Thursday, October 1, 2009

Banned Books and the Guardian

The Guardian has published a list of the top 10 "Banned Books" in the United States.

Being The Guardian, stalwart defender of the snarkerati everywhere, it can't resist going on an anti-religious rant, targeting those convenient whipping boys, "American Fundamentalists"

As Pullman's high ranking shows, religion is another major cause of complaints, and within that an important subset are books featuring witchcraft. The subject was put in relief this week when Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for George Bush, alleged in his new memoir of life in the White House that Bush had refused to grant JK Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing "encouraged witchcraft".

Okay then. That's surely evidence that "religion poisions everything...."

Some of the most cherished books in the American literary cannon have fallen foul of censorship rows by dint of their language or sexual content. (sic)

Oh dear. Whatever will the American Artillery Corps (Literature Division) do?

Dr. Swift is a strong advocate of the freedom to read. If The Guardian's list of banned books were actually banned (in the sense of being prosecuted by the government, burned in the streets, their writers persecuted, etc.), then we have no problem with highlighting the fact, and would join in the chorus of condemnation.

But looking at the list, alongside the breathless "sex, violence, homosexuality, witchcraft" which the Guardian repeats with glee, we notice something else:

"Inappropriate for age group"

Okay then. So what we're really talking about is parents who think, say, Uncle Buddy's Wedding (to another man), or books with mature themes in general, are too "old" at the moment for the kids in the school, and their child in particular.

That is at least arguable (although we may still disagree about it)--unless, of course, our Masters in the elite want to give every baby a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover bound in with Lolita as a Christening present.

State schooling is compulsory. This means values conflicts like this are inevitable, and to a point valuable. But a little less breathless pontificating about Academic Freedom Under Threat (which it isn't, at least not where the Guardian thinks), and a little more analysis of the actual conflict (past a second-hand swipe at Bush, and an odd Georgia woman on a single-handed crusade against Harry Potter (oops, looks like the theocrats are weaker than we thought))--a little more of that kind of analysis would help.

That is, actual news, and analysis, not prejudice. A bit too much to expect from The Guardian.

By the way, Philip Pullman (who Dr. Swift regards as a good writer, although not an agreeable one) ends the article:

As for Pullman, he confidently expects to be back in the top 10 next year.
His forthcoming book, a novel for adults, is called The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ."

Ah, the deathless march of Progress!

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