Tag: censorship

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Censorship: A Literary Tug of War

Censorship is everywhere and the general assumption is that it’s for the utmost moral reasoning. From a young age, people instantly recognize the bleeps on TV and know they weren’t supposed to hear the naughty words coming from the screen. It’s so ingrained in us so young that no one thinks to question it until adulthood. People go through an equal amount of experiences that hopefully allowed their skin to thicken to such things no rational person would pepper into a child’s ever-developing brain. However, there is indeed a large divide between an obscenity being blurted out and something much more obtrusive to the artist’s vision. While censorship can have some positive benefits to it, just like an egg in a frying pan the degree set can quickly burn away everything that was worthwhile.

When it comes to the world of literature, censorship can often steers away from the moral standpoint that is practically the sole principle that holds the whole idea together. I’m focusing on American Literature specifically because I feel this is where it’s the most contentious, which brings us to the grandaddy of timeless American classics: Mark Twain. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a ton of different controversial themes are painted in a more starkly realistic light. The poor downtrodden of the south, race relations of the time, child abuse, con artistry, slave liberation, racial acceptance, and to put it bluntly, the perfuse usage of the N word are all covered through the novel. At the time the book was being heavily criticized and censored to the point where some regional copies of the book were redacted to change what offended many members of Twain’s audience. What were these people trying to keep away from the younger eyes of all the controversial subjects listed? The diction of some of the characters.

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The whole novel takes place in the south where ostensibly people speak ‘funny’ as Twain once put it in some of his travel writing. Twain didn’t write the dialogue of Huck Finn the way he did out of malice but for accuracy. He believed that if his characters spoke authentically in their respective regions that it would drive the points the novel was making about how people treat one another that much further. A very effective way to reflect in real life is to make a distinct but subtle connection between the two, acting as a conduit for the readers.

Twain brilliantly chose the manner in which different characters spoke to make the world of Huck Finn feel as real and at times subtly tragic to the world he and his contemporaries inhabited. His critics on the other hand believed that the use of diction would instil bad grammar and speech in the youth. All while completely missing the point of the novel which was a grand statement on race that wouldn’t be too different from an abolitionist pamphlet, at least in a didactic sense.

As a result, the book was censored in a way that would fly over most people’s heads. Obviously, through modern eyes, the N word would be the focal point of the issue but for the popularity of the timeless novel. What shuts down that argument is that despite the word, the usage it drives home the point of how people interact with each other. Huck admires Jim as a father figure even though he uses the word just as much as the other characters do but Huck’s intentions are ultimately altruistic as he fights to set him free in the end. All of this brave content would’ve been lost had the censorship gone further and in fact, the argument against the book’s usage of the racial slur still comes up today. Once more with good intentions, these critics miss the point as to why it’s used.

Mark Twain

image via Smithsonian Mag

With a plethora of increasingly graphic content in books as well as other mediums ever-growing, this serves as a good example of when the purest idea of censorship can get muddled under issues that are fueled by a lack of understanding. The art suffers tenfold when people try to censor anything under the guise that the minds of the youth shall not be tainted by the content adults take for granted. When it’s not backed for the right reasons, the public doctors the novelist’s thoughts to something that more resembles a vivisection as opposed to a gulp of medicine.

If authors aren’t allowed to reasonably explore differing and oftentimes difficult subject matters then that alone can sully the minds of the youth as those ideas explored encourage them to etch out the literary landscape further. Stagnation of forethought is infinitely worse than any diction a southerner can muster. While censorship can help, I reiterate, in some disturbing scenes that I won’t go into detail about in say, Stephen King’s It, the line between safe tinkering via the masses and displaying the woes of mankind is finely drawn. Censorship can indeed be beneficial but only under just cause as well as forbearance for the sake of the message the world needs to witness.

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An incarcerated man reads - as is his right

U.S. Prisons Ban Books Critical of Criminal Justice System

For a country intent on the loosest possible definitions of free speech, one of our most marginalized populations is subject to an insidious degree of censorship.

The United States—the world leader in incarceration, imprisoning 2.2 million at this very moment—is fixated on free speech, but we favor the adjective over the verb. Prisons throughout the country are banning books that disagree with the racial disparity in U.S. prisons, the prison-industrial complex, and other incisive critiques of mass incarceration. And some are banning books altogether: one Georgia jail recently imposed a ban on all books, excluding only religious texts. Louisiana has banned non-Christian religious material, a decision that evidently violates the Constitutional provisions for religious freedom. Even the more liberal state of Washington forbade outsiders to make charitable book donations to prisons. Although the Washington Department of Corrections has rolled back the ban to accept donations from a small, specified list of charities, this compromise hardly changes the fact that WDOC only changed the rule because it couldn’t get away with it.

 

Books banned in Texas prisons, exceeding 15,000 total | Image Via Washington Post

 

Recently, the Arizona Department of Corrections has banned Chokehold, a non-fiction work exploring the role of race within the criminal justice system. Written by a former prosecutor, the book dispenses advice for black men and details the rights people can use to protect themselves (for example, during searches). While this may be unjust, it’s not unprecedented: North Carolina and Florida have banned The New Jim Crowanother book dedicated to exposing racism’s inextricable link to mass incarceration.

This past week, the American Civil Liberties Union formally addressed the issue, requesting that Arizona overturn this ban. An excerpt from the letter explains the hypocrisy inherent in the ban:

The very people who experience extreme racial disparity in incarceration cannot be prohibited from reading a book whose purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity. Improving understanding of policing, incarceration, and racial bias is especially critical given Arizona’s stark racial disparities and overall high rates of incarceration.

Advocates have pointed out the practical issues with these bans, those that transcend moral or ethical arguments. There is no budgetary component to book-donation charities, meaning that there are no financial consequences for allowing these charities to stock prison libraries. It’s also likely that incarcerated people will not spend their entire lives in prison. Given that the average prison sentence is three years, state departments of correction should assume that most of these people will return to society. Shouldn’t we want them to be emotionally healthy when they do? Shouldn’t we want them to be educated?

Under the First Amendment, only books which would actively endanger the prison or the people in it are eligible for bans. This clause would, for example, bar a non-fiction work that might detail how to make explosives or weaponry. The intent is purely physical rather than psychological; ostensibly, there is no danger to society in allowing prisoners to understand the judicial system that keeps them confined. But there is a danger to the system that imprisons them.

 

 

 

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madonna

Oxford University Opens Explicit Book Collection After 100 Years

Madonna and Oscar Wilde have more in common than their status as icons of the LGBT+ community: they’re both authors of ‘obscene’ works. After 136 years of censorship, Oxford University is opening its restricted collection—one of the world’s largest—to the public in a historic exhibition.

 

Madonna, author and curator of 'Sex'

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Though her pop star persona has somehow eclipsed her literary career, Madonna is the author of controversial coffee-table book SexThe carefully curated collection of erotic and soft-core photos landed her a spot in the Oxford Bodleian Library’s restricted collection alongside author superstars D.H. Lawrence and Oscar Wilde. Lawrence achieved lasting notoriety for his novel Lady Chatterley’s Loverthe distinctly not soft-core tale of an unsatisfied paraplegic’s wife… and her trysts with the estate gardener. The novel was famously subject to an intense obscenity trial: the copy from the trial itself recently sold for a record-breaking $72,689.

 

Wilde never wrote anything so overtly sexual, but at one point, society deemed his work obscene. The Picture of Dorian Gray faced controversy for its homosexual elements. In Oscar Wilde’s own sodomy trial, accusers used his work as evidence to convict him. Wilde’s imprisonment (and his work’s original placement in the restricted collection) is yet another example of how society has historically conflated homosexuality with deviancy. 

 

Oscar Wilde, author of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Image Via En.wikipedia.org

 

Curator Jennifer Ingleheart acknowledges the censorship and misjudgments of the past, and she has created the exhibit to explore “how ideas about sexuality and suitable reading material have changed over time.” The ideas Victorian librarians had about suitable reading material were, in a word, Victorian (read: prudish). These are the kinds of ideas that cause restricted sections. Somewhat unbelievably, Oxford University students (otherwise known as real adults) had until recently needed a tutor’s approval to access the collection. Starting on November 15, 2018, the Bodleian Library’s ‘obscene works’ will be available to the public for eight weeks.

 

 

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This Copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ Sold for £56,000. Why?

In 1960, D.H. Lawrence‘s sensual and scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover faced one of the most intense obscenity trials of all time. The novel’s plot (a sordid affair between a wealthy paraplegic’s wife and the estate groundskeeper) is no longer the only shocking thing about it. Today, the original copy from the obscenity trial sold for over £56,000 at more than five times the pre-sale estimate, setting a world record for the sale price of any Penguin paperback. This copy is a constant record-breaker: its 1993 sale for £4,370 made it the most expensive paperback in history.

 

Excerpt from D.H. Lawrence 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

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D.H. Lawrence was no stranger to personal or professional scandal. In 1912, Lawrence began an affair with Frieda Weekley—his coworker’s wife. Shortly after the lovers fled to Weekley’s native Germany, Lawrence published his 1911 novel Sons and Lovers. It’s as (creepily) Oedipal as it sounds, and it became one of the top 100 most challenged books of its century. In 1915, authorities went on to restrict his subsequent novel The Rainbow under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. The Rainbow frankly discusses protagonist Ursula’s liberated sexuality, even going so far as to include an erotically charged lesbian scene—a detail so impossibly shocking to the chaste public that there wasn’t yet a law against it. The homosexuality wasn’t even the novel’s make-or-break sin—Ursula also has premarital sex with men she doesn’t go on to marry.

 

Actual photographs from D.H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' trial

Image Via dailymail.co.uk

 

This particular copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is particularly special: it contains the actual annotations from the prosecution, including many circled obscene phrases that we cannot include here. The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover lasted for six full days before the jury acquitted publisher Penguin Books in a brief three hours. As is the natural course of events when something of interest is (nearly) restricted, the novel became an instant bestseller, with reports of individual stores selling over 300 copies in the first half an hour after the ruling. But the true legacy of Lawrence’s work is not financial at all. The trial was the end of government’s monolithic control over public morality; though it didn’t outright obliterate content restrictions, it opened the doorway into the world we now inhabit.

 

 

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