Censoring Materials

WeetziebatWeetzie Bat
Francesca Lia Block
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

My reading response this week is going to take on a bit of a different tone than my typical book review. Censorship, why people censor and how people go about censoring are topics that I am extremely interested in, and that I have spent a great amount of time researching. I believe, and I’m sure my feelings on censorship aren’t drastically different from anyone else’s in the class, that censorship of any materials (with the exception of illegal materials) is wrong. That being said, a more appropriate type of audiences can exist for a material, but the decision of whether or not an individual is part of that audience should be left up to them. One experience with censorship that I have had, where I was the one inadvertently censoring, happened when I worked at Chapters. A middle-aged man asked me if we had a copy of Mein Kampf. I was so ignorant to the title that I had to have him spell it out for me in order to search the inventory system. Only after he explained what the book was about did I clue in, and told him Chapters’ selling edict about not carrying any materials on child pornography, assembling/producing weaponry, or materials that could be viewed as sympathizing with Nazism. My manager told me that the third edict was because the family of CEO Heather Reisman was significantly affected during WW2. I never really questioned the appropriateness of these edicts, or how they were inflicting censorship. The man’s response when I conveyed this information has stuck with me ever since, he said (I’m paraphrasing), that if we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, and if we are prevented others from even learning about those mistakes, how can we as a society ever hope to be better than we were. This interaction made me rethink my stance on censorship in any form, and how reading about something you don’t understand can help you learn more about yourself, your values and the world you live in.

monster

Monster
Walter Dean Meyers
New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Weetzie Bat and Monster are interesting titles because they have very distinct character voices that do not necessarily represent a worldview or life experience typically represented in fiction. Not reflecting a typical worldview or life experiences, in being different, can create controversy, or give people reason’s why the books should be censored. In Weetzie Bat there are mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, overdose, failed marriage, adultery, death, same-sex relationships, and one-night-stands, coupled with the fact that Weetzie has very mature desires like having a baby, while her age and her maturity level is fairly left fairly ambiguous. In Monster, whether or not Steve is actually innocent, is left fairly ambiguous. The reader never learns if they are rooting for someone that played a part in a murder, or not. There are also strong discussions of gangs, violence and life in jail. While the events, situation, and narrative voices do not necessarily reflect typical worldview or life experience, that is not a reason for either of the books to be censored, or banned. There will be readers that directly relate to the events in Monster or the quirkiness in Weetzie Bat. Or, there may be a reader who reads Monster and makes a change in how they live their life. Neither book should be censored or banned from a library.

In the library we need to recognize what it is about these books that readers could find appealing, and what characteristics a reader won’t find appealing, the same way we would for any other title. Like the customer at Chapters taught me, being exposed to materials that reflect situations or a worldview that the reader does not personally relate to or understand will only help them become more knowledgeable, learning from other peoples mistakes, the way other people live, and the types of motivations and decisions that people who are not like them make.

Exposing ourselves to materials that others may take offence to, whether or not we like the materials, or personally agree with what the materials say, can only help us be better rounded readers and more educated Librarians. Exposure to different materials will help solidify our stance on intellectual freedom, and the right for the individual to decide what materials are right for them.

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