Did you watch the HBO adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”? I thought it was strident and dreadful.
“Gateway Pundit, a popular, controversial site on the right that posts breaking news, says Facebook has been flagging its articles and referring people to alternative sources like the Associated Press.” Well, yeah — because Gateway Pundit’s shit is propaganda, not news. For an intelligent look at how Facebook and Twitter are addressing the problem of political advertising posing as news, click here.
Guess I’ll have to check out Feral House, since they say many of their titles are banned.
Texas principal censors high school student paper, bans all editorials, fires award-winning journalism teacher — all to stop critical news reporting by the kids.
I can’t quite figure out what Ross Douthat is getting at in his op-ed “Free Speech Will Not Save Us,” but I think he wants readers to side with those poor beleaguered National Football League team owners whose only wish is for uppity black players to stop kneeling.
“Part of the skepticism toward traditional majors reflects a correct feeling that at some schools, some fields of study and course offerings are preserved largely because the faculty have a selfish investment in the status quo.” NYT op-ed about majoring in the liberal arts — most likely written by an English major.
Parents often challenge books their children are assigned or encouraged to read at school, and YCRT! frequently links to stories about such challenges. But here’s a new (and worrisome) thing: local law enforcement agencies stepping into the debate with censorship demands. Wando High School in South Carolina gave students a choice of four books on a summer reading list. Two of those books, “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and “The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomas (reviewed in a recent YCRT!), address police brutality. Surprise — the po-po don’t like it.
A Wisconsin high school told its valedictorian to remove references to discrimination and school shootings from her commencement address, “out of fear that they would provoke disagreement and judgment, and that others might feel attacked.” The student refused to speak, and a local newspaper later published her address in full. You know what? The kids really are all right.
Did you know Dr. Frederic Werthram, 1950s anti-comic book crusader and author of the infamous “The Seduction of the Innocent,” warned that Batman was homosexual and children who read Batman comics were more likely to “become gay”? Well, he did, and Batman’s suspected homosexuality so harmed the brand that DC Comics was forced to introduce a new character: Batwoman, to give Batman a heterosexual romantic interest (in an interesting twist, today’s Batwoman character is generally perceived to be lesbian).
Project Blitz: the latest attempt by religious extremists to use the coercive powers of government to secure a privileged position in society for their version of Christianity.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
The Handmaid’s Tale
I first posted this banned book review a year ago. With this week’s news — the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and the likelihood an even more conservative court will reverse Roe v. Wade, it seems a good time to repost my review of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” — Paul Woodford
With the recent rightward shift in American government and the elevation of authoritarian Christians to positions of power in the president’s cabinet and personal staff, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is on many minds today. People are re-reading it; new readers are experiencing it for the first time; hundreds of thousands are watching Hulu’s TV adaptation. When Atwood makes public appearances, the first question she’s asked is “How close are we?”
Who can say? Atwood herself is reluctant to tackle that question. Still, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is convincing and believable. The society it describes doesn’t feel far-fetched. We know there are theocratic, woman-suppressing societies very much like it; we know there are some among us who would welcome it here.
As for the novel itself, it is highly readable. The unnamed narrator (her real name, that is, not her Handmaid name, which is Offred) is human and insightful. She can be caustic and occasionally funny. Along with clear-eyed descriptions of her present life in the commander’s household, she offers up memories of her former life: a college student, a free woman, later a wife and mother trying to stay under the radar as the theocrats take power and begin to clamp down. You want to infiltrate the alternate universe of the book and help her escape the clutches of Gilead.
How real was Winston Smith, in Orwell’s “1984”? How real were the characters in Huxley’s “Brave New World”? They were paper cutouts, there to populate hypothetical futures. Offred is real, contemporary, relatable. That the society she lives in is every bit as creepy and nightmarish as those of Orwell and Huxley is a bonus … Atwood can write a dystopian novel with the best of them, along with believable, relatable characters (as she demonstrates again in her recent MaddAddam trilogy).
My memory plays tricks. I thought I’d read “The Handmaid’s Tale” in college, but that was more than 15 years before it was published. Re-reading it now, I realize I’d finished only part of it before: the second half of the novel was new to me. Why did I read it again (or for the first time in full, take your pick)? For the same reasons as everyone else. It’s “truthy,” as Stephen Colbert would say; it offers a glimpse of what many on the religious right envision when they talk of making America great again. At the same time, it’s a novel of resistance: it inspires opposition to the forces that would restrict personal choice and freedom; essential reading for those who’ll fight to keep the hard-earned gains of recent decades.
And this: I read and review banned books for a periodic blog column titled “You Can’t Read That!” “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been challenged again and again, from its publication in 1985 to the present day, by those would ban it from public and school libraries, by those who do not want it taught to students in high school and even college. It consistently places on the American Library Association’s top 100 list of banned books, and with the renewed interest in the book (and now the Hulu TV adaptation) fresh challenges are popping up across the nation. If ever there was a timely choice for a review in my banned book column, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is it.
Challenges to “The Handmaid’s Tale” come primarily from parents who don’t want their children reading or discussing it in high school English classes. As with other controversial books on school reading lists, some parents simply want teachers to offer children alternative reading assignments; others want it taken off reading lists and removed from libraries so that no students can read it.
The ALA summarizes the most common objections cited in challenges to “The Handmaid’s Tale”: the inclusion of profane words; passages about sex; statements defamatory to minorities, god, women and the disabled; the book’s offensiveness to Christians; violence; hopelessness; moral corruption.
From the Parents Against Bad Books in Schools web site, here’s a description of one such challenge:
At a Fairfax County Public School Town Hall meeting on May 2, 2002 to discuss book selection a former FCPS teacher spoke about The Handmaid’s Tale. She spoke about the obscenities, masturbation, graphic violence, homosexuality, the use of drugs and alcohol, and abnormal sex in the book. She asked FCPS the following question: What are students in Fairfax County being inspired to do and to value by studying books like The Handmaid’s Tale?
From the ALA, here’s a description of another, more recent challenge:
The book was challenged for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt,” according to the ALA’s annual roundup for Banned Books Week in 2013 and 2014, but was not ultimately removed from Page High School’s International Baccalaureate class. In Guilford, parents complained to members of the Board of Education that Atwood’s novel and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle both “denigrate Christianity” and “tear down traditional values,” and circulated a petition to try to convince the district to change the curriculum.
I think the second challenge gets to the real issue, which is often unspoken. Parents who challenge the book, who want it banned, will count the number of dirty words and say it pushes a message of sex and violence; they’re less willing to admit to discomfort with the novel’s message. “The Handmaid’s Tale” describes a theocratic society in less than flattering terms, from the point of view of those it oppresses (women, in this case), with plenty of pokes at the hypocrisy of theocrats. The message is feminist, therefore liberal, therefore to be opposed. That is, I believe, what most of these challenges come down to, and is what they mean when they say the book is “offensive to Christians.”
Another Stephen Colbert quote comes to mind: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” People who challenge books that put their own conservative and religious fantasies to the test of real life fear the power of the written word. They fear novelists who, like Margaret Atwood, are articulate and insightful. They fear the power of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The challenges cited above, and others mentioned in the links below, were all overruled. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is still widely taught and studied across the USA and Canada. Still, only a fraction of challenges and attempts to ban the book are a matter of public record:
A recent survey by the National Coalition Against Censorship with the National Council of Teachers of English found that only seven percent of challenges get reported in the local press [and] three studies conducted in recent years — by the Oregon State Library, the Missouri School of Journalism and the Texas ACLU … found that [only] three to 18 percent of challenges are reported.
We see only hints of the opposition to “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Offred saw only hints of what America was becoming … until she was swallowed up by Gilead. There won’t be any copies of this novel in the re-education camps, so you’d better read it now.
Links and references:
- Newsweek: Challenges and Bans Of “The Handmaid’s Tale” Aren’t Really Just about Sex or Profanity
- Washington Post: The Handmaid’s Tale Has Been Feared, Banned, and Loved. Now It’s Scaring the Bejeezus Out of Us Again.
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: The Handmaid’s Tale Under Attack in Oregon School
- Parents Against Bad Books In Schools:List of Challenged/Controversial Books by Title
- American Library Association: 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books by Decade
© 2018, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.