Hide your children! Another Facepalm is here!

Ever worry that your kids are being exposed to too much sex, violence, and obscenity in the media they consume? Ever worry that reading Harry Potter will turn your child into a wizard? Well, ban it! Ban it all!

September 18 – 24, 2022 is Banned Books Week. It a time to challenge the affronts to the great American tradition of free speech and fight the power by reading, of all things. In a very recent and very politically charged case out of Virginia Beach, VA state delegate Tim Anderson filed suit against Barnes & Noble Booksellers for (*gasp*) selling books. Specifically two books which he found offensive — Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel memoir Gender Queer and the high-fantasy novel A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The challenge to Gender Queer may be outrageous, but not entirely surprising given the recent uptick in attempted bans of LGBTQ+ literature around the country. But why A Court of Mist and Fury? The novel is unarguably steamy, but no steamier than Game of Thrones or your average Fabio-emblazoned romance novel. And like George R.R. Martin’s novels, is marketed to an adult audience and shelved in the adult fiction section. And even more eyebrow-raising is that A Court of Mist and Fury is the second in a series of four books. So the other three are fine, I guess?

Anderson’s vehicle for the suit was a jalopy of a 1950 Virginia statute that allowed any concerned citizen to challenge a book as obscene. If a judge found probable cause, then they could issue a temporary injunction against selling the book. And anyone caught selling it, regardless of your knowledge of the ban, could be found criminally liable. B&N, Amazon, you. Literally anyone selling a book banned in Virginia. Better be careful what used books you list on Craigslist.

After a strong rebuff by Barnes & Noble with an assist from the ACLU, a Virginia judge tossed the case and ruled the statute unconstitutional. And let’s hope the ruling sticks without additional challenges. As Anderson exuberantly notes in an online statement, “We are in a major fight. Suits like this can be filed all over Virginia. There are dozens of books. Hundreds of schools.” Ah, the dream of a school without books. Utopia.

Banning books is nothing new. And it should be noted that the majority of banned and challenged books are by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community, leading to calls of racism and bigotry under the guise of “decency” and “parental rights.” Books like The Hate U Give and All Boys Aren’t Blue are just two contemporary examples. In the past, censors have found wild reasons to ban some seemingly innocuous literature.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has famously been subject to numerous bans and book burnings, as Harry and the gang have been accused of “glorifying witchcraft, promoting the occult, [with] tones of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil, leading children to hatred and rebellion, confusing children, and leading them astray.” I guess the censors took “He Who Must Not Be Named” literally.

In 2006, a Kansas school district banned E.B. White’s beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web because they believed it was unnatural for animals to talk. They went as far as claiming “showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.”

A school in Wisconsin banned Shel Silverstein’s children’s poetry collection A Light in the Attic because its inclusion of a poem entitled “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes,” as it would encourage children to… not dry the dishes. That doesn’t hold a candle to another Wisconsin ban of A Light in the Attic, which alleged Silverstein’s poetry “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.” Yikes.

Finally, middle-school required reading Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank has been repeatedly banned, not for its depiction of the Holocaust or terror or atrocity or anti-Semitism, but because then 13-year-old Anne wrote a few lines about her emerging sexual desire, specifically for another girl. And an Alabama school district banned it because it was, quote, “a real bummer.”

With that, another Facepalm is in the books.

The Facepalm Archives (September 2022)

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