Banned Books and Bratty Readers
Remember that time on The O.C. when Marissa wanted to get back at her snobby, social climbing mother by dating the yard guy?
Marissa Cooper was a mess wasn't she?
Now imagine her as a reader . . . LOL!
Now imagine her as a reader . . . LOL!
Yeah, he was good looking and had a nice personality--but there's a reason I had to look him up by googling "The O.C. Marissa Hispanic guy." She would have dated him even if he had been a troll in appearance and manner. The point was to show her racist mother up. It's too bad that she could only do it by being racist herself. To his credit, D.J. (Yes, I finally learned his name) didn't let himself be played by either the mother or the daughter, and his short arc on The O.C. has some real class. (Sarcastic voice in my head: "Yeah, social class." Shut up, stupid voice, and let me finish this post.)
I always mean to post this during "Banned Books Week", the most self-congratulatory sennight in the book blogging calendar, in which we pat ourselves on the back for being open-minded enough to read books which people whom we don't respect didn't like. (I wonder what Tyler Durden would say.) But I always post stuff off schedule, and well, some readers are bratty all weeks of the year. Like, R****** S*******, who inspired me to give this post another go, inasmuch as she shares the book blogging community's consensus that authors should be "nice" or be blacklisted. We don't like it when other people take away our "freedom to read," but we've done our fair share to take away some authors' "freedom to be read."
I'll bet that any author who wishes for the windfall that comes from having a book "challenged" . . .
Guess who'll be playing Jackson Pearce in any future biopics?
. . . also walks on eggshells around book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers, so as not to be punished for the mortal sin of "overreacting" to a negative review. (And that could mean anything.)
But the most important thing to note is that the people who are most vocal about "banned books" are the people who least need to be. Basically, if you're reading this right now (Yes, YOU!), then you and your peers enjoy greater access to reading material of your own choice than any other group in all our millennia of recorded history. But much good it does you when you're not even literate enough to define simple words like "banned" properly: apparently, all it takes these days for a book to be considered "banned" is for someone to write a letter to a librarian, asking that it be removed from the shelves. Meanwhile, outside the bubble of the library, anyone can still get the same title from a bookstore or from the Internet, which means for most of us, book banning simply does not exist. Celebrating the freedom to read "banned books" in this century is like celebrating the freedom to sneak out of the house to meet your bad boy boyfriend when you're already in your thirties. I mean, grow up.
Also consider that if one little letter is all it takes, then the system is easy to game. If I were an author who wanted a lot of free publicity for my new book (regardless of its actual merits), I'd just get a few people to demand that librarians get my book off the shelves. If I were really unethical, I'd pay them to pen letters; if I were just a slick operator, I'd hand out free copies of my book to people whom I know would react hysterically to them . . . or to the children of those people! ;-P
Now, given that book bloggers seem to be aware that this "unintended consequence" of creating a lot of free publicity actually happens on a very reliable basis . . . and that authors seem to agree that the publicity does result in more book sales . . . it actually makes no sense for the book blogging community to be against "book banning." On the contrary, we should be all for it! And if you think about it, we are: book bloggers love book banners, because if the latter didn't exist, we'd be forced to admit that modern reading is less about freedom than about conspicuous consumption and branding--and our self-esteem might not be able to handle that much reality.
But in case reality is your thing, let's take a peek out of this book bubble in which our "freedom to read" exists under artificial and highly controlled conditions. Please set your favourite "banned book" next to the 7-11 Big Gulp cup and those Buckyballs on that shelf behind the couch in our favourite psychiatrist's office . . .
When you say, "personal responsibility!" you are really saying "this is safe enough for it to be a question of personal responsibility." But you must ask yourself the question: how do you know Buckyballs and soda are safe enough for them to be about personal responsibility? Because "some other omnipotent entity" allowed them to exist. How do you know that Entity can be trusted? Because it even tries to ban silly things like Buckyballs and soda. The system is sound.
That is, how do we know that "banned books" are safe enough to be about personal responsibility? (Seriously.) Is it because a bunch of editors whose job you couldn't explain the ins and outs of said that the books were safe? (Admit it.) Well, if we can barely explain what they do, how do we know that they're doing their job right and not letting literary Ebola into our libraries? (Yeah, I just had to date this post with that.) It turns out that we are trusting them to turn out safe products, in the same way that we trust aeronautic engineers, pharmaceutical developers, and yes, even soda manufacturers--because we actually have no choice. (So much for freedom.)
Basically, being upset over "banned books" is just howling over having our private choices limited while ignoring the fact that our private choices were already limited to begin with. For every controversial book that was accepted and heavily edited by a publisher, there are thousands more that didn't make the cut for reasons that we will never know. Best case scenario: they were badly written by hacks and were only fit for kindling. Worst case scenario: they were beautifully written books with powerful ideas that clashed with a narrow ideology espoused by the editor whose desk they ended up on. Now those would be banned books.
If this doesn't even occur to us, that would be because we're distracted by all the pretty and shiny and panem and circenses reading that have made the official cut. That is, by books that are so completely controlled, we have no idea that we're reading only what other people want us to read and liking it.
Since you're as used to it as I am, surely you won't mind if I end with a quotation that I want you to read:
"In a society where expression is free and popularity is rewarded, [people] read mostly that which debauches them and they are continuously exposed to manipulation by controllers of the printing machine."
-- Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
Weaver was born too early to learn that the controllers of the printing machine are nothing next to the controllers of social media, but the latter deserve an endnote anyway.
Image Source: Marissa and DJ