Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Banned" Books and "Clean" Media

This week is Banned Books Week. The entire blogosphere is alight with posts about the benefits of reading banned books, posts about how we shouldn't ban books, posts about the First Amendment (sorry, non-US readers, I don't know what clause this falls under for you), posts about how lives have been changed by reading a book that was on a banned list.

As members of the LDS church, we strive to seek out uplifting media. The church officially gave one hard-and-fast rule in the nineties, that members should avoid viewing R-rated movies, which quickly became obsolete. The standards for MPAA ratings shifted, and as LDS.org says, relying on the MPAA to regulate the content of your media is like "playing Russian roulette with your standards."

So now the official standard is to find media (in all its forms) that is "uplifting... wholesome... [and] promotes good thoughts."

Which means there's no longer a hard-and-fast rule. Which means you need to think for yourself. Which means you need to let others do the same. What uplifts you may not do the same for another, and vice versa.

So how does this relate to Banned Books Week?

Most books, as I'm sure you've guessed, are banned because of parental requests through schools. But that's not always the case. Books can be pulled from store shelves due to customer complaint and library shelves due to patron complaints.

The most common reasons books are banned are (1) sexually explicit - though this often includes sexual themes, not sexual acts* (2) profane language, (3) unsuited for the age group - this is the catch-all, "I can't put my finger on why, but I just don't want my kid reading it", (4) Satanism - any magic gets this label, including Harry Potter and Narnia, (5) violence, (6) religious viewpoint.

Religious. Viewpoint.

Over the last ten years, 291 titles have been banned (most of them are banned broadly and repeatedly, resulting in thousands of petitions) in schools for having a religious theme. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series was often banned for being too violent and sexually charged, until book three came out and Edward announced he was a virgin and wanted to remain so until marriage. Then the book was challenged for having a religious viewpoint.

Parents all over the United States are successfully having books removed for having a religious viewpoint. This includes the Bible. Religious texts of any kind are not allowed in school or public libraries. Searching my (extensive) public library for "Book of Mormon" brings up a slew of anti-Mormon hate-books and the Broadway musical soundtrack.

Let's think about that: We, collectively as a nation, are more okay with anti-religious hate than we are with Christ's message of love and forgiveness. Look back to the reasons books are banned. We are more okay with violence than we are with sex, even if it is consensual, non-graphic sex.

Looking at a list of the most popular banned books of all time (compiling sales with successful bans over the entire twentieth century), The Bible tops the list. Virtually every classic work of literature makes the list. Les Miserables is a powerful metaphor of God's redeeming love and the juxtaposition of mercy and justice. But it features an unwed mother who turns to prostitution to survive, so it gets banned. Canterbury Tales, The Scarlet Letter, Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes (it teaches kids to lie and spy!), and The Diary of Anne Frank are all on the list.
Sorry, 13 year old girl, your thoughts are inappropriate for teenagers.
While those books contain some content that some people might find objectionable (particularly if taken out of context), I argue that those titles all fall under the category of "wholesome" and "uplifting." Les Miserables stands, in my opinion, as one of the most beautiful works of literature to preach the Gospel of Christ without actually being a religious text. Here on MMW, just last week, we had a post recommending The Hunger Games as being "squeaky clean." The series tops the list of books banned in 2010 and 2011**. Parents cited them as being anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, and being full of offensive language, occult/satanic themes, and violence.  (Looking at that list makes me believe the people requesting and approving the ban have not, in fact, read the books)

Here's the TL;DR version: If one woman who is seeking out clean, uplifting, wholesome media sees The Hunger Games  as filling that role, what right do you have to prevent her from reading it? What right do you have to demand the book be taken from shelves across libraries and stores? Control what happens in your own home. Make suggestions. Ask for alternate assignments for your children if you need to.

Don't ban books.

*For the purpose of this post, and because of logic, I grouped the bans based on "homosexuality" with "sexual content," though homosexuality is usually listed as its own category. 

** Books are usually only banned when they're popular. Book banners apparently have short attention spans and forget about those evil books once they're not on the bestseller lists anymore. 


  1. I love this post! Being LDS myself, I'm often thinking, "But what if that book *should* be banned?" yet wondering what ridiculous claims made it get pulled off the shelf. Thanks for sharing and doing your research!

  2. Its funny that this is banned book week, a grad school friend of mine and I were just talking about how a county in NC just banned Ellison's "Invisible Man." I don't even like that book but to ban it is just absurd. It's like one of the quintessential books about race relations in 1950's America.

    Story here - http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-ralph-ellison-invisible-man-banned-north-carolina-20130919,0,3907081.story

  3. It's fascinating to see how many books about the racial tensions in America make the list. Sometimes they have foul language or sexual themes listed, but often they're pulled for being "unsuited to age group."

    That says a lot about us as a nation, that we would rather ignore something that makes us uncomfortable than learn from it.

  4. I agree there are things I have no interest in reading. And There are things that most people would agree are obscene or filthy or of little value. Ignore them. Let them fester and wither away. Promote the things you love, promote the things that bring you joy. It's a better use of your time than trying to ban something :)

  5. Thanks for this post! Just because I choose not to read certain books or watch certain movies, that doesn't mean I want someone else to make that choice for me. I have family that was killed in the Holocaust, so I have a strong urge to seek out books and movies that deal with the subject. On the other hand, I have good friends who, being LDS like I am, do not feel comfortable with the same subjects. So what a blessing it is that we all have our own agency and can exercise it in ways that we feel are best for ourselves.

  6. Fascinating post- to be honest, banned books is a topic that has only ever marginally been on my personal radar. I guess I’ve always been such a lover of books that if someone tells me I can’t read one I don’t pay much attention because I have about a hundred more on my waiting list to be read! Now as my kids are starting to get into those grades where they will be assigned books to read I suppose I should pay a little bit closer attention. I try to talk to my kids about all kinds of things, even some of those hard topics. When I was in 4th grade one of my favorite books was “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry. I feel like if we can teach children these important and difficult truths through literature that is on their level of understanding that we are doing a great service to them and to the future of our country. They can learn from reading about the hardships caused by the poor decisions of others and they can choose to make and support better decisions. And you’re right- when we start down the book banning path it’s a slippery slope.

  7. This is what it comes down to for me - our agency. Our ability to choose. And at the end of the day, I really CAN understand how someone is far more uplifted by Schindler's List than they would be by Coyote Ugly, even though the second one meets the "no R rated movies" standard that so many LDS families live by.

  8. And this is what I think a lot of parents are afraid of: The difficult discussions. My children love the Lego Wii games, and the Indiana Jones one is a favorite. My son asked what the strange black symbol (the swastika) was, and then he asked what Nazis were and why they were bad guys, etc. It was a hard discussion to have, and it was something I wasn't particularly prepared for, but it was better for us to have had it. We didn't go into grizzly details, of course, but we talked about it nonetheless. When parents don't want to have those difficult conversations, they instead work to bury anything that would bring the subject up.

  9. I agree with you that Les Mis is the BEST example of redemption and loss and true sacrifice and should be read/seen by everyone at some point. Real life HAS crap in it, and sexual innuendo, and cruelties, etc. We don't help our kids by never addressing those things. Age-appropriateness is key, though, and parents need to decide those things. Banning books is just misguided.

  10. Just attend BYU for heavy doses of LDS balderdash.



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