Censorship

The written word is influential, sacred and powerful. The influence and power of the written word is seen in many ways and is most often abused when used for propaganda or to push ideology upon people that is merely the belief of those in charge and without basis in fact. Influence and power goes hand in hand with censorship, as through inclusion and exclusion of certain words and texts, one is forced to take the included texts on face value at a basic level and perhaps believe what they are told or what they read is fact is true when they do not have access to an opposing viewpoint. This is just one factor in censorship, and one that perhaps may work in theory but will eventually backfire, as there will always be those who wish to get the full story and gain an understanding of the truth through their experiences. A recent fictional example of how this can happen is in Jackie French’s Pennies for Hitler, where a young boy, Georg, brought up in Germany and in the midst of the Nazi Regime, believes what he is taught about perfect Aryans until tragedy forces him to run to England, where he is affected by what he sees there, and hears, and by the Blitz. Following this, his evacuation to Australia brings it all together that the Nazi’s are not who he thinks they are and where he learns that friendship and loyalty and kindness are more powerful than hatred. As an example of how keeping information from citizens, though not explicitly stated, French shows these changes through Georg, and in my opinion, armed with what I know about World War Two Germany, this book is an exgcellent example of how people’s opinions can be changed by words and access or non access, or denial and lies about events.

Some words are seen as scary or objectionable by various people and groups, even governments, in which case, these words go against the institution and will be censored for “the good of the public”. It is these perceived threats that cause governments, schools, libraries or even just one small community group within the larger community to ban books. Banning books is a form of censorship: By restricting what people have access to, you censor what they can learn, and by cutting out vital words of texts that give context as to time and place, or even changing and modernising these words as Chorion have been doing with Enid Blyton’s books, the story loses all meaning and the question must be asked how many times can we change a text before it loses all meaning, and why do we nitpick one author and not authors from years before her? What is it about Blyton that is so offensive? This is what brings me back to once you start, where does it end? How long is a piece of string? Will new authors have to worry about the words they so carefully choose and craft into stories for fear of offending the delicacies of somebody who doesn’t understand a certain word or finds the subject matter offensive based on religious or cultural or political reasons? (From previous research, these are the main reasons for censorship and banning books).

If it is not a big government body, it may just be the complaint of one or two people to a school or library about an innocent children’s book that they do not want their child to read. Fine. Don’t buy the book for your child, but let the other kids enjoy it. Curiously, many banned books over the years have in fact been what those of us in the literary world classify as children’s literature. Some examples are:

  • Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl was banned because it was too depressing (What do they expect from a diary written by a girl in hiding in WW2? Puppies and sunshine?)
  • The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling was banned because they promote witchcraft, set bad examples and are too dark (Fantasy, and again, of course they are dark. It deals with good and bad and in my opinion hardly set a bad example – much worse happens in the real world)
  • The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was banned because of Profanity, encouraged disrespect of adults, death being central to the plot, encouraged secular humanism and/or Satanism and blending of fantasy and reality.

These three examples are all books I have read multiple times, and clearly I haven’t been depressed, started worshipping Satan or practising witchcraft because I read them (It’s true, I haven’t). When I write fantasy, or read fantasy, of course I expect some degree of magic or another world. And I cannot think of a single kids book in which the adults go off on adventures with the child characters.

I am anti-censorship. I do not believe in it and I think the above reasons are ludicrous. I don’t think it works because it just drives the books underground or people will find another way to get them and read them. You can’t cancel out a book forever unless you burn every copy plus any manuscripts the author and publishers might have. Nobody has the right to tell me what to read and I don’t have the right to tell them what to read. Having such free and fluid access to a wide choice of reading material is something I expect in a community where we are not ruled with an iron fist or communism.

Reluctantly though, I understand there is censorship and partially understand and accept why people do it but believe when it comes down to saying “Well my child isn’t going to read this” it should be left at that and not make other people’s decisions for them. I call this self-censorship, whereby we ignore what we do not like and let other people read it – we do not say “Well I find so and so (Insert any title here) objectionable because of a, b and c, so therefore everyone must and therefore it should be banned” – this is so far from the truth. Everyone is different. My aforementioned reluctant understanding comes from history, cultural and literature studies, and in fact an essay written on censorship. Just as it is not my choice to say to someone “You can’t read Twilight or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for example (the former a book I will never read, the latter I read and hated), it is not their choice to tell me I have to read Twilight and that I can’t read A Song of Ice and Fire or Agatha Christie.

The place of censorship in my opinion has no place in today’s society with the Internet giving easy access to books in a myriad of ways – e-books, bookstores and online texts. I question whether censorship is worthwhile and the cost of banning books when you can just go somewhere the book is not banned to buy it. When it comes to that, how do you police where people are taking it? And where would it stop? What belongs behind the curtain and what doesn’t? For me, it is the same issue as how long is a piece of string and everyone finds something they do not like in all books. Yes, even me. The freedom of choosing what I read is what I love the most, and to have that choice taken away from me, from the world, is a nightmare that I hope never comes true. Choose what you read, not what everyone else reads. 

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