According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts.
Over the past decade, American libraries were faced with 4400 challenges.
- 1,413 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
- 1,125 challenges due to “offensive language”;
- 897 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
- 514 challenges due to “violence”;
- 344 challenges due to “homosexuality”;
- 109 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,”
And an additional 269 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”
1,502 of these challenges (approximately 34%) were in classrooms; 33% were in school libraries; 23% (or 1,032) took place in public libraries. There were 100 challenges to college classes; and only 29 to academic libraries. The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 48%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% each).
These are surprising statistics for a nation that claims to be proud of its freedoms, and purportedly stand behind the men and women who defend those freedoms here and around the world.
The Triple Threat of censorship actions is sex, violence, and the occult. If a book has just one of these themes it’s marked; some push the envelope and contain all three.
Young Adult books were seen for years as safe and harmless. Books with a little bit more substance than Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog aimed to entertain the intellectual evolution of children who were growing up. But society also continued to evolve.
Objections to Young Adult books are more prevalent in recent years due to the popularity of series such as Harry Potter and Twilight. Most Young Adult novels are typical “coming-of-age” tales that includes sexual awakening and autonomy as key parts of the narrative; of finding one’s self and independent thought. Some feature openly gay characters; and, of, course, that timeless big threat- the occult. The most challenged book series of this decade is Harry Potter. I guess some people didn’t get the memo that the Spanish Inquisition is over.
Young witches and wizards aside, sexuality pushes the most buttons when it comes to censorship targets. Americans have an almost split personality when it comes to sexuality. The most popular movies and television shows have used sex and violence in pursuit of higher ratings; and the biggest commercial use of any new technology is the porn industry. But, SHHHHH! That’s only behind closed doors. Yet, if you try to talk about sex or have serious discussions on the topic people get embarrassed and shy. Why? We all do it. It’s not human nature, it’s just nature.
Writers and readers alike need to deal with these concepts equally. Pretending such issues aren’t on the minds and in the lives of teens is not only naive, it’s irresponsible. Sexuality, and attempts to control it (often through violence), have always been pivotal in structuring societies.
Despite what many have been led to believe, it wasn’t the Puritans who instilled our perceptions of sexuality. It’s really been around since the 19th century. Over in England it was the Victorian Era; a time synonymous with sexual taboos. In the United States it was mostly due to the efforts of Anthony Comstock. Born in rural Connecticut in 1844, Comstock moved to New York City after serving in the Civil War. A devout Christian, he was appalled by what he saw in the city\’s streets. To him, the town was teeming with prostitutes and pornography. He began supplying the police with information for raids on sex trade merchants and earned a reputation with his anti-obscenity crusade. In 1872 Comstock set sights on Washington and in March, 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act. The statute defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, making it a federal offense to disseminate birth control through the mail or across state lines.
Here in the 21st Century, those 19th Century ideals are rooted deeply. It’s interesting that in the United States the popular consensus is the more violence, the better. We’re more worried about teens encountering sex in books and movies than we are with them seeing characters blown into many bloody pieces because war is glorified; but over in Europe they’re more worried about kids seeing too much violence, and couldn’t care less about sex.
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer has been on the hot list of banned books for being sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and promoting a religious viewpoint according to the ALA. Five years after its debut, the series made it on to the group’s banned book list in 2010, ranking 5th among total complaints.
Seems a little odd when you take into account that Meyer was brought up as a Mormon and abstinence is a major theme of the books. The \”Twilight\” series centers on a premise as familiar as the tale of \”Romeo and Juliet:\” Two teens with different backgrounds, who, for all accounts should not be together, fall in love. Make one the new girl in school (themes of alienation and isolation) and the other a vampire (girls do love the bad boy), add exploratory thoughts about death and sexual desire, tons of adjectives and adverbs and you have a teen sensation.
In September 2008, the \”Twilight\” books were temporarily removed from and later returned to middle-school libraries in the Capistrano Unified School District in California. It was the district\’s instructional materials specialist who initially \”ordered\” the books removed.
In May 2009, the series was challenged at Brockbank Junior High in Magna, Utah. A parent complained about the \”overly sexual content\” in the novel \”Breaking Dawn,\” which is part of the series.
In September 2009, \”Twilight\” was banned from the library at Santa Sabina College Strathfield in Australia for being \”too racy,\” according to Library and Information Science News. The \”Twilight\” series was removed from \”schools because they believe the content is too sexual and goes against religious beliefs,\” according to Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom in November 2009.
The \”Twilight\” series has achieved popular, financial and critical success. The first book in the series hit The New York Times Best Seller list within a month of being released.
The first book in the series has sold 17 million copies worldwide and earned a number of awards, including The New York Times Editor\’s choice.
Other lists include Best Children\’s Books of 2005 and \”Best Book of the Year\” by Publisher\’s Weekly, Best Books of 2005 by School Library Journal, The Top Books of 2008 from USA Today, and \”New Moon\” (2006) received the Young Reader\’s Choice Award in 2009.
\”Eclipse\” has sold more than 4.5 millions copies and \”Breaking Dawn\” (2008) broke a first-day sales record, selling 1.3 million copies in its first day, according to Hachette Book Group USA.
* to read the previous discussion thread visit my original posting of this article on Facebook *
Sources: The Improper, American Library Association, Yahoo News
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions