Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Are We Over Book Banning Yet?

The Diary of Anne Frank  is now accused of being pornographic.

Yes, inane accusations about misunderstood literature are common and there isn't anything you can much do about it, but the school's Director of Instruction has now PULLED THE ENTIRE VERSION of the book because of her complaint.
That is right-- a junior high has removed this historically and culturally significant and unique novel from its curriculum and replaced it with an edited, "more tame" version.

Because ONE parent had an issue with it being "pornographic" and having "inappropriate homosexual themes."  (Does she know what a theme is..?)
She thinks teenagers are not ready for an honest diary from their historic peer.
I just want someone to sarcastically support her and say "you're right, we should pull Anne Frank from the shelves.. Hitler didn't like this book either!"
Or "yeah, we should BURN Fahrenheit 451 while we're at it!"

And they are calling the original published text the "sexually explicit version", as though it is the "unrated director's cut of American Pie 2" or something.
You can't just pick and choose what you like about a text, and leave out what makes you uncomfortable.
That is the point of great literature--to take you out of your comfort zone so you can learn and sympathize and grow! Otherwise we would all just be reading 3 Little Pigs over and over and over.
As Daniel Ehrenhaft said,

 “Reading requires actual concentration.
 If you skipped a paragraph, or even an important 
sentence, you could lose the entire story."

 Such as editing a novel the way you deem it most "appropriate" ends up devaluing the text...if you pick and choose what of Anne Frank should be shared with readers, you could lose the entire story.

The passage in question is regarding Anne discovering her hoo-ha.
You know.  The normal sexual exploration and discovery that every teenager goes through:
"There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!"
What is sexually explicit about that? It is not as though she or someone else is doing anything that adults may deem "abnormal" or violating of her body.  She is writing about the fascinating surprise of her womanhood.  It is called puberty.
And you know what Anne? It IS unimaginable that a baby can get out of there.
And if parents out there think that reading this passage is going to "give their child ideas", they've got another thing coming.  Their child already has ideas.  
If anything, this passage is a way to indirectly (without an awkward conversation that they will probably refuse to have)reassure them that their instincts and curiosities are normal and nothing to fear.
Remember how embarrassing life it as that stage? And the very worst thing in the world is being different.  You want to know it is okay to be you and feel what you are feeling, and the last thing you want to do is TALK about it.  So being assigned a book in your 8th grade English class and disgruntledly reading it only to go "holy shit! This girl who is long gone had the same thoughts I am having.  She was in fear for her life, hiding from the Nazis, but she felt the same frustrations and joys and urges that I do... I'm not alone."
And you have this whole Circle of Life Moment and realize that feelings transcend time and space and societies and that although Anne is dead, her voice is still very much alive.
We cannot deprive kids of that moment.  It is their moment, and who are we to snatch it away from them because we deem is "dangerous?"  And considering when we were younger we experienced the same things, it is hypocritical.
Sven Birkerts captured best what I am trying to say--
"What reading does, ultimately, is keep alive the dangerous and exhilarating idea that life is not a sequence of lived moments, but a destiny...the time of not the world's time, but the soul's..."

And so, Gail Horalek, let it be known that YOU CANNOT STOP ANNE FRANK.
Isn't it funny that this girl that lived more than 50 years ago is so strong in our memories and has such a profound impact today?? Anne was a clever girl with a great sense of humor, and I must say this would certainly be a hoot to her.
So let us not be self-righteous to the point of being wrong.  Let us not judge anyone's reading preferences.  Let us not be rules by the unsubstantiated and flighty wishes of the ignorant few (that themselves need to READ MORE).  Let us fling the library doors open wide and let all enter--all books and all people, so that we may learn, grow, teach, and celebrate the pinnacle of human emotion and creation that is the written word.

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