Wednesday, September 16, 2009Originally published on Author Bites
Sean Beaudoin was awesome enough to come back to Bites and ramble even awesomelier (get an English degree, then you can create cool words like me) on book banning for Ban This! Listen to what he has to say. Aside from being witty and funny, he's spot on right. And then go out and petition his books to be banned. He's begging you!
Please ban my book. Please?
Hey, I'm fine if you choose either one of them. Maybe Going Nowhere Faster because between flatulence jokes lies a hidden Marxist subtext plunging us all one step closer toward socialized medicine. Or maybe Fade To Blue because some enterprising wiccan chick just discovered if you read chapter six backwards a message from the Lord Of Darkness (Ryan Seacrest) is revealed.
Listen, at this point, if your book hasn't been banned somewhere in the world, you're probably not trying very hard. If Salman Rushdie hadn't had the old fatwa slapped on him, he never would have become a punchline on Seinfeld, let alone a household name. He'd still be a creaky academic with good reviews and mediocre sales. In fact, being banned is the new biceps tattoo and chopped Harley of cultural outlaw-ism. And I, for one, want in on this gang. I want to join the ranks of George Orwell, S.E. Hinton, Charles Bukowski, Jim Carroll, Ray Bradbury, Allen Ginsburg, Judy Blume, William Burroughs, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Kurt Vonnegut, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. We can all hang out, drink gallons of black coffee, quote Rimbaud at terrified locals, and roar around town in our matching leather pants.
The thing doesn't seem to have sunk in yet is that the forces of banning always lose. Always. If it takes six months or twenty years, they are eventually revealed as prudish, reactionary, closed-minded, and boring. The forces for censorship invariably have an agenda for restricting art that is wholly different than their stated intent, namely easing their personal fears or increasing their economic gain. It is rarely because the work itself is too dangerous. There's no such thing as dangerous art. It's easy to forget, after all, that when Richard Strauss' opera Salome was first performed in 1905, the audience TORE DOWN THE OPERA HALL because they were so scandalized. Now, Salome is used as the background music for dental exams and Flo-nase commercials. There is nothing at all that can be written, from de Sade to Kathy Acker, that is scarier than someone telling you that you can't read it.
A modern offshoot of banning is Oprah-ization. Just ask Johnathan Franzen. Of course, Big O's imperial nod toward The Corrections made him an unlikely celebrity and wealthy man, but it seems to have also handcuffed him as an author, and permanently placed him in the realm of pop artifact. There are some things worse than being reviled, and maybe being loved too strenuously is one of them.
Of course, other books tend to want to ban themselves. Like the latest remaindered tomes from Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, which fill the national consciousness with something legitimately distasteful: rants that are too stridently mean, too manipulative, too fact-malleable, and too cynically calculated to divide. But we need to protect books like these as much or more than Roth's or Nabakov's. The easiest targets tend to go quietly, but once they're gone, the circle of moronicism draws tighter around those that are actually worth fighting for.
And as the line between high and low culture shrinks ever further, to the point that Paris Hilton is as well known a fictional character as Holden Caulfield or Doctor Benway, it becomes harder and harder to find a subject matter that shocks, offends, or even just dribbles off into tedium. And while Janet Jackson baring her decolletage on national television was decried as the final blow to decency, every great book ever written has passages in it which would cause the very same contextually challanged whistle blowers to demand a bonfire in the streets. More likely, book banning lives with us now in a more insidious form: the quiet refusal to shock library shelves. Or an unwillingness to take on a fervent school board by assigning a controversial book. Banning is too easy to fight. Indifference is a much more difficult foe.
So ban me! Now! Soak down Fade To Blue with kerosene and hit your Zippo! I dare you!