Banned Books Week [September 27 - October 1, 2010]

Avi Santo's picture

Monday September 27, 2010 – Christopher Jennings (Metropolitan State College of Denver) presents: 21st Century Burning

Tuesday September 28, 2010 – Shawna Kidman (University of Southern California) presents: “Holy Camp, Batman!”: The Legacy of Censorships in Comics

Wednesday September 29, 2010 – Aron Christian (Georgia State University) presents: What REALitieS Are in the Classroom? How a Diary, a Teacher, and 150 Students Changed the World

Thursday September 30, 2010 –  Bryce J. Renninger (Rutgers University) presents: ”And Tango Makes Three,” Banned Books Week, and the Nature/Nurture Discourse

Friday October 1, 2010 – American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom presents: ”10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009”


Theme week organized by Nedda Ahmed (Georgia State University)

Graphic by Noel Kirkpatrick (Georgia State University).

  • 21st Century Burning by Dr. Christopher Jennings

  • The ALA describes Banned Book Week (BBW) as a celebration of our freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Often, a symbolic move by those who can not ban a book or keep people from reading one is to burn it - in mass quantities. Throughout history, the symbolism of burning has taken on many forms. The first documented burn of protest took place in 213 BCE, as a Google search will illustrate after one sifts through to find the valid information. Other Google results lead the same search to Burning Man, where a burn is symbolic in many different ways to many different people. Given this variation in meaning to burn, along with the various ways in which media is delivered, we are now considering what 21st Century Burning (and banning) will look like in our connected world.

    I asked my Basic Interactive Production class to consider the following questions for extra credit:

    1. How will books and media be banned in the 21st Century?
    2. How would Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) contribute to 21st Century Banning or even Burning?
    3. What will 21st Century Book Banning and Burning look like?

    I gave them 24 hours to complete the task. Not surprisingly, I received 4 entries out of 24 students. However, those four were powerful statements. Honest answers to the questions above that are represented in the video for this entry, “21st Century Burning.”

    Interestingly, 3 out of 4 of the student reflections were directly related to the law or authority. Michael D. Taft wondered if a future would ban a search. Thomas Moore’s concern was propaganda and possible “sign says…” sightings along a roadside near you. Brittney Ibold made a strong, yet simple statement, “They will find you…”

    The final student submission, by Brandon Crouch, illustrated how many feel the direction books and media are heading – all digital. In an era of media, digital or otherwise, existing together in a complex cloud of connectivity will our attitudes and methods of banning and burning change as well?

    We still have the option to learn or burn in our country. It’s your choice. We still have our libraries to provide us guidance and to locate valid information. Then you can burn what you find for what ever meaning burning is for you.

  • “Holy Camp Batman!”: The Legacy of … by Shawna Kidman

  • Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic books were the target of an anti-juvenile delinquency campaign that inspired book burnings, attempts from local governments to prohibit sales, and a nationally televised Congressional hearing. In the end, comics were never officially banned.  But the general cultural hysteria and still looming threat of legislation were too much for industry leaders, who finally consented to self-censorship in 1955. Within two years, horror and crime comics disappeared, leaving behind nothing but superheroes, who, despite their earnest patriotism, still had to be cleaned up in compliance with the newly adopted Comics Code. Batman, who had been the object of a particularly pointed attack, underwent the most dramatic transformation. Psychologists had accused him of living out a homosexual fantasy with his ward/sidekick Robin, so throughout the late 1950s, publishers worked to distance Batman from this supposedly sordid past. Paradoxically, the resulting character was so innocent and outlandish that when ABC bought the title in 1965, all the producers saw in him was camp. Hoping to attract an adult audience, they decided to use ironic distance to exaggerate these sensibilities even further. In the process, they created a subtext more subversive than anything in the original books.

    In this clip, Adam West matches Batman’s excessive innocence with an equally overstated seriousness, accepting his OJ—the “Batman special”—with masculine confidence. But the bat-dance that follows is more playful and suggestive. Similarly, while the gender reversal in the next scene knowingly references Robin’s alleged sexual deviance, the show delights in the moment, getting at a pleasure that would have been impossible on network TV had the tone been more straightforward.

    For some fans, ABC’s Batman borders on the profane. Its frivolous aesthetic constitutes a blot on the character’s past. Others, who decry the current incarnation as too serious, celebrate it as a camp classic. Either way, it’s impossible to deny the constitutive role played by censorship. Had the anti-comics campaign been more effective, comics would have disappeared entirely. Had the crusade been less effective, horror might have continued to overshadow superheroes, and we might never have seen the Silver Age, not to mention a Batman TV series. And had the industry not capitulated to self-censorship, (or had intellectuals not argued that it was their public responsibility to do so), we might never have gotten a campy Batman who exaggerated everything he was trying to deny. While nobody’s proud of our history of book banning, our culture would look vastly different if these practices hadn’t pushed and pulled creative expression in unexpected directions.

  • What REALitieS Are in the Classroom? … by Aron Christian

  • This clip from The Freedom Writers exhibits the harsh realities for students populating our classrooms. Discourses of oppression function daily in constructing the real outside the “four walls” of our institutions. We often find ourselves forgetting that each student has a story. Even worse, we are aware of their situations and strive to connect but are constricted by academic policies. Erin Gruwell and 150 students accomplished something remarkable in Room 203 of Woodrow Wilson High; they literally changed the world. Gruwell learned of the deplorable conditions of her students’ lives after assigning them to write in journals. The words inscribed within those journals have now echoed the world over; Gruwell and the Freedom Writers published The Freedom Writers Diary in 1999. Since then, Gruwell’s methods have become a profound example of critical pedagogy through the film, the Freedom Writers Foundation, and the use of the diary in classrooms around the world.

    However, not everyone was welcoming to the realities of The Freedom Writers Diary as well as enacting the classroom as a forum for critical emancipation. Connie Heermann, a teacher who attended the Freedom Writers Institute, used the book in her 11th grade English class at Perry Meridian High in Indianapolis, IN. Soon after, she lost her job, becoming the only Freedom Writer Teacher ever to do so. Although she gained parental consent, the school board objected to racial slurs and sexual portions of the book.

    The question becomes how connected are we to our students, and do we let the real into the reality in the classroom? A book that illustrated the power of written language to transform a group of “unteachable, at-risk” pupils into politically engaged and enlightened students who escaped their limited realties and regained their power through discovering new possibilities in discourses of critical reflection was banned because of content which threatened not student advancement—as this content is anything but alien to them—but the fear of political and economic instability of a school system. Where do we press the imaginary lines drawn for us in pedagogy whether in lecture halls or classrooms like Room 203? Are the realities of the classroom real? The ideas that have been censored are where we often find a better truth or even a more real reality.

    For more information on the Freedom Writers Foundation and Erin Gruwell:

    For more information on the story of Connie Heermann:

  • “And Tango Makes Three,” Banned … by Bryce J. Renninger

  • In this interview with Judith Krug of the American Library Association, broadcast on a public access show, Krug explains Banned Books Week by discussing examples of books on the ALA’s list of most petitioned books.  One of these books, Pete Parnell and Justin Richardson’s “And Tango Makes Three,” has been one of the most challenged books for several years.

    The book, based on a true story at the Central Park Zoo and written for a young picture book audience, tells a tale of a pair of male penguins who form a parenting bond that looks like all the other penguins’ male-female couplings.  It has drawn ire from adults who claim that the book is an endorsement of homosexuality, a position the host of the program finds understandable.  

    So what makes this book such a lightning rod for controversy?  The book, though it is an attempt at using anthropomorphic storytelling to encourage compassion for same-sex partnerships, provides an easy example and target for those eager to engage in the nature-nurture debate over whether homosexuality is biologically based or a conscious choice — a false dichotomy but easy escape for queer politics and its enemies alike.  The fact that the book is based in fact allows it to be easily taken up within this discourse.  As Jon Mooallem astutely (and somewhat reluctantly) elaborates in his New York Times Magazine essay “Can Animals Be Gay?,” the observation by biologists that animals sometimes pair in same-sex couples for various social reasons causes people with varying agendas to politicize these findings.  Placing ideals of love, devotion, and monogamy (same-sex or otherwise) onto selected pockets of the animal kingdom, ideals which our species so irregularly can honestly uphold, enforces the simplified nature/nurture debate.

    It is the ALA’s self-designated responsibility to report on controversy.  Krug’s interview reminds us that libraries provide books so that they can be read by those who want to read them.  The written word (and illustrations) can inspire a multitude of interpretations and affect (…and controversy…).  This book gained importance by being heavily publicized and readily taken up as a cause celebre and subsequently challenged by others.  Perhaps like other banned books, inclusion on the list signifies something more than just offensive content; perhaps there is a call to actually go to the text to dig deeper and to be affected — to take one’s own perspective.

  • 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books … by ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

  • Established December 1, 1967, the Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.

    Intellectual Freedom Issues and Resources

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 27 Sep 2010 04:13:06 +0000