Objection Lesson

September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Banned Books Week ends tomorrow, and this year I didn’t celebrate by reading Tropic of Cancer or Lolita like I’ve done in the past, only because my nightstand stack is already too high and I didn’t feel like switching gears.

Other than sparking an important annual discussion about censorship and free expression, and giving booksellers a marketing hook for their backlists, what does a week celebrating banned books accomplish now? Most of the time, people who object to a book nowadays know they aren’t going to see it banned. Most objectors only think that going public with their disgust is somehow a revolutionary act that will stand even with that performed by the person who wrote the book. All that does is point out how little the objectors know about how revolution works.

People want to make news and be heard. This is why we still keep hearing about school boards removing books from school libraries because they contain elements so ubiquitous in other media: sex scenes, witchcraft, heresy, or, God forbid, people comfortable in gay relationships. Interest in the book rises and kids who never planned to read it to begin with go scope it out on Amazon. Then the objector gets mocked, and in some cases, such as this week in North Carolina, the board relents and its members cover their asses after being embarrassed. But people still want to make news and be heard, so the cycle continues year after year.

There is an echo of Internet spoilage here. The objector is analogous to the commenter who thinks his or her dashed-off trolling somehow leverages off the more carefully composed work they are disparaging. It speaks to a gross distrust of readers young and old not to make their own fair critical assessments, but then the objectors are never forced to own to that. Free speech only works when it polices itself. It is a vital tool for knowing who the assholes are in this world.

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