Thursday, April 28, 2005

The banning of books, sadly, alive and well

Fearing the so-called "homosexual agenda," a senator in Alabama has introduced a bill which would ban the purchase of new books for the state's libraries which were authored by homosexuals or included homosexual characters in their stories. Read the story here. But the good senator assures us that this is not censorship: "I don't look at is as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children." Right . . .

Somehow the very basic definition of "censorship" has eluded this elected official. Censorship remains censorship even if done with "good" intentions. Nevertheless, the senator's intentions here are laughable. The article mentions that for a while the bill included Shakespeare within the gaze of its homophobic wrath. Now, I know about the rumors that have circulated about the bard, but, honestly, where will this bill draw the line? The bill is now written so that "classics" will not be banned. Presumably the subtle (and not so subtle) homosexuality of Homeric epic is acceptable but not Alice Walker's haunting prose in The Color Purple. What about Walt Whitman? Adrienne Rich? Seemingly, whether a work is a classic or not is in the eye of the beholder.

I think this is precisely where the more sinister side of such a move lies. This has little to do with protecting young minds but with inoculating a public institution from anything which might verge upon the offensive, with anything which might ruffle the feathers of the high-minded moral police. This act is not about protection but control and that control would stifle imagination, compassion, and the willingness to see the world through another's perspective, three things from which the world would benefit today. And let us not forget what signal this sends to young women and men struggling to form their sexual identity. Not only will they be isolated and alone among their peers, but if the senator has his way, they would be left adrift without even an imaginary interlocutor to reflect and share their struggles to form a healthy sexual identity.