If we see any more snowflakes appear in red states, the National Weather Service is going to have to issue a blizzard warning.
So the state once celebrated for Davy Crockett’s bravery now fears a cartoon mouse exposing teens to indecorous language. Can’t get more snowflakey than that.
Spiegelman joins the good company of Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison (whose debut novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was banned in Wentzville, Mo., on Jan. 20), “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (whose memoir survived a ban attempt in Osseo, Minn., last month) and Margaret Atwood (whose “The Handmaid’s Tale” was targeted in Goddard, Kan., in November) — as well as scores of other books, the vast majority of which have protagonists who are Black, or LGBTQ, or perceived as being anti-police.
McMinn County’s banning of Spiegelman’s mice comes almost a century after Tennessee tried to ban Darwin’s monkeys in the Scopes trial. The Volunteer State, apparently, is not evolving. And the political right, it seems, has undergone reverse evolution. Its new theory: survival of the fussiest.
The American Library Association tells me that there were 330 “challenges” in the three months between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021, with December still to be tallied. That compares with just 156 in all of 2020, and 377 in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. This means book bannings are happening at roughly quadruple the previous pace.
And that’s just the beginning of the thought-police problem. PEN America, a free-speech organization, reports that in the first three weeks of January 2022, 71 “gag-order” bills banning the teaching of certain concepts were introduced or pre-filed in state legislatures across the country. Since January of last year, 12 such bills have become law in 10 GOP-run states, and 88 bills are still working their way through the legislative process. Virtually all of them have been sponsored by Republicans.
Eighty-four of the active bills target K-12 schools, 38 target colleges and universities, 48 include mandatory punishments, and 15 give students, parents or citizens the right to sue schools. So much for the professed Republican devotion to combatting frivolous lawsuits.
Among the 10 states that have adopted gag laws, Iowa prohibits “specific defined concepts” from being in the public school curriculum; North Dakota specifically bans “critical race theory”; New Hampshire and South Carolina make sure schools do not “inculcate” students in certain ways; and Texas bans the “1619 Project.” The other states are Arkansas, Oklahoma, Idaho and, of course, Tennessee. One of Arizona’s laws, struck down in court, banned “instruction that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”
Not long ago, those on the right howled about ultrasensitive “snowflakes” and “cancel culture” when woke activists sought to replace racially insensitive texts. And it’s true progressives have gone overboard at times; the Mukilteo, Wash., school board is the latest to remove the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” from its reading list because of racially offensive terms.
“The sense that this has gone too far has triggered a backlash that is so much more censorious and silencing than what it purports to counter,” Suzanne Nossel, the head of PEN America, tells me. “You have legislative bans on ideas, historical perspectives, terminology, books. If you think about the hierarchy of infringements on free speech, there’s just no question that legislative prohibitions on ideology are the top of the list. … It’s an effort to frighten and intimidate teachers and administrators and dictate how they teach at penalty of fines and discipline and ostracism and firings.”
Groups such as “Moms for Liberty” and “No Left Turn” have proposed lists of books to be banned. In Texas, the Republican chairman of the House General Investigating Committee sent schools a list of 850 books related to race, gender and sexuality that could “make students feel discomfort.”
In addition to PEN America and the ALA, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Coalition Against Censorship are tracking the book bans, gag laws and other attempts at stifling speech. But it’s difficult to keep up. Virginia’s new Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, created a tip line so informants can report on teachers teaching anything “divisive.” Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, launched a statewide hunt for “pornography” (that is, books about gender and sexuality) in schools.
Among the works that have been on the chopping block: August Wilson’s “Fences,” an Oscar-nominated PBS documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about James Baldwin, the bestseller “The Hate U Give” — and a coloring book with African Adinkra symbols.
Canceling a coloring book? Who’s a snowflake now?