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?
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.
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?)