Monday, March 9, 2015

Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars - by Marjory Heins

Published in 1993, this book is as much a snapshot of the culture wars of the late '80s and early '90s as it is a history of censorship. Heins looks not only at book censorship in schools and libraries but also at the history of the movie rating system, and the Parental Advisory labels on record albums. Questions about what constitutes pornography, and where to draw the line on obscenity are raised. The author also explores censorship in the arts and explains how artists and writers self censor in order to get funding, or, in the case of film, a particular rating. Heins likened government arts funding to "a public library, museum, or municipal theater. These institutions receive tax money for the arts, but it's not expected that every taxpayer will enjoy or appreciate every resulting book or painting or poem or performance".

I was in Library School in the early 1990s. Reading this reminded me about the class discussions we were having at the time. Labeling of materials was something we debated in class, as well we talked about what constituted censorship, as opposed to simply just good (or bad) collection development policy. In discussions about what can be considered "harmful to minors" some of my classmates who were already working in libraries told of parents who wanted to remove all materials that referenced the occult - these might include stories about "Georgie the Ghost". These same issues were brought up in Heins' work
School boards throughout the country have responded to pressures, usually from small groups of fundamentalist parents, to remove works not only because of profane language, but because their subject is unacceptable to someone's idea of religious orthodoxy. Books about the "occult" from simple collections of Halloween tricks to studies of cultural traditions like voodoo, have been purged from school library shelves. Said one Arizona parent who protested a book of Halloween stories, 'Children are drawn in to want more. Before you know it, your adolescent is caught up in Satanism.'
Especially chilling were these words from a Florida school superintendent who argued for "removal of hundreds of books from school classrooms. 'Reading', he explained, 'is where you get ideas from.'

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