Standing up to censorship

Chris Marten

Students who find themselves on the second floor of Moffett Library are likely to see a poster featuring a stack of books with the question “Have you seen us?” in bold. The books in the stack have all been censored or restricted at some point since publication, and the poster is promoting the anti-censorship movement.

Since 1990 there have been more than 18,000 attempts to remove books from libraries and schools across the United States. A significant number of these attempts are done by parent groups or religious organizations.

“There are hundreds of reported attempts that center on themes of sexuality, offensive language, anti-family values, homosexuality, violence, and other ideas and issues offensive to mainstream America,” said Todd Giles, assistant professor of English. Giles said he thinks this anti-censorship movement is as much about highlighting the dangerous and un-American act of censorship as it is about celebrating the freedom to consider unorthodox and unpopular opinion.

Giles presented a talk in 2014 titled “Books are better for Banning and Burning than Page Turning: The Obscenity Trial of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems” that brought up the topics of censorship and democracy in America.

“Some of the more notable books banned include Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five for promoting deviant sexual behavior, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for undermining morality,” Giles said. “A bit closer to our time is Harry Potter for anti-Christian Satanism.”

The reoccurring theme for these ban attempts is the books in question challenge the cultural atmosphere of the era. In 1974, the Dallas ISD challenged “A Farewell to Arms” due to its anti-war sentiment. To Kill a Mockingbird was banned in Lindale, Texas, in 1996 because it was said to have content going against the values of the community. Seven books designated as required reading were suspended in 2014 in the Highland Park ISD after parents complained about a sex scene and references to abortion and drugs.

The Arts and Literature Society contributes to the movement by organizing the annual Banned Books Week celebration for the campus.

“Banned Books Week is basically a week where we try to spread awareness for books that have been challenged or removed from libraries or school curriculums,” said Arielle Martin, marketing senior and president of the arts and literature society. “Our group and others across the country need to help uphold the tradition of reading.”

Banned Books Week is held annually from Sept. 27-Oct. 1. The Arts and Literature Society hold events throughout September, such as live readings in Clark Student Center or book celebrations at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

“These type of events bring people together,” Martin said. “We’ve even begun expanding our international reach by doing live readings of banned Spanish books as well. The best part of this whole thing is that it puts banned books on a pedestal for more people to see.”

As long as a book’s content does not pose a direct threat to the public, or is inaccurate, Moffet Library’s stance is to allow students their right to information.

“I view libraries as one of the, let’s call it public square institutions, where you expect to have a variety of opinions with someone,” said Clara Latham, university librarian. “As an academic library we are committed to access as long as it’s not damaging to the society.”

As for the public, a major obstacle for offering controversial or unpopular books is the laws of supply and demand.

“We let the consumer decide what is offered,” said Chris Bales, Hastings general manager. “We would honor a customer’s wishes but it hasn’t been a problem since I have worked here. We do offer ‘Mein Kampf’ in the History section though.”

The ultimate goal of groups such as The Arts and Literature Society is to spread awareness for all banned books, but confusion over the definition of “banned” is frequently an obstacle. It is possible for a book to be available to the public but banned for use in a school’s curriculum, though members of The Arts and Literature Society think this is just as bad.

“We’re always trying to have more events outside of campus since censorship is everybody’s problem.” Martin said. “This movement is very important, and on top of it all the challenged books are the most fun to read anyways.”

Martin also said she believes there are other benefits we as a country can gain when it comes to this anti-censorship movement.

“The ones that are banned are not banned for the right reasons,” Martin said. “Books like “The Scarlett Letter” and “The Great Gatsby” are great books because they depict what times were like in that time and I feel like we need that because we’re losing our history.”

Organizations other than The Arts and Literature Society have held public readings on campus in the past. The goals of bringing censorship and “dangerous” books to light are always present though, and Martin said she thinks there is still a long way to go from where the movement is now. 

Additional Info:

Top 10 most challenged books of 2015:

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
  • And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  • It’s Perfectly Normal – Robie Harris
  • Saga – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  • A Stolen Life – Jaycee Dugard
  • Drama – Raina Telgemeier