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Posted at 07:35 PM ET, 09/28/2011

For Banned Books week, two reasons to ban ‘Brave New World’


At the National You-Know-What Festival. (Jay Paul - For The Washington Post)
It's Banned Books week, which prompts a group of Book Loving Organizations (including the American Library Association) to release a list of banned and challenged books.

One of the entries struck me as odd.

“Brave New World” has been challenged in Glen Burnie and Seattle for opposite reasons.

In Glen Burnie, the trouble was too much sexual content.

In Seattle, it was something else. The entry for “Brave New World” notes:

A parent had complained that the book has a “high volume of racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans. In addition to the inaccurate imagery, and stereotype views, the text lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society.”

This seems wrong somehow. It’s more than just the redundancy — not just “contemporary multicultural society,” but “today’s contemporary multicultural society.”

This is the Huxley dystopian classic “Brave New World” we're talking about. Any time you try to censor it, excited English teachers print out the article and post it on the Irony board.

It’s been a standard of the curriculum for years. Sure, it’s obnoxious in parts. Sure, the wording can sound stilted and old-fashioned, and the subjects of its indignation do not always align with what heats us under the collar nowadays. Sure, it’s out of date. “Of course they’re out of date. Standards are always out of date,” an Alan Bennett character says. “That is what makes them standards.”

Besides, if you’re going to object to “Brave New World,” that shouldn’t be why. Object because it waits half the book to introduce what Huxley seems to think is its real protagonist. Object because it blames Ford, not Zuckerberg, for the future’s problems.

If this list says anything, it’s that censorship isn’t just for unlettered fools any more. It’s for lettered fools, too. You don’t need a pitchfork. Just run the book over with your Prius.

Censors come in all stripes. For every person who says that you can't read “Brave New World” because it's got too much sexual freedom in it, there's somebody else who says that it "lacks literary value which is relevant to today's contemporary multicultural society."

Censorship is not just for would-be Savonarolas and yokels with overalls and bonfires. Now you can hold a latte in one hand, dandle a baby panda with another, and try to remove a book from a reading list with a third hand you have acquired for just such occasions. The effect is the same — the book is gone. “This book judges,” you say. “And you know what they say — judge not. We’d better burn it so people don’t see the awful judgy things it says.”

Yet the impulse is strangely understandable. We all know that curious reverse puritanism; not the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy, but — far stronger than that — the gnawing sense that someone, somewhere, may be offended.

As a Modern, Civilized Person, one of your most time-consuming hobbies is worrying that everything you say and do will be considered offensive by future generations. It’s practically a law: Try as you might to corral your thinking, your grandchildren will still think you’re bigoted somehow. It’s just something that happens with the march of time.

Some nights you awaken in a cold sweat from a dream in which future generations called your collected works “2011’s Song of the South.”

“What if the future has horse consent?” you say. “What if my iPhone is sentient? What if I’m abusing it right now and when the Singularity happens in 2045 all the machines rise up and castigate me for being a harsh master? What if I shouldn’t refer to them as machines? What if I should feel happier about goat husbandry?”

“Please go to sleep,” your long-suffering husband says, pulling the pillow over his head.

And at times like this, thank heavens for literature to put this in perspective. Thank heavens for the books of the past, which warn us, as James Thurber wrote, that “You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.”

Then again, I’m not sure that has any relevance to today’s contemporary multicultural society.

By  |  07:35 PM ET, 09/28/2011

Tags:  books, irony, kids these days

 
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