BY CHAMINDI WIJESINGHE
Banned Books Week is from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.
This year will be the 34th anniversary of Banned Books week. The last week of September) will be when words will attempt to overthrow unnecessary censorship.
After all, in the words of Laurie Anderson “censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”
The heat-wave surrounding censorship of books sent the media in a frenzy in the 1980s, urging society to fight against authority, ensuring that there would be a change in social behavior and moral values.
Almost three decades later, the spectrum of normalcy drastically mixed into a potpourri of confusion and disbelief and books, from the dictionary to the Harry Potter series, were rubbing certain members of society in the wrong way.
Parents, educators and intellectuals have had to struggle to bring up important topics, helpful to the development of society, carving a new mold of the right and wrong, as each of these decades telescoped.
Amidst the constant threats to burn those who dare dispute authorities, we have been able to celebrate the very notion of what should not be.
With time, censorship was twisted and remodeled to deviate from its sole purposes of protecting people against brainwashing attempts and discouraging them from pursuing ideas that would compromise the morality of society.
On the contrary, it became a platform to deny freedom of expression, speech and thought under the semblance of protecting basic social institutions.
Whilst more serious restriction from governments has arisen for political reasons, the most common form of censorship occurs within the general public.
The rush to restrict materials deemed unsuitable finds its roots in an assumption that Dr. Seto Hann Hoi sums up in this statement: “saying that everyone being capable of critical and sensible evaluation of their reading material is a dangerous overestimation of the maturity of the public.”
Such a school of thought has blundered head on into controversy and a fundamental question: does censoring pressing issues protect us or drown us deeper into ignorance?
In a single year, a minimum of 300 books can be challenged or banned for their content.
Most of these books revolve around the silenced world of teenagers and young adults as they attempt to explore and understand themselves… a world of confused sexuality, drugs, pregnancy, sex and abuse.
Indeed, this can be seen by the number of times, books tackled in class have been challenged.
Despite the realistic characters, straightforward plotlines and blunt dialogues, from “Annie on my Mind” to “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, such books have garnered much negative reaction.
Garden’s “Annie on my Mind” is a lesbian-themed novel where she talks about one girl’s struggle to understanding her sexuality and be accepted in a society widely prejudiced against homosexuality. Books such as these are a gateway to teenagers and even adults trapped by popular paradigm and are not only entertaining but also educational.
Riding a wave of similarity, Chbosky’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower” addresses sexual abuse, suicide, homosexuality, abortion and depression; issues that did not fail to attract trouble.
Yet, both books put forth situations that deal with occurrences that someone somewhere is going through.
Judy Blume and J.K.Rowling have shown us the truth of the books’ impact in the words received from readers worldwide, thankful for being reassured that their fears and doubts were normal and can be overcome.
Thousands of readers continuously shower authors with gratefulness for allowing them to discover and learn about ‘taboos’ and their consequences truthfully through the pages of a book; issues that cannot be discussed openly, for fear of being shunned.
At the same time, the sword is double-edged.
Should a 10-year-old be allowed to read heavy graphic novels about vampires, suicide or self-mutilation?
In the two-way road of influence by books, there have been numerous accidents where people were tempted to simulate unethical ideas that were necessary for the plot.
Some people have reasons to advocate against censorship. We need to understand the mentality of those rooting for the latter.
Citizens who wanted American Psycho taken off shelves had a valid reason to do so. The contents of the book consist of gore and crude details of mass murder coupled with sexual promiscuity.
While the book might be entertaining to some, others might be traumatized or even worse, fascinated by the content.
Any effort to keep the most grueling materials out of reach should be nodded and not frowned upon, as freedom gets bigger with increasing maturity only.
Living in a society that changes censorship into a device for barring every manner of thought, thus preventing the access to knowledge and education that can be used to take a step forward in life, blinds, deafens and silences people.
Rather, having each piece of education unraveled one at a time, as the mind slowly loses its immaturity is a valuable asset to any culture.
In the end, it is up to our own judgment whether censorship becomes the devil’s ride or the messenger of wisdom.