Posts Tagged Censorship

Of Books and Men

This is a difficult road to walk down, as it requires a very clear delineation as to what I am about to defend.  So I want to start by clearly stating what shouldn’t need stating, just so I am on the record.  What Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing is wrong on the absolute base level.  Wrong, inexcusable, and indefensible.  Nothing but nothing in this post should be seen as excusing any act Sandusky is accused of, or the acts of people around him who did so little to report what they knew was happening.

That’s a heavy start to a post, but this is a heavy topic.  Two heavy topics, really.  There’s what Sandusky did, and there’s what some Amazon want done.

Back in 2001 a biography of Sandusky came on the market.  It was called Touched.  I will pause now for everyone to consider how bad that title has become in retrospect.  It focuses on his life up through the founding of the charity that he is now accused of using as a front to gain access to his victims.  It’s a glowingly positive portrayal of the man, and why wouldn’t it be?  At the time he was known as the driving force behind Penn State being called Linebacker-U.  There was nothing to indicate that he was engaging in any sort of inappropriate behaviors.  Books don’t magically change when new facts come to life, that just isn’t their nature.

Touched fell out of print a few years ago.  It’s now available only through third-party sellers, and still listed on the Amazon website.  This is ruffling feathers, and some are calling for the book to be pulled from the website, for the company to act like it was never written, that it never existed.  This call for censorship of the book has not been acted on by Amazon, and I want to go on the record and state: I hope it isn’t.

See, this is the part where I squirm a little, and go pointing back to my opening paragraph.  I am not defending the man.  I am defending the book.  As I tend to defend books, as I have in the past when the specter of censorship has raised its ugly head.  It’s why I was against the PG-ification of Huck Finn.  It’s why I wrote in favor of Banned Books Week.

Censorship is a slippery slope.  It always has been, and it always will be.  Once begun, it’s hard to keep that line in the sand, that arbitrary point at which one thing is okay and one thing is to be considered vile.  It starts out very simply with things that everyone can agree on, but it walks down a path where 90% of people agree.  Then 80%.  All the while, more and more is being swept under the carpet.  Shunted away.

It’s easy to say this is a First Amendment issue.  It isn’t.  The First Amendment clearly starts, “Congress shall make no law…”  However, that doesn’t keep this from being a free speech issue, and while the Amendment is not applicable to Amazon, I should certainly hope that it remembers why it exists.  That popular speech never needs to be protected.

I understand there is a lot of emotion involved in this issue, and I feel it too.  I was shocked and disgusted when the allegations came out.  I can understand in the heat of the moment wanting to see some kind of justice, and pulling the book would be nice immediate gratification in a case that will likely linger for awhile before coming to a conclusion, which will never be an entirely satisfactory one.  But the book is not the man.  And this is a nation founded on such concepts as not pulling books about people we find distasteful or downright disgusting.  And Amazon, for better or worse, is becoming one of the chief scions of information in this digital age.

So hate the man.  Go ahead.  I won’t stop you.  But don’t pull the book.

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Fuck Censorship

Words.  Words are an interesting things.  They’re combinations of letters and related sounds (or sounds and their related letters) that have been given, in many cases, largely arbitrary meaning behind them.  Anyone who has sat and repeated a word over and over until it’s lost meaning knows the odd sensation of suddenly realizing just how arbitrary the connection between words and meanings can be.  Is there any specific reason that the letters c-o-w and their related sounds should refer to a grass munching delicious quadruped?  Or that r-o-s-e should refer to fancy sweet smelling flowers.  Shakespeare understood this.

And there are some words that have more incendiary meanings.  String the letters f-u-c-k together and the result is one of the most versatile words in the english language, and also one considered the most vulgar.  And when you string the letters n-i-g-g-e-r together, well, things can get a little more hairy.  The word has been given an undeniably ugly meaning, and has a very profound history within American race relationships.

Some would argue, with a certain validity, that the word has superseded fuck, or even cunt, to become the most vulgar word in the English language.

But the word exists.  It has its history.  And there are times and places when it should exist.  And one of those times and places is in the novel Huckleberry Finn.  However, there’s a new push to censor the word nigger out of Huck Finn (as well as the word injun, which is getting less press).  I could not be more against the move.  It’s not because I like the word, but because I like English literature.  And because I like the idea that thoughts might not be censored.

Do not misunderstand, while there are people looking to defend this move with the idea that it puts the book into more students hands, it is a move of absolute cowardice.  It is a move that does nothing but emphasize the power of the word as a word to hate, as it puts it in a special place as the word that gets censored out of our literature.  When I went to high school, I read on assignment Huck Finn.  I also read several novels as assigned that included the word fuck.  If the existence of the word nigger is taking the book out of the hands of students, the solution is not through an act of censorship, it’s through an examination of what we let school children read and why.  At what point does the potential discomfort of a subject invalidates it as a subject that should be taught in schools?

Ignoring words doesn’t make them not exist.  Talking about language, talking about how the history of the word and race relations in the United States are shown through the use of the word, that makes it valid as a word within context and as a teaching tool.

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