Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Storm Center - the movie

"A librarian is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by a city council"

In this bad-ass librarian film Bette Davis plays Alicia Hull, a Public Librarian during the height of McCarthyism, who is asked to remove the book The Communist Dream from the library shelves. At first she acquiesces, in deference to the City Council who just voted for a children's wing for the library - a long-time pet project of Hull's, but she changes her mind and in so doing, loses her job. The movie was made in 1957, a few years after Senator Joe McCarthy was condemned by the rest of the Senate for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute". I imagine the Hollywood Blacklist prevented it from being made any earlier. The film demonstrates how fear and paranoia can have devastating consequences not just on individuals, but on communities as well. It was interesting to note the reasons the City Council gave for asking that the book be removed. They had gotten some complaints and alluded to the fact that the book might fall into the wrong hands, or that someone might read it, and get the idea that the Library (and, therefore the City) condoned Communism. Wasn't it just better to just remove this one book, than to make an issue of it? Hull counters that while she does not necessarily like the book herself, that people have to right to know what Communism is, and should be able to read about it for themselves. She compares the book to another book that had been frequently checked out but that she personally did not like - Hitler's Mein Kampf  - and points out for those who read it, it only served to solidify their belief that Hilter had to be defeated. Her arguments fall on deaf ears, and the book is ultimately removed.

Arguments for book banning are still the same as they were when this film was made. The patronizing attitude that those who want the book banned can handle its contents, but that others may not understand is still evident in censorship battles today.

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