DePalma and “Scarface”, director Peter Greenaway reluctantly agreed to edit out a small portion of the sexual matter – small as in some 5 minutes – and the film was upgraded to R.  The fiasco upset many in the entertainment community – not just in the U.S. but across the globe.  If the difference between an R and an X rating is a paltry 5 minutes, then how valid is a film rating system?

What is obscene?

In the 1950s, the Hays Code was applied to a growing new medium: television.  In motion pictures, the code, for example, dictated that people of the opposite sex could not be filmed in bed together, unless one of the duo (usually the man) had at least one foot on the floor.  In TV, however, even married couples couldn’t be shown in the same bed.  The rule went into effect after a 1947 episode of “Mary Kay and Johnny” showed the title characters hopping into the same bed.  But that taboo dissolved completely in 1969 with “The Brady Bunch”.  Bathrooms also were generally off-limits in television.  One exceptional first was a 1957 episode of “Leave It to Beaver”, when the boys tried to hide a pet alligator in the tank of a toilet.  An early episode of “All in the Family” produced another first: the sound of a toilet being flushed.

As mundane as all of these events are today, they each sparked a ruckus at the time.

Personally, I find excessive violence offensive.  I never laughed when I saw men and boys get struck in the groin in slap-stick comedy scenes in films and on television.  I grimace at bloody acts in similar venues, while others react as if nothing more than a sharp wind blew past them.  Conversely, many of these same individuals are horrified by the sight of blatant nudity, especially if the nudeness is that of a male.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but even as recently as the late 1960s words like pregnant and diarrhea were forbidden on television.

The word “bitch” is used frequently on TV today.  But, in 1983, a musical group called Laid Back released a song entitled “White Horse”, which features the line: ‘If you wanna be rich, you got to be a bitch.’  MTV played the video, but bleeped out the term “bitch”.  In 1994, Tom Petty released “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, which contains the line: ‘But let me get to the point, let’s roll another joint.’  Music video networks deemed the ‘roll another joint’ verbiage unacceptable and bleeped it out whenever they played the video.

In 1989, rap group 2 Live Crew released two versions of their song “Me So Horny”: what they dubbed the G-rated version and the R-rated version.  Radio stations played the G-rated version frequently, but the R-rated version generated the most strife.  At the start of 1990 a federal judge in the state of Florida considered the group and their music obscene and in violation of community standards – whatever that’s supposed to mean – and forbid local radio stations from playing any of their music.  Consequently, 2 Live Crew’s reputation and music sales skyrocketed.

I remember the controversy that erupted with the video to Madonna’s 1990 song “Justify My Love”.  Once again, music video networks assumed the role of moral protectorate and either refused to play the video or played it late at night, when children and other fragile souls – such as moral crusaders – were asleep.  Undeterred by the skirmish, Madonna packaged the video and sold it independently.

In 1965, The Rolling Stones made their debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, during which they performed a sanitized version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”.  Producers convinced the group to sing ‘Let’s spend some time together’ instead.  Lead singer Mick Jagger leered at the camera – in the way only Mick Jagger can – when he spat out the words.

Two years later The Doors were presented with a similar option when they made their appearance on the show and performed their already popular and now seminal hit “Light My Fire”.  Sullivan’s son-in-law, Robert Precht, suggested they alter the line ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher’ to ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much better.  The group refused and performed the song as it was.  Their act of defiance resulted in their permanent ban from the show – a move I know upset them to no end.

I’ve noticed social conservatives haven’t raised concerns about inappropriate material in books like “The Anarchist Cookbook” and “The Turner Diaries”.  The latter served as a blueprint for Oklahoma City bomber (domestic terrorist) Timothy McVeigh.  If conservatives really want to ban books with sexual references and violence, they should start with the Christian Bible, which is rife with salacious and unsavory behavior.

Meanwhile, “Maus” has experienced a surge in sales as a result of the squabble surrounding it.  If there’s one way to ensure something’s popularity or success, it’s to try to ban it.  In other words, censorship always backfires.

Yet, censorship will always remain a threat to freedom of speech, expression and the press.  The war will never be won – by either side.  But those of us on the side of true freedom can win individual battles by standing up to self-righteous demagogues.

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Worst Quotes of the Week – February 5, 2022

“Here’s a quick thought experiment: If AOC was fat and in her 60s, would anyone listen to another thing she ever said?”

TV personality Adam Carolla, about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to FOX News commentator Sean Hannity

Carolla, creator and co-host of the now-defunct “Man Show”, argued that while the 32-year-old politician is “young, vibrant and beautiful,” and “everyone’s always putting a camera and a mike in her face,” her “opinions are idiotic 95 percent of the time.”

“If you’re going to do this, then let’s be truthful about it, because the Holocaust isn’t about race.  It’s not about race.  It’s about man’s inhumanity to man. That’s what it’s about.”

Whoopi Goldberg, on The View

Goldberg made the comments during a discussion of how the Nazi Holocaust-centered graphic novel “Maus” was banned by a Tennessee school board.  That school board banned the book, Goldberg said, because there were complaints about the novel containing nudity and bad language.  “The minute you turn it into race, it goes down this alley.  Let’s talk about it for what it is – it’s how people treat each other.  It’s a problem.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white because Black, white, Jews – everybody.”

Goldberg apologized the next day for her comments, but ABC announced immediately they had decided to suspend her for two weeks.

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Best Quotes of the Week – February 5, 2022

“There have always been efforts to censor books, but what we’re seeing right now is frankly unprecedented. A library is a place of voluntary inquiry. That means when a student walks in, they’re not forced to check out a book that they or their parents find objectionable. But they also don’t have authority to say what books should or shouldn’t be available to other students.”

Carolyn Foote, a retired school librarian in Austin who’s helping to lead the #FReadom campaign

#FReadom campaign is a grassroots effort to fight back against book challenges (translation: censorship) in Texas.

“Well, if you are digesting Russian misinformation and parroting Russian talking points, you are not aligned with longstanding, bipartisan American values, which is to stand up for the sovereignty of countries, like Ukraine but others.  Their right to choose their own alliances, and also to stand against, very clearly, the efforts or attempts or potential attempts by any country to invade and take territory of another country. That applies to Sen. Hawley, but it also applies to others who may be parroting the talking points of Russian propagandist leaders.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in response to a reporter’s question about Sen. Josh Hawley’s suggestion the U.S. not support Ukraine in its ongoing efforts to thwart a Russian invasion

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Banned Books Week 2021

This week begins the annual “Banned Books Week” which lasts through October 2.  The yearly event is sponsored by the American Library Association and promotes literacy, free speech and a free press.  It’s the regular battle against the self-styled, self-appointed overlords of what is supposedly proper and improper for everyone to see and read.  I’ve always believed this should be a year-long event, as free speech and free press are under constant threat – not just in, but in totalitarian regimes, like North Korea, but even in open societies, such as the United States.

Keep writing and keep fighting!

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020.  A total of 273 books were targeted for removal, but here is a list of the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books.  Some are familiar classics, while others are new arrivals.

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

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Best Quote of the Week – May 8, 2020

A first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” that was auctioned in 2013. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District in Alaska removed the book and others because of sexual references and other language that the district viewed as inappropriate for teenage readers.

“Of course it can. All great literature makes us uncomfortable, because it addresses what makes us fully human. That includes our worst traits, like hatred of those who are different from us. So if your goal is to shield kids from discomfort, you’re going to have to censor a lot of really good books.”

Jonathan Zimmerman, education and history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, on the ubiquitous hypocrisy of liberals who want to ban books using racial slurs from grade and high school curriculums, yet remain silent about the banishment of other books by equally well-known authors with equally controversial subjects and verbiage.

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Banned Books Week – September 22-28, 2019

Once again, it’s time for “Banned Books Week” – the annual event where we free speech advocates and other enlightened souls are forced to counter the anger of the holier-than-thou crowd who somehow feel imbued with the power to tell everyone else what they can read and see. Help support literacy and education. It’s they’re the best tools against ignorance and arrogance. This is a battle we’ll never win.  But it’s always worth fighting!

Here’s a list of the most frequently challenged books, categorized by year and by decade.

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National Banned Books Week 2015

Old Covered Books on Table HD Wallpaper

Today is the official start of “Banned Books Week” here in the U.S.; the annual counter-assault against the angry and the self-righteous who dare to tell the rest of us independent thinkers what we can and cannot read. It’s a relentless battle.

This year the theme is “Young Adult” fiction. YA fiction, as it’s more commonly known, is the newest fad among adventurous scribes who want to help teenagers cross the troubled bridge into full-blown adulthood; the period of life where people learn the hard way that they aren’t the center of the universe. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one highly successful example. Despite its popularity, it has garnered its own share of conservative protestors. I really can’t understand that. Within the context of American mythology, “The Hunger Games” has everything: violence, racial exceptionalism and plenty of bad luck. I mean, people getting shot down like wild animals. What’s more American than that?

One of the more curious books being challenged is Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born Loretta Pleasant in Virginia in 1920, who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. It’s not her brief life or tragic death that is necessarily so compelling. It’s not even the fact she died of cervical cancer. It’s what resulted from her death, and the variety of ethical challenges her situation posed. The type of cervical cancer she developed was unique; something oncologists at the time had never seen. Shortly before Lacks’ death, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed two samples of the cancer – without her knowledge or permission. They ended up in the laboratory of researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who noticed the cells were unusually durable. Gey isolated and multiplied some of the cells, producing a line he dubbed “HeLa.” The HeLa line would go on to assist cancer researchers in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps the most famous outcome was the cure for one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Jonas Salk used the HeLa line to develop the polio vaccine, which was approved for general use in 1955, after only three years of testing. Immediately thereafter, other scientists began cloning the HeLa cell line; since then, over 10,000 patents involving the HeLa cells have been granted.

The Lacks Family didn’t learn of these advances until 1973, when a scientist contacted them, wanting blood samples and other genetic materials. For them and many African-Americans, this scenario reminded them of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study;” perhaps the most egregious and blatant example of medical racism in the U.S. The tale of Henrietta Lacks is nonetheless a compelling study of medical research and medical ethics. But one idiot in Knoxville, Tennessee has a different view: she calls it pornography. Parent Jackie Sims found Skloot’s book inappropriate for students at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The term “inappropriate,” of course, means: ‘I don’t like it, so no one else should have access to it.’ Sims apparently equates gynecology with pornography. The term “cervical” surely sent her frail mind into a tizzy. Her precious on was given an alternate text (maybe something along the lines of a Disney coloring book), but Sims – like the typical self-righteous curmudgeon – wants Skloot’s tome to be banished from the entire school district. Fortunately, district authorities haven’t backed down, and – as of this writing – the matter is still under consideration.

For a complete selection of this year’s frequently-challenged books, check out this list. Then go out and buy, or download, one of them and read it, if you haven’t already. Remember, true freedom begins with the written word.

Banned Books Week on Twitter.

Banned Books Weeks is partnered with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

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Save the Books!

“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.” – Epictetus.

I should have mentioned this sooner, but this week is officially “Banned Books Week.”  It’s a celebration of the freedom to read whatever you want, whenever you want.  “Banned Books Week” started in 1982 in response to several challenges to textbooks and other literary pieces in schools across the U.S.  The sudden surge of conservative ideology at that time was a beleaguered backlash against the supposed threat of liberalism.  Some people – mostly of the religious bent – suddenly felt they knew what was proper for the rest of society to read.  But, no society is truly free and democratic unless all people can read and write and all eligible citizens can vote.  Here in Texas, even moderates have had a hell of a time striking back against the archaic conservatives of the state school board, which unknowingly made Texas the laughing stock of the nation and the world.

According the American Library Association, there 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011; many others may have gone unreported.

Here are the 10 most challenged titles of 2011:

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

I still find it amazing – actually appalling – that, in the U.S., nudity and sexuality are considered obscene, while violence – even in the extreme – is viewed with flippant disregard.  Other countries have it right in that they regard violence as the true obscenity.

Please also check out the Literary Freedom Project, which has the same goal.  While this officially only lasts until October 6, we can never let down our guard for the sake of literary freedom.

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Shades of Erotic Fascination

E. L. James

Feminists and religious conservatives may not like this, but sex sells.  That’s certainly evident with E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades” erotica trilogy, which is selling faster than expected.  Book suppliers and libraries are having a tough time keeping pace with it.  Even its British author has been surprised by the popularity.  Last month Vintage Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, released “Fifty Shades” in paperback.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” has become the most popular book in library circulation, with more holds than anyone can recall for a single title.  The Hennepin County Public Library, which includes Minneapolis, had 2,121 holds as of May 18.  The books tell the tale of a dominant-submissive affair between a manipulative millionaire and a naïve younger woman.  And, while some libraries such as Hennepin County feel the need to make it available to the public, others have no qualms in pulling it from their shelves.  The Brevard County Library in Florida did just that recently, deeming its subject matter inappropriate for public consumption.  As if adults can’t figure out what’s appropriate for themselves, Don Walker, a spokesman for the Brevard County government, said, “We have criteria that we use, and in this case we view this as pornographic material.”

In Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the library didn’t order copies, saying the books didn’t meet the standards of the community.  In Georgia the Gwinnett County Public Library, near Atlanta, declined to make the books available in its 15 branches, saying that the trilogy’s graphic writing violated its no-erotica policy.

Last week several organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, sent a letter to the library board in Brevard County scolding it for refusing to stock the book alongside standards like “Tropic of Cancer” or “Fear of Flying.”

“There is no rational basis to provide access to erotic novels like these, and at the same time exclude contemporary fiction with similar content,” the letter said.  “The very act of rejecting erotica as a category suitable for public libraries sends an unmistakable message of condemnation that is moralistic in tone, and totally inappropriate in a public institution dedicated to serving the needs and interests of all members of the community.”

Joan Bertin, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said in an interview that it was unusual for a library to remove a book from its section for adults.  “The vast majority of cases that we deal with have to do with removing books to keep kids from seeing them,” she said.  “That’s what makes this so egregious.  There are some possible arguments for trying to keep kids away from certain kinds of content, but in the case of adults, other than the restrictions on obscenity and child pornography, there’s simply no excuse.  This is really very much against the norms in the profession.”

Marcee Challener, the manager of materials and circulation services for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries, said that library officials there carefully considered the book before ordering it, but ultimately decided that it was no different from one of the paranormal romances featuring vampires that have been popular for years.

“There’s sex and eroticism in many well-written literary novels,” she said.  “It’s part of the human experience.”

Indeed, it is, and censorship of any kind is antithetical to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free speech and a free press.  As a writer, however, I’m still amazed that some self-appointed moral authoritarians feel the need to determine what’s in my best interest.  I don’t care for any religious texts, such as the Christian Bible or Jewish Torah.  But, I would never prevent anyone from reading them if they wanted. For your own enjoyment, you can check out the “Fifty Shades” series here.

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What’s a Bigger Crime – Censorship or Self-Censorship?

It’s bad enough there are always people who feel they know what’s best for everyone else.  The current debate in Congress over birth control is testament to that.  But, as a fiction writer, I know all artists will offend someone somewhere at some point in time.  In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously stated that he couldn’t define obscenity, “[B]ut I know it when I see it.”  If obscenity or offensive material is purely subjective, then how can free speech and a free press conflict with community standards?  I guess it depends on whose standards you’re talking about.  Personally, I don’t feel that nudity or sexuality is necessarily obscene.  But, I find violence offensive.  It seems most Americans feel the opposite.  Yet, I think when artists start censoring themselves to placate the masses – or worst, an oppressive totalitarian regime – then the true spirit of creativity has been butchered.  In years past, writers and poets in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations lived in fear that their own works could be not just professional, but personal suicide.  Now, China is in the spotlight, as its writers are subjected to growing levels of censorship in a country that is increasingly becoming a major player on the global stage.

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