Don’t Ban What You Don’t Understand

Our literary taboos tend to reflect the things that terrify the majority of society. I vividly recall July 3rd of 2008, when I got cornered by two friends while discussing the required reading list for a middle school in Olathe (or somewhere in that area). One, a father of a child a couple years away from middle school, ranted that one of the books has homosexuality and bestiality in it, and damn it, that’s not okay for kids! Except the whole discussion (if it could be called that) became about sex education in schools and, eventually, political conservativeness.

This discussion wasn’t about homosexuality or bestiality or even the book1 but about the fear that someone else, some stranger, was going to teach this man’s son about sexuality — and in his personal dogma, that’s a moral issue.

I’m okay with people being offended by the content of a book — everyone cannot like everything. I’m troubled by the message a lot of teen books send to teenage girls, but so be it. My friend is troubled by certain books in his son’s curriculum, and he is welcome to discuss alternative reading with his son’s teacher. These are personal issues, and we are by all means free to take these personal soapboxes and engage in discussion with whoever will listen. We are welcome to say, “No, Child, you will not be reading Abraham Bosnick’s book,2 because I don’t think you should be reading about one zombie’s battle against syphilis.”

It’s not okay to then decide that no one should read about zombies struggling with syphilis and start fighting to ban Rotting in Love3. It is no single person or group’s right to tell another person what they can and cannot read. Banning books isn’t about banning a single book, but about silencing an idea. When a couple parents in the Blue Springs’ school district went a crusade to ban the book Hold Still, they were doing it to keep swearing, sex, and suicide away from kids because they found it unseemly.

That’s what it’s all about — pushing aside things that make us feel like we’re losing our grip on our social and moral values. It’s hard to question the things built into us, and when we ban books we’re rejecting the very idea. We’re refusing to think. Scan the banned book list from last year and you’ll see a prevalent pattern in the books, mostly called to be banned from schools:

  • Banned for sexual content, either for being explicit or “deviant.”
  • Banned for language.
  • Banned for drug use.
  • Banned for “glorifying” some social construct, or undermining one seen as “right.”

If a book is truly offensive — rightly and totally fucked — then it’s going to fade into obscurity because no one will want to read it. Remember when Amazon.com pulled that book defending pedophilia? That is a perfect example of a book that is downright offensive, as opposed to one that merely offends soccer moms on the PTA.

Conversely, when you fight to ban a book you bring it to the limelight. Instead of letting the book get quietly ignored it gets picked up by a banned book list, where people are encouraged to read just to remind the people trying to ban books to mind their own business and keep their personal issues out of other people’s reading.


1. The book never even got mentioned by name; I’d love to be able to compare his complaints with the content.
2.
Behind the veil! I had to Google to make sure that Abraham Bosnick wasn’t an author. Not as far as Google can tell, so if he is — rough break, dude.
3. I am becoming Abraham Bosnick, author of Rotting in Love. This is happening.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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