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It’s Banned Books Week again. Your Humble Blogger is on record with some reservations about Banned Books Week (with later clarifications), but I want to make it clear I’m not on the side of Mitchell S. Muncy who writes in the WSJ last week that the American Library Association is Finding Censorship Where There Is None.

That is, I think there are several matters where Mr. Muncy is describing the situation correctly. The term Banned Books is misleading, if not outright dishonest. There are very few cases where books are banned, by anything like the proper definition of the word, and the cases highlighted by the ALA are largely cases where there is a complaint about the availability of a certain book, and no further action is taken. Oh, some libraries do display books that were actually banned in certain places at certain times, but most follow the official website in showing books that are not banned, but challenged, and that are actually in lots and lots of school libraries and almost all public libraries. These are books that remain freely available to kids. And it is perfectly reasonable for people to ask their libraries to be responsible to their communities, and to bring books to the attention of the librarian for judgment about their appropriateness.

On the other hand, Mr. Muncy is a bad guy, working for a bad organization. When he describes the challengers as being “a few unorganized, law-abiding parents”, it’s a deliberate misrepresentation: there is organization, in fact, he is working for The Institute for American Values, and as a former publisher of David Horowitz and Phyllis Schlafly, he is aware of the organization of narrow-minded parents into legal and public-pressure battles. He is rhetorically attacking the ALA rhetoric, not because he really gives a shit about the procedural issues (and banning and censorship are procedural issues, important ones, but about the procedures rather than the content) but because he wants to weaken the ALA stance in favor of And Tango Makes Three and His Dark Material and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding.

He is opposed to little kids getting their hands on books that support homosexuality, that support knowledge and discussion of sex generally, that use profanity, that question the values his institute considers American. I am opposed to Mr. Muncy’s work, as is the ALA.

So. I am still uncomfortable with the rhetoric of Banned Books Week. That rhetoric allows Mr. Muncy to score perfectly valid points, which is frustrating. But that rhetoric has also over the years been absolutely vital to getting the public sympathy on the side of inclusion, which has widened the mainstream enormously. It’s hard to imagine Simon and Schuster publishing And Tango Makes Three without the ALA’s history of protecting librarians who have wanted to buy similar books for their libraries. And it’s a lovely book. And Mr. Muncy’s organization is an ugly organization.

That’s where I stand on that. Any questions?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

That rhetoric that allows Mr. Muncy to score perfectly valid points, which is frustrating.

Among the persuadable population, he'd score those points whether they were valid or not.


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