Bad Takes: Even As We Celebrate Forbidden Book Week, Texans Continue To Call For School Board Censorship

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  • Courtesy of Hulu
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which became a television series on Hulu, was taken out of class.

Bad Takes is a periodical column of opinion and political analysis.

“There she coveted her lovers, whose genitals were like donkeys and whose emission was like horses. – Ezekiel 23:20, 6th century BCE

“I can feel his mouth O Lord I have to stretch I wish he was there or someone to let me go and come back like that I feel all the fire in me or if I could dream it when he made me spend the 2nd time tickling him behind me with his finger, I would come for about 5 minutes with my legs around him, I had to hug him after O Lord, I wanted to scream all kinds of fucking things or shit or whatever “. – James Joyce, Odysseus, 1920

Banning a book in the internet age is one of the cheapest exercises in futility imaginable. Yet as the Divine Republic of Texas looks more and more The Handmaid’s Tale, with forced childbirth now the law of the land, Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel was withdrawn from English classes in a school district northwest of Austin for the offense of “inappropriate literature.” And Atwood is far from the only one.

As many teachers can attest, hell doesn’t have a rage like a conservative Christian parent of a teenager who has learned to think for himself. Since last fall, the Leander Independent School District Board of Directors has been forced to take this lesson the Torquemada way. (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) ​​Earlier this month, one of its members resigned in protest over his own failure to protect young minds from provocative readings.

The hubbub is coming just in time for Forbidden Book Week, which now runs through October 2. Dozens of compelling authors can count on free censorship publicity while the rest of us receive a sobering reminder of why tireless defenses of free speech are so urgent. in 2021 like a hundred years ago when every copy of Joyce Odysseus mailed was cremated by the US Postal Service.

Public commentary at Leander’s school board meetings, like so many across the country, was the height of respectful disagreement and discretion. Last February, a parent very tastefully brought a pink sex toy to the speaker’s table to foreshadow the debauchery that awaited readers of Carmen Maria Machado’s domestic violence memoir, In the dream house. This prompted the author to write an editorial for the New York Times, “Banning my book will not protect your child.”

“Book bans in America are not new,” Machado wrote. “As long as there have been writers, there have been reactionaries chasing them. (Boston held its first book fireworks in 1650.) Today in the United States, books featuring black characters , Latin, native, queer, or trans – or are written by authors who identify themselves that way – often make up the majority of the American Library Association’s annual list of the 10 most frequently censored books in libraries and schools. .These book bans deprive students of a better understanding of themselves and one another. As a writer, I believe in the power of words to cross borders in a time of deep division. more than ever, literature matters.

Crossing the borders of her own private Gilead was not what another spectacularly humorless Leander parent aspired to when she took the mic on September 9 with her poor son in tow – a child who looked old enough to have look at pulp Fiction at least one time. Nor was he spared the embarrassment of hearing his mother talk about “cocks” 11 times in just three minutes, usually in conjunction with “sucking” or “tugging.” She also dropped a few “whores” and “shits” – profanities that she meticulously counted in Jonathan Evison’s first 66 pages. Lawn boy.

As it turns out, the novel she apparently never finished can be dismissively reduced to a single sentence in which the main character, now grown up, recalls a childhood sexual experience: what I could think of as he spoke to me with the rim of his cappuccino was his little salamander between my fourth grade fingers, quickly engorged with blood. “That’s it, folks, that’s all you need. to know, nothing more to see here. Except that if she had no qualms about repeating this word in the presence of her son, she surely believed at least one high school student sufficiently mature to handle such language without his brain breaking into a thousand pieces because of sheer depravity?

For the record, the School Library Journal, an American magazine for librarians published monthly since 1954, praised Lawn boy with the advice: “Give this exciting coming-of-adulthood story to adolescents who want to engage in pressing and topical political issues.” Unfortunately, these don’t seem to be the kind of young adults that kind of parents want.

This parent’s self-canceling presentation ended with a poster displaying the misspelled word “PEDOPHIL” in all capitals, but not before she accused the school of “sexual harassment” for filling the shelves. of such an abomination and, instead of filing a complaint through the usual channels, promised to contact the police. What she did. And, according to the dispatches, the cops are investigating the case. On a book. In a library. In America.

Hope no one alerts this mother to James Baldwin’s existence Giovanni’s bedroom, still the most poignant and moving portrait of homoerotic love between two young boys that I have not yet read.

The point is, anyone can pick an obscene passage from a worthwhile work of fiction. Would devout religious deny young people the chance to read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount because of the donkey-sized genitals and horse semen spewed out in the Bible verse quoted above? In the opinion of this atheist, this is a bad take.

I wish I could tell you that the more than 42,000 Leander students are the only ones caught in the sights of an unforgivable and unnecessary controversy, but moral hysteria about this kidney has grown in recent times. At Eanes ISD just south, Kyle Lukoff’s Call me Max, a healthy book about a trans child, was censored in March, as it did in Utah in February. Two weeks ago, the grand mayor of Hudson, Ohio issued a stupid ultimatum to the entire city school board to quit immediately or face prosecution for a book of ‘college writing prompts – yes, writing prompts – that the high school principal had already grabbed. students. Officials at Amazon, which offers this book, may be surprised to learn that they are trafficking “child pornography”.

The tenor of these fabricated scandals is more performative than protective, but there is very real concern that charges such as “sexual harassment” and “grooming” and “child pornography” may start to lose their bite after this latest wave of abuse. reckless trivialization. From Citizen Dildo to Spelling Bee Champ, however, we have to admit that these parents are right, as the late Professor Richard Rorty acknowledged in the 1990s:

“Their argument is that we liberal teachers feel no more symmetrical communication when talking with fanatics than kindergarten teachers who talk with their students. the post-war period attributed ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ The racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society, students should not be forced to read books by such people – Blacks, Jews, homosexuals. They will protest that these books are stuck in their children’s throats. I don’t see how to answer this accusation without saying something like, “There are references for admission into our democratic society, references that we liberals have made it tougher by doing our best to excommunicate racists, chauvinists, homophobes, etc. So we will continue to try to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of its dignity, trying to make your views appear silly rather than questionable. We are not inclusive enough to tolerate intolerance like yours. I have no difficulty in offering this answer; Rather, I think these students are fortunate to have come under the benevolent authority of people like me, and to have escaped the grasp of their creepy, vicious and dangerous parents. ”

On the crest of that same wave, not all the news has been disheartening. Last Monday, after weeks of student-led protests, the Central York School District in Pennsylvania lifted its so-called “freeze” on anti-racist educational resources, including Beverly’s Marvelous Daniel Tatum Why Are All Black Children Sitting In The Cafeteria Together: And Other Conversations About Race.

Score one for the black voices that matter.

Maybe the generation that lived through George Floyd’s murder and COVID doesn’t need the pampering. What is indisputable is that the Conservatives can put together a hell of a reading list, even without wanting to.

Another author who shares Atwood’s honor of having his book, Out Of Darkness, retired by the Leander Inquisition is Ashley Hope Peréz. She will sit down with columnist Chris Tomlinson to celebrate Forbidden Book Week this Tuesday, September 28 at the Carpenter Hotel in Austin. Click here for more information.

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