Friday, September 24, 2004

Banned Book Week, Part 4

Demotic regimes demand that we forget, and therefore they brand books as superfluos luxeries; totalitarian regimes demand that we not think, and therefore they ban and threaten and censor; both, by and large, require that we become stupid and that we accept our degradation meekly, and therefore they encourage the consumption of pap. In such circumstances, readers cannot but be subversive.

-Alberto Manguel, A History of reading

Today, I am just a subversive reader. But one day, I hope to be counted among the great dissenters of the age. I want to be an author.

More than that, I hope, one day, to have one or more of my books banned. Any self righteous group will do. It would mean as much to me to be on the torch list of some pea-brained Baptist Ranter as the watch-list of some overheated tyrant. I'm looking at you, Crisco Johnny. (Or is your new name Mr. 5000?)

It's an odd thing that being banned has become a badge of honor. You really aren't assured literary greatness until someone puts a fatwa on your head, or at the very least, wants to use your book as kindling (which is far better than the hack's fate: having their brick of a tome used as a doorstop). That having your work banned is a surefire way to greatness should be a signal to the dunderheads that they've failed. "Ban our books all you like, that will just ensure that your children read them," is the clear message. But they keep at it. Every new Harry Potter book is added to the list, as well as some old favorites that keep getting chowderheads in a twist, or give some Unreconstructed Southern Lady the vapors.

Usually books are banned by Christian or Muslim Fanatics1 who are simply in a huff over the author's audacity at publishing a book that doesn't take the inane fairy tales found in the Bible and the Koran at face value. We all get a good laugh at their ignorance and superstition, mainly because these fools have long since lost their power over our minds. The Enlightenment has worked, in at least this regard: we are slowly but surely becoming less superstitious. At least most of us. And the ones that aren't are often times merely laughed into a marginal existence, self publishing their little harangues2, unless they posses the private fortune gleaned from fleecing other morons. Then we end up with the likes of Pat Roberts, Luis Farrakhan and David Duke, who have, through the power of Capitalist Entitlement, forced their presence and opinions on the media, and thus onto our minds, whether we want them there or not.

In the last century, we saw an increase in politically motivated censorship, but it often had the same fanatical zeal attached to it that was exclusively the domain of religious censorship of previous ages. Before the Nazi book bonfires or the Stalinist library purges, offended Marms of Public Opinion would simply cluck their tongues and demand the offending manuscript be bowdlerized. Unless they were Monarchs, then they imitated the Popes of the day and grew purple with indignation. The result was either to invent ingenious torture devices like the Guillotine or Anal Pear, or to counter the offending ideas by hiring propagandists with silver tongues batshit between their ears to stand up and chant merrily what the powers that Be Want to hear, common sense be dammed. And so the literary ancestors of Anne Coulter and Michelle Malkin go back to France and England, notions that would drive both woman up the wall if they weren't already over the moon, puttering under their own steam.

This is something that has long baffled me. Why do such degenerate nincompoops like Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader get air time while thoughtful, credible folk with merely unpopular ideas get ignored? Is it simply that Money + Connections = Legitimacy? I don't have an answer, I just want to ask the question.

And really, that's all we aspiring authors can hope for, to have our questions heard and the possible answers debated in the public square. If we have to stay up late nights arguing with jackasses who light their mental fires with our books, then so be it. At least someone is still reading us, even if they don't or won't understand.

1. Anyone else ever notice that Jewish groups, even the ultra orthodox ones, don't ban books? My theory is that this is because of the importance placed on scholarship in Jewish culture. Maybe I'm wrong and there are irate Rabbis, twirling their yamukahs in rage over some poor soul's Talmudic interpretations, but I get the impression they prefer spirited debate to gasoline and matches.

2. Except when Regnary Publishing picks them up.


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