Dictators and Censorship

I started working on this post a couple days ago and since then the Academy Awards have aired and that brought up something (sort of) related that I thought I would mention.

Most of you are probably aware that one of the “big moments” from last night’s award show was Sacha Baron Cohen, dressed as his character from the movie The Dictator, on the red carpet, “accidentally” spilling “Kim Jong-Il’s” ashes on Ryan Seacrest. If you haven’t seen it, look anywhere on the internet. It’s all over the place right now. Obviously, it wasn’t an accident and Seacrest was specifically chosen to have this experience and ensure that it was televised. What I want to talk about though is the whole idea behind The Dictator, which seems to be making fun of extreme dictators, such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il. Okay, so I can freely admit that Kim Jong-Il made some hilarious claims. Apparently, he was the world’s best golfer. He was obsessed with Elvis Presley, he had lobsters air-lifted to him. That’s all ridiculous. You know what’s not ridiculous? The number of deaths men like Kim and Hussein and Mubarak are responsible for. The iron-fisted control they hold over thousands of people’s lives. They may seem ridiculous to us but there are people around the world giving up their lives to fight against men like this. Basic freedoms we take for granted every day are unheard of in countries ruled by dictators. So, no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to make a movie that trivializes these crimes. Sure, it’s comedy and we should be able to make fun of dictators and point out their foibles but I wonder how many people will go watch The Dictator and then switch the news off when more footage from Syria comes on? I think things like this movie encourage ignorance, encourage us in North America to turn a blind eye to the suffering of people around the world by reducing their problems to comedic soundbites.

What do you all think? Is there a place for movies like The Dictator? Is there anything we can learn from them? Will you watch it?

Moving along…

Palate cleanser! A shot from yesterday afternoon at Island 22.

I had the idea for this post after creating my top 100 children’s book list.

Ten Children’s Books Banned for Ridiculous Reasons

Unfortunately, books get censored all the time. Children’s books may be more susceptible to this than any other. Parents, teachers, and librarians all want to protect children. And that’s a good thing but it’s easy to take it too far.

This list was inspired by The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, an entry in my Top 100 Children’s Books list. From there I thought it would be fun to see what other great kids books had been banned and why. I was surprised to see how many books I’ve read that made it on various censorship lists.

Now, certain books, I understand.  I don’t support censorship at all, but not every book should be read by children. I can totally see why Lolita shouldn’t necessarily be read in a classroom. (That said, there’s a big difference between a grade 12 classroom and a grade 9 classroom. Or at least there should be.) Flowers in the Attic probably shouldn’t be taught in schools because of its themes of incest and poor writing. But it should be available and, I believe, parents should be the ones responsible for monitoring what their children read. When those kids are adults, they can decide if they want to read V.C. Andrews.

That said, some books have been banned for straight up ridiculous reasons. Here were my ten favourites:

1. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Reason for Censorship: Promotes pacifism

There has to be something seriously wrong with a society that doesn’t want to promote peace and flower-sniffing. This sweet little story about a bull that doesn’t want to participate in bullfights was published a few months before the Spanish Civil War but was still said to support a leftist agenda. Maybe it does, but the so-called leftist agenda depicted in this book is sitting under trees and enjoying nice days.

illustrated by Robert Lawson


2. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Reason for Censorship: Unfair to logging industry.

Somehow, I think logging has recovered from the blow dealt to it by Dr. Seuss. My favourite part of this whole controversy though was that someone named Terri Birkett wrote a book in response to The Lorax titled The Truax. It was published by The National Wood Flooring Manufactuer’s Association. Many of its reviews on Amazon use the word “appalling”.

3. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – William Steig

Reason for Censorship: Depicts policemen as pigs

If you look at the cover of this book, you see Sylvester’s mother (who is a donkey) talking to a neighbour (who is a pig). The book is populated with anthropomorphic animals, some of whom have jobs. That said, I think it’s hilarious that the police men are pigs.  It’s quite possible Steig did that intentionally but I think it’s over most kids’ heads. I’d never heard a policeman called a pig until I went to university.

4. The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling (found in Just So Stories)

Reason for Censorship: Contains “99% violence”.

That’s a direct quote from somewhere on the internet, I just can’t remember where I found it. Instead, please enjoy this link and listen to a reading of The Elephant’s Child by Jack Nicholson. The story is pretty violent, I guess, and it depicts the elephant as getting revenge on adults so that’s bad.  99% is a little high though, there are a couple of scenes where he’s walking and eating stuff.

5. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle.

Reason for Censorship: Confused with Communist author

This classic from my own childhood (as in I read it when I was a kid, not that I was a kid in 1967) could hardly be more innocent. It’s about animals who look at other animals. It teaches creatures and colours. But in 2010 someone in Texas confused Bill Martin Jr. with Bill Martin, who wrote a book called Ethical Marxism. Even if they were the same person, why would that matter?

6. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Reason for Censorship: The poem “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes” encourages messiness.

As if kids need to be taught how to be messy.

7. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (congrats, you made it on the list twice!)

Reason for Censorship: China

I don’t actually have much information about this outside of Wikipedia so I have to take it with a grain of salt. Apparently Green Eggs and Ham was banned in China due to its portrayal of Marxism. Am I missing something in my interpretation of Green Eggs and Ham?

8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Reason for Censorship: Too depressing.

Yep, that’s right. World War Two was just too darn depressing. Unlike the rest of the books on this list, Anne Frank’s diary is a true story. She wasn’t just making up teenage angst, she was describing her day to day life. This entry actually makes me angry.

Along the same lines, I was surprised to see how many books out there have been banned from schools because they deal with “adolescent issues”. These are books by Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, Robert Cormier. Books written for teenagers. Teenagers who experience “adolescent issues” and would probably appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in those experiences. Similar to this is Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor (another one on my top 100 list) being banned for its “harsh description of racism.” Oh, sorry, did we not portray the KKK nicely enough?

9. The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams

Reason for Censorship: Marriage between a white rabbit and a black rabbit.

This sweet little story was banned in Alabama (anybody surprised) because it was trying to brainwash children in to thinking inter-racial marriage was okay. Apparently. Williams’ has a couple of great quotes regarding this supposed controversy. “I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque.” He also describes his story as not for adults “who will not understand it, because it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate.” I like this guy.

10. Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch

Reason for Censorship: Undermines authority of principals.

No one shall question the extreme and all-powerful principal! The principal is also the world’s best golfer!

(But seriously, I love Robert Munsch and I personally was further impressed by him when he admitted to his drug problems even when he didn’t have to. I was sad that some people turned against him because of that. Have you ever met a kid who didn’t like Munsch’s books?)

One more from Island 22.

5 thoughts on “Dictators and Censorship”

  1. Thanks for making me laugh 🙂 I loved your comments on the reasons for censorship.

    I agree with you that books shouldn’t be censored. When I was a kid, we had a library bus come to our neighbourhood every other week (on top of all the library branches around town). I was such a fast reader that I’d read all of the kids and teens’ section before the age of 10, so the regular librarian would let me borrow ‘adult’ books (mainly mystery novels, Agatha Christie and the such), until the day she went on vacation and her stupid replacement wouldn’t let me borrow from the adult section because I was too young. It sucked! I remember being very upset that an adult would try and regulate my readings.

    I love books. I love reading. Even terribly written books 🙂

    1. I remember going to the library as a kid and checking out adult books and sometimes the librarians would get suspicious and ask who I was checking them out for. It was frustrating. I think it’s far better to teach children to have discretion in what they read than to straight up ban them.

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