Tag Archives: censorship

Are You There, Reader?

Graphic courtesy of the American Library Association.

Graphic courtesy of the American Library Association.

My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don’t do this, we don’t ban books. But then they did.

Judy Blume, The Guardian (July 2014)

I read Forever by Judy Blume in the 6th grade. (Incidentally, that’s the same year I discovered the Flowers in the Attic series. I’m eternally grateful that I read Forever first; who knows what I would have thought of sex otherwise.) Of course I passed it along to my friends. One friend in particular kept getting “caught” with it (seriously, worst hider ever.) Her mother returned it to me twice. She told me if I gave it to her daughter again, she’d tell my mom. And I was like, “Lady, who do you think gave it to me?”

She wasn’t the first friend not allowed to hang out with me and she wouldn’t be the last.

Forever

Written in 1975, Forever is the very real, very intimate love story of high school students, Katherine and Michael. They meet at a party and rapidly fall in love. Can their love last? (Of course not, they are 17.) It was written at the request of her teenage daughter, Randy.  Blume says, “She was reading all these books, where a girl succumbed [to sex], she would be punished, sometimes she would die. And Randy said, ‘Couldn’t there ever be a book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die?'”

Michael and Katherine “do it” and no one dies!

WOW, does that make people angry! Forever is Blume’s most banned/challenged book (and this is the lady that wrote Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? and Deenie!)

Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Frequency of sexual activity and sexual descriptions
  • Use of “four-letter” words
  • Does not promote abstinence
  • Does not promote monogamous relationships
  • Demoralized marital sex
  • Disobedience to parents is shown
  • Talks about masturbation
  • Talks about birth control
  • Sexuality
  • Lack of moral tone
  • Sexual passages inappropriate for young people

So. I guess it’s the sex. Thankfully for every censorious jerk, there are a million women who were educated and touched by her books. And a lot of those women became librarians, who write letters. Get your Kleenex.

Amanda Palmer wrote a song about Judy Blume!

Now go read something sexy!

suzy

 

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“Where there’s red smoke there’s usually Communist fire.”

What do Leonard Bernstein, Dashiell Hammett, Langston HughesGypsy Rose Lee, Alan Lomax, Arthur Miller, Zero Mostel, Pete Seeger, William L. Shirer, and Orson Welles have in common?

They all appear in Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, which was first released on this day in 1950.  The Library of Congress describes it succinctly:

In June 1950, three former FBI agents who had created American Business Consultants, a vigilante organization to combat communism, issued Red Channels, a booklet listing 151 people connected with the broadcasting industry whom they suspected of subversive activities. The publication listed organizations and activities with which each individual had “reported” associations. Along with in-house private lists, Red Channels was adopted by the radio and television industries as a blacklist to deny employment to those named.

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, it gets even crazier once you wade into it:

The purpose of this compilation is … to indicate the extent to which many prominent actors and artist have been inveigled to lend their names, according to these public records, to organizations espousing Communist causes. This regardless of whether they actually believe in, sympathise with, or even recognize the cause advanced. (p. 9)

Looks ominous.

Let’s for a moment ignore the fact that “inveigled” is an awesome word that doesn’t get used nearly often enough, and focus on the fact that you could end up on this list even if you didn’t believe in Communism. Even if you didn’t know or care about Communism. Damn, that’s harsh.

To a modern reader, the variety of “subversive activities” listed within is both confusing and hilarious. According to Red Channels, those sneaky Communists intend to destroy America by attending spring balls, supporting Paul Robeson, entertaining at anti-Fascist rallies (isn’t that a good thing?), trying to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (that one’s a big no-no), reviewing Russian poems, sending telegrams to the President, and sponsoring milk drives.

Telegrams and milk drives. Wow.

If you’d like to learn more about this depressing, paranoid, and just plain weird chapter in American history, look in our catalog under Blacklisting of Authors – United States and Blacklisting of Entertainers – United States. You’ll find books like these, and more.

                         

For easy, clickable fun, here are a few web resources.

I learned about Lord Haw Haw in college. Neato.

The title of this post comes from an August 15, 1949 editorial in Broadcasting magazine, quoted on p. 6 of Red Channels. The full editorial, pictured at left, is taken from AmericanRadioHistory.com.

Subversively yours,

Amy (once again not writing about Film or Audio)

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Banned Books: the Top Ten Most Disturbing Novels (and more)

Continuing in the spirit of this year’s recent Banned Books Week event here at the library, submitted for your approval and/or disapproval is a list, in ascending order, of the Top Ten Most Disturbing Novels, as compiled by The List Universe.

  • Justine by the Marquis de Sade

I’m happy, in a disturbed kind of way, to say the library has 9 out of 10 of the novels available for circulation; the one that is currently unavailable (and can be obtained via Interlibrary Loan) is in the process of being replaced.

Of course, one’s definition of disturbing may significantly vary from more traditional definitions. Some find Theodore Dreiser or Lewis Carroll or Oprah Winfrey or even Pittsburgh’s beloved Mr. Rogers a bit unsettling. Whatever your cup of meat, as the poet said, it’s all a matter of taste, or a decided lack thereof.

So, did The List Universe pick the right 10 disturbing novels? Are there any other more disturbing novels or ones on the list that shouldn’t be there at all?

For my money, Joyce Carol Oates’s The Rise of Life on Earth ranks right up there with the most disturbing novels I’ve ever read. Suffice it to say that if you like clinical detail in your discomposing prose, this may be just the ticket. Or perhaps evil spawn is more up your street. In that case, Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child might disturb you all night long. They both did me in, in compellingly different ways.

While pondering these deep philosophical questions, one thing you may be assured of: when it comes to banned and disturbing books, the library will proudly defend your right to read and enjoy them (or not).

Perhaps this is all a bit too disquieting and you’d much rather go for a laid-back kind of vibe. The following should do the trick. Be forewarned, however; there are some folks that find this type of thing unsettling, indeed.

– Don

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