Banned Books Awareness: Where’s Waldo?

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Anyone who grew up in the 1990’s knows the meaning behind the question “Where’s Waldo?” The answer, though, might surprise you. That’s because you won’t find him in some public or school libraries in the United States.

Where’s Wally? (published in the United States and Canada as Where’s Waldo?) is a series of children’s books created by British illustrator Martin Handford. The books are made up of detailed illustrations of themed scenes in which the reader is challenged to find the title character hidden somewhere in the mix. His characteristic red-and-white striped shirt, puff-ball hat, and glasses make him easier to recognize, but many illustrations contain “red herrings” to trick and further challenge the reader.

So why would a harmless series of funny illustrations be on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned Books list for much of the 1990’s?

A handful of people say that the otherwise-innocent images contain “inappropriate and seditious hidden imagery” including topless sunbathers, gay lovers, characters holding up the rocker hand sign (or, as they call it- the “hail Satan”), and a medley of other hysterical claims.

Anyone who’s seen the books knows it’s almost impossible to find Waldo himself, let alone anything of controversy. But that’s exactly what someone claimed in regards to the debut 1987 edition of the series. The infamous charge was in reference to a page containing a frenzied beach scene in which a woman tanning without her bikini top is being splashed on the back with water and the dots in the sand creating the impression that her nipple is erect. The scene is made all-the-more controversial due to the image of two men in a somewhat compromising position to the upper left of the topless sunbather. One of the men happens to be black, prompting those who take offense to the apparently homosexual situation to also call foul with issues of interracial coupling.

An enlarged version of the original 1987 image can be seen below. By the way, the offending breast in the book only measures 1/16”. Some people have way too much free time on their hands.

You can click the link here for the full two-page image. Please note that this is from a censored 1997 “special 10th anniversary edition.” It took me a few minutes just to find the controversial section, let alone the fact that, as of publication of this article, I have yet to find Waldo himself in the scene.

One has to wonder how many people would have noticed the perceived nip-slip if nothing was ever said. Regardless, as a result the book was removed from several schools and libraries including the Saginaw, Michigan public schools in 1989 and the Springs Public School Library in East Hampton, New York in 1993.

A similar image appears in the “Campsite” scene, where children open a tent on a man while he is changing. Although his genitals are blocked from view by his hand, he is clearly naked; in the 1997 special edition, however, he is wearing white underwear.

So censorship efforts are no longer just a matter of picking words and phrases out of context from these books; some people are, quite literally, taking a magnifying glass and trying to find anything of offense to complain about. The limitless bounds of politically-correct cultural absurdity have finally extended to the furthest realms of the book world. Hey, book burners, I have news for you- Porky Pig and Winnie-the-Pooh never wear pants. Are they on your hit list as well?

Sources: American Library Association, Snopes.com,babble.com, anovelreview.com, New York Times, University of Missouri

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

2 comments

Stephen Catts #permalink

I found Waldo almost immediately – he's towards the upper center creating triangle with the sail boat and the other boat to the right of it.

Sailboat Otherboat

W

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peter #permalink

No he's not. Waldo is bottom centre, to the right of the bouncing ball, surrounded by a few babes (I clearly have too much time on my hands!)

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