Saturday, April 26, 2008

On Censorship of Catcher in the Rye

 (UPDATE: This blog post was revisited and revised on October 23, 2009. To view the much improved and understanding post, please click on this link. Thank you!)

I know about a high school teacher who always dreaded back-to–school night because she taught Catcher in the Rye, and would every year face awkward silence and maddened hysteria.

J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is one of my favorite novels, and I am sure one of yours. Despite its roaring popularity, the novel has been the target of censorship from many school boards. Why?

Most argue that banning is justified because of its obscene language and suggestive themes. Yes, indeed it does contain some inappropriate things, in fact, quite a lot. But what is the age group which most frequently reads Catcher? To teenagers, the themes within the book in question are no strange territory. Let's put it at this, everyone hears curse words, even the censors and children. If we ban the books they love for this reason, why not ban schools and society? These two are more a source of obscenity than any book I have read. Heck, the MPAA claims that any film containing the F-Bomb must be rated PG-13. I have seen more obscene PG-13 movies then what would Catcher be if it were to be filmed.

I also noticed a trend in frequently challenged and hated books. Every book that has seen the sacrificial pyre was beloved by children. Take for instance, Rowling's Harry Potter children's series. The novels are beloved because they provide a fantastic escape from reality. Burned at a church near you. Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird discussed the problem of racism, and for this it was banned. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged had wild popularity with youth because of its nonconforming ways, and for this it was banned. Stephen King's books are scary, and so they are banned. Catcher in the Rye heavily discussed the "phoniness" of the adult world, which its young readers easily identified with. And so the censors got it. The book's nonconforming free-though is blatant in that it is the first book ever to use the F-bomb. Innovative.

Upon release, the book quickly found its way into college campuses. And then into advanced English classes in high schools. After fifty years, the book is now in a locked case behind the librarian's desk because it was deemed "harmful to our family values culture". It seems that the censors in these "family values cultures" never read the book. While Holden, the main character, swears a lot, he also spends an ample amount of time cleaning up vandalism, because he feels that children should not be exposed to things like that.

So what is a "family values culture"? Is it a conservative candidate's magic word? Is it a synonym for "phony"? The GFDL-licensed Wikipedia says that: Social and religious conservatives often use the term "family values" to promote conservative ideology that supports traditional morality or values.[2] American Christians often see their religion as the source of morality and consider the nuclear family to be an essential element in society. Some conservative family values advocates believe the government should endorse Christian morality,[3] for example by displaying the Ten Commandments or allowing teachers to conduct prayers in public schools. Religious conservatives often view the United States as a "Christian nation".[4] For example, the American Family Association, says "The American Family Association exists to motivate and equip citizens to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth and traditional family values."[5] These groups variously oppose abortion, pornography, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, some aspects of feminism,[6]
cohabitation, and depictions of sexuality in the media.

It seems that the description for "Family Values" is forced, mindless conformity judging from the Wikipedia article. Why is it immoral to be gay, pro-choice and atheist or a Muslim? In a way, I see some bigotry in this description, intolerance for new ideas. To be a moral person in the view of a "Family Values Society" you must be a clone. Why?

Now, have you ever met a conformist? Was he not the most boring person you ever met? To make an interesting person you must have him talk about controversial and interesting things, like books and movies. Censorship makes people boring because it takes away things to talk about. Look at the above picture; do you see any titles that you have enjoyed talking about? Do you see anything that has given you charisma? Did anyone listen to you in fascination when you talked about what you thought about the book? Imagine a world where these books never existed, would there be anything good to talk about. I can imagine it.

"Hi, what are you doing?"

"Breathing, what are you?"

"Wow! Same here, we have much in common! Let's be friends!"

"Sure, that's great!"

"So, what do you like to do? What do you want to talk about?"

*Awkward silence*

"I don't know. You?"

*Awkward silence*

"So, bye…"


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