No Wonder I

I think I may have finally figured out why I’m so messed up. Yes indeed, the answer was staring me in the face, and has been for years. Now why am I in such a state of disrepair? Well, I’m in my forties, and I’m still single. To many Americans, that alone qualifies me to be arrested. There are some other “things”: I like to watch a lot of science fiction. I’ve seen every episode of that fine early 60’s television show, “The Outer Limits”, at least five times. In fact, I own my favorites, purchased on VHS tape when they were available. And when the series is released on DVD, I’ll probably buy them as well. (Are you listening, MGM/UA?) When I was a teenager, a great Saturday afternoon would be spent in front of the television, watching “The Outer Limits”, followed by “Creature Feature”. Creature Feature was a local UHF program that showed all those silly-but-good, cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950’s. Pretty sad, yes? Oh, yeah, I also collect slide rules, and if you are too young to have ever used one of these fine pieces of human ingenuity, it’s really a shame. Oh sure, calculators’ work just fine, but there is nothing like a solid, well-made Slide Rule in your hands, and actually seeing “how it all works”. But enough of that.

You want to know the reason that I, and a lot of other adults, am so messed up. Well, I can’t speak for others, but for me, the reason is simple:

I have read banned books!

Yes, that’s right. I didn’t listen to those wonderful people, who have made it their sworn duty to make sure that as youths, we don’t get corrupted by reading the wrong books. Nope, I went right ahead and read “Tom Sawyer”, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Both of these novels, written by Mark Twain, are banned from the Concord, MA. public schools. Yes indeed, a historic town, where battles were fought in the name of freedom, has banned two pieces of American literature from school libraries. The reason, according to the school board, was “due to alleged racism, and the use of the “N” word. Well, I have read them both, prior to aged twelve, and I don’t think I’m a racist.

A search on the good old Internet, done with any commercial search engine, reveals a wealth of web sites dealing with banned books, and some of the outrageous, silly reasons for the ban. Here are but a few. Oh, not all the information I have been able to find is “up to date”. Some of goes back to the early ’90s, and earlier, but you’ll get the idea.

“Leaves of Grass”, Walt Whitman. Explicit language in some of the poems. Objected to by parents and some teachers, in several school districts around the country.

“Howl”, by Allen Ginsberg. Now, this is something I have not read, but one of these days, I will have to get around to it. Seems a lot of people just don’t like it, since it deals with sexuality and madness, and what poet Ginsberg terms the destruction of the greatest minds of his generation.
Hmm. Sounds like it might be good for rainy, cold afternoon.

“American Heritage Dictionary”. Yes indeed, a dictionary, a staple item in schools everywhere. This one was “challenged” but later returned to school shelves in Churchill County Nevada, in 1993. Seems some teachers and “school authorities” didn’t like the inclusion of swear words.
But I’ll bet the kids loved it.

The Handmaids Tale”, Margaret Atwood. This was taken out of the Chicopee, MA high school class reading list, because it contained profanity and sex. Well ok. I can see where you may not want your eight-year to read this, but at the high school level, what could the problem possibly be?

“Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley. Challenged by the Corona-Norco, Calif. Unified School District, in 1993. The reason? Because it centered around negative activity. It was retained however, and students were permitted to pick an alternative if they found this work to be objectionable.

“Carrie”, Stephen King. Ahh, good old Stephen King. Seems a lot of his novels are banned in a lot of places, for a variety of reasons, but “explicit sexuality”, and “Satanism” seem to come up a lot. Now that’s darn strange, I just thought they were fun to read, and I have yet to have any desire to put on a hooded robe and go out, looking for a goat to sacrifice. (By they way Mr. King, “The Stand” and “The Dead Zone” are two of my faves.) As King himself has stated, most of his novels are the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries”.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm K. Grimm. Seems the folks at Kyrene, Ariz. elementary schools don’t appreciate the “violence” and what they term “Negative Portrayals of female characters”. Well, I do seem to remember “wicked step mothers” really taking it in the chops in a lot of fairly tales. One would be tempted to think it’s because there are so many “Step Mothers” today. But that couldn’t be, could it?

Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger. This was required reading in some of my high schools English classes, but I somehow escaped it. But it was challenged in the New Richmond, Wis. School High school as required reading, in 1994. Seems it “centered on negative activity”. There’s that “negative activity” again. Nuts, I must be missing something. Will someone please tell me exactly what that is? It was also challenged in the Goffstown N.H. school system, where it was called “Vulgar” because of the “sexual exploits” depicted in the story. And to think the reclusive author lives a few towns away from Goffstown.

“Harry Potter”. Well, it seems that a lot of people think that the little dude with the glasses, created by British Author J.K. Rowling, is trying to lead their offspring down the road of Satanism and witchcraft. Boy, I don’t know. I tend to think that some adults, school authorities in particular, just can’t stand to see kids have a good time, no matter how harmless the activity. Harry is banned in a lot of school districts in the Deep South, and some are calling for public burning of Harry Potter books. Book Burning was done before, at another point in recent history. It turned out badly.

“Goosebumps”. R.L. Stein. Parents and “School Authorities” don’t care for these either for the same reasons they don’t like Harry. I’ve never read any of them, but I enjoyed the TV version of the tale about the girl who gets a hideous Halloween mask stuck to her head. Nope, darn thing won’t come off. That was pretty cool. How does this tempt a kid to Satanism? Beats the heck out of me.

(Personal note time. I had a homeroom teacher in seventh grade, who, upon catching any student with a copy of “Mad Magazine”, would not only confiscate it, but tear it up before the students eyes. She would then cap this action off with a facial expression of dark, leering victory. Well guess what Miss Carp? I still read “Mad”, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I’d love to know just what it is about “Mad”, which scares the crap out of school officials so much.)

“EC Horror Comics”. Published in the mid-1950’s by William M. Gaines.
These included the three very popular titles, “Tales From The Crypt”, “Vault of Horror”, and “The Haunt of Fear”. Each story was about a bad guy/bad gal, getting what’s coming to him/her. Kids loved them, but of course, most parents and “do-gooders” couldn’t stand for it. Horror comics were even the subjects of congressional investigations. In the end, Gaines stopped publishing them, as did every other publisher. Then, every comic book sold had to have the famous “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” stamp on it, or it would not be sold anywhere. Strangely enough, even after banning horror comics, some kids still grew up to be criminals. How shocking.

In the early ’90s, Publisher and friend of Bill Gaines, Russ Cochran, reprinted the entire EC horror comic’s line, from start to finish. Thanks Russ!

The Bible.
Challenged as “obscene and pornographic,” at the Noel Wein library in Fairbanks Alaska, in 1993. Challenged, but then retained in the West Shore Schools, Harrisburg PA, in 1993. Apparently it contains material, which they feel is “inappropriate for children of any age”. They somehow concluded that there were more than three hundred examples of obscenities in the book.

Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell. First, let me say that if I had to pick one, single novel as my favorite, this would surely be the one. I’m not certain how many times I have read it. I wrote a book report on it, senior high-school year, and earned an “A”.

One would expect this tale of a totally controlling police state to be banned in such places as the old Soviet Union, Cuba, and East Germany. In fact, it was banned in all countries behind the Iron Curtain. Possession of it in North Korea still gets you declared “mentally ill”, and earns you a hospital stay, where the state “helps you to get well”. (Read, they beat the crap out of you, until you do what you’re told, just like what happened to Winston Smith in Orwell’s novel)

It’s banned, or challenged, in a lot of school districts here, because of the “Sexual content” and violence. Strange, that a novel about state mind control is banned. I wonder if “school authorities” are afraid that some of the kids will learn something from Orwell’s novel that some “authorities” would rather they didn’t.

So, book banning, and, in some cases, book burning, still goes on, here, in America, in the year 2002. I find this ludicrous. One has to wonder just what it is about “Harry Potter” that bothers some “school authorities” so much. What’s really disturbing is knowing that these “book banners”, whoever they are, and wherever they are, will not just stop at getting books banned from schools. Nope, next, it will be public libraries, (“Playboy” magazine was banned from the Wellesley, MA public Library)
bookstores, and finally, private residences. Yes, I do believe that. Think it can’t happen? Head on over to some of those sites, read the information, and think about it again.

I’ll end with some quotes about book burning, and book banning, from three people who had strong hands in forming out nation.

“Don’t join the book burners . . . .” — Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States, 1953Ð1961.

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” — Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin

As for me, it’s time to kick back, relax, and pull “1984” of the shelf. Or, maybe the latest edition of “Mad” magazine. Cheers.

Bruce Black

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