Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Books, Banning and Free Speech

As I begin this month's book, I feel the need to reflect a bit on the history of Catcher in the Rye. This book has been banned more times throughout its lifetime than the Bible- at least in our great country. I find this book particularly interesting as we enter the final stretch of the presidential race. I can't help but draw parallels on censorship, freedom of speech and our current presidential race and how often this book has been banned, disputed and argued over.

I understand the good intentioned premise behind book banning- to protect the innocent. I feel that on that theme alone, Holden would approve. But when you take a closer look you see the "phoniness" that Holden so vehemently disapproves. This book has been banned for it's sexual content, vulgar language and even, in 1978, for being a part of a communist plot that was gaining a foothold in the US Schools. After reviewing several book banning lists, I found several unifying themes. All of the books, the books that made the list (year after year), required and forced a person to have free thought, to think, to visualize situations, and forced the reader to come face to face with reality, creativity and imagine. All of the very things that create a discourse in a stymied life. If you are living in a culture that expects you to absorb, believe and follow what you are being told, then why would you need free thought? creativity? imagination? Yet, by definition that culture is not democratic. Not what this country was founded on. And we are a democratic nation? Right? Then why would this and other great classics make this list, unless of course, we are a nation of "phonies". We are a nation that says we want free speech, freedom of thought, creativity and diversity; but only if it fits into the prescribed mold. Even in 2008, we are still trying to tell ourselves that we are a democratic nation. We are democratic because we "allow" different cultures to mix and mingle. Because we "allow" different types of religious beliefs to co-exist. Because we "allow" flag burning. Because we "allow" gays to have equal rights as heterosexuals. Because we "allow" a woman to choose. Yet underneath all the "allowing" we have the undercurrent of truth. The movement from below that wants to take us back to our "roots". We want to go back to our "roots" to protect the sanctity of marriage, life, liberty and happiness. We want to go back to our "roots" to protect the innocence of our children.

Protecting the innocence does not mean obscuring reality, but in fact facing it.