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Beginning today, I’m “celebrating” Banned Books Week, an annual event of the American Library Association that calls attention to attempts by people, now and then, to have what they deem “offensive materials” removed from library shelves and classrooms in the United States. Almost 500 times in 2010 alone, as it happens.

As both a visual artist and a writer, I have a strong interest freedom of expression and in censorship, mainly, in the latter case, in  preventing it. I’m one of those misguided liberals who believes that a free marketplace of ideas is the cornerstone of our democracy. As a nation, I fear that more people are leaning the other way, believing that free speech is only for “real Americans;” mostly white, always Christian, obviously heterosexual, suitable for mention in one of those vacuously patriotic Toby Keith songs.

I believe so strongly in free speech that I thought the Supreme Court got it right in their Westboro Baptist Church decision even though I detest Fred Phelps and the rest of those brain-damaged maggots who follow him and I’m hoping, not-so-secretly, that someone gets around to kicking their asses one of these days.

My Thoughts Exactly

An overwhelming majority of book-banning incidents occur in schools, a significant number in public libraries. I guess I’m of two minds when it comes to censorship in these places. No, I’m not arguing that your 5th grader should be able to read Hustler in the school library. On the other hand, if your kid decides to that she wants to be a vampire after reading Twilight, the problem is not the book, it’s that she’s a moron.

Peruse the books on the frequently banned list and you’ll find a number of classic; books like Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Color Purple to name but a few. One of my personal favorites, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, used to make the list all the time, but I guess no one reads Vonnegut anymore. A couple of generations of Americans were raised on these books. People will seek them out no matter what the intellectual bigots have to say because they’re well-written and have powerful messages for us.

Allowing writers and artists to express whatever they feel is fundamentally American. Your choice is to look at we create, read what we write, or not, as you see fit. If you don’t believe me, go ask the Founding Fathers.

And if you think American Values are threatened by children reading And Tango Makes Three (which is about homosexual penguins) or Captain Underpants (which is about Captain Underpants), then I pity you and your children. America is strong because of our intellectual diversity, not in spite of it.You’re the driving force behind our collective dumbing-down and we’ll all have to live with the consequences of your myopia. Thanks for that.

“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.

A Little Intellectual Honesty

RXM


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