Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Harry Potter and even Where’s Waldo? have been banned for absurdly ironic reasons.
Saturday, September 26th through Saturday, October 3rd is the 27th annual National Banned Books Week, a week that opposes censorship, the Thought Police, and closeted gay “family values” types who sublimate their man-on-man urges through rampant and vigorous homophobia.
Long time readers of this website will know I hate three things: Internet commenters who misuse your and you’re… hypocrisy… and you’re mom. Today’s list is going after hypocrisy. (It would go after your mom, but her ass is too big to fit anything after it.)
I searched through lists of books that have been banned at one time or another (mostly in the U.S.), and found the ones whose bans were the most hypocritical, ignorant, and, based on the content of the books, ironic.
1 | Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This gets the number one spot because, ya know, it’s an entire novel about the future government banning (and burning) books because they could inspire critical thought.
It’s been banned because, in Fahrenheit, one of the books that eventually gets burned is the Bible. Sure, Bradbury’s using that as an example of just how over-the-top The Man is when it comes to book burning and it’s actually a PRO-Bible message… but to get that point, one would need to infuse logic into a Bible-centered argument. (Which, as I’ve said in the past, is not possible.)
On a more cynical level, people have speculated that the book has been banned because it advocates questioning authority… not just letting the government Lemming you off a cliff… and some think it’d be better for the masses NOT to read such subversive ideas. Which, again, is exactly the theme of the book.
2 | The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Huck Finn isn’t just one of the greatest works of art ever created in the history of mankind (suck on that, Toulouse-Lautrec?), but one of the finest and cleverest anti-slavery and anti-racism works ever created too.
Of course, to see that message you (1) have to actually read the book (2) have to actually think while you’re reading and (3) have to recognize that Twain’s repeated, period-apropos use of the most horrible racial slur is specifically orchestrated to illustrate the dehumanizing awfulness of that word (and its connotations).
But that word, for over a century (and still today), has been the most charged and controversial word in the English language… so the knee-jerk “see the word, ban the book” reaction persists.
3 | Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I guess the people who banned it just didn’t have time to go through and scratch out all the “Fuck yous.”
4 | The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie wrote a novel that satirized some of the more narrow-minded and (to Westerners, at least) antiquated aspects of zealotous Islam. He included a murderous, fringe, irrational, power-abusing character modeled after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
How did the Ayatollah react when the book came out? He decreed a fatwa, calling on “all good Muslims” to kill Rushdie.
I know it’s serious and all, but I have to drop a Simpsons line in to this situation (from the hilarious but controversial Critic episode).
Smithers: I’m afraid we have a bad image, Sir. Market research shows people see you as something of an ogre.
Burns: I ought to club them and eat their bones!
Anyway, Rushdie went into hiding, avoided getting killed… then had a three-year marriage with Padma from Top Chef. (???)
5 | 1984 by George Orwell
During the Cold War period, Democratic governments wanted to make sure to keep an eye on what their people were reading… and they had no tolerance for something that as pro-Red as the dystopian society of 1984. And yes, I intentionally played up contradiction after contradiction in that sentence.
Anyway, if there’s anything that makes the modern Big Brother look bad, it’s the show Big Brother. Big Brother wants you to fear him, not think of him as some second-tier summer reality show. When the government’s spying on you I doubt they want you to associate them with the Head of Household challenge presented by The Ugly Truth.
6 | Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford
Believe it or not, in the ’90s, the first Where’s Waldo? book was one of the most banned books in the country. It all centers around a beach scene that (kinda) shows a bare breast. (Pictured above.)
If anything, it’s side boob with a black, penciled-in hint of a nipple.
But that was enough to get this book thrown off of shelves in libraries all over the country.
Why did this make my list? Because the only way to find nudity in a Waldo book is to rigorously and meticulously search the pictures… which is, as you know, the exact POINT of the series.
7 | Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman
When this book came out, a lot of bookstores decided they weren’t going to carry it… not because it teaches people how to make pipe bombs, grow marijuana and such… but because they thought the title would, appropriately, make people shoplift it.
8 | The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
The book that, above all else, illustrates a Holocaust victim’s undying faith in the goodness of humanity, was banned by the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 for being “a real downer.”
So I’m thinking they read the book, then flipped through the few blank pages at the end, hoping to find the chapter where Superman swoops in, defeats the Nazis and spins the Earth backwards to make the Holocaust never happen… and when that never happens, I mean, not even Aquaman shows up, they decided the book was just too sad.
9 | Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Like many books on this list, we’ve got a story about the tragedy and danger of an oppressive government that makes decisions for you, the absence of independent thought, etc., etc., etc. You knew the irony just by seeing that I’d included it.
To switch it up, I went onto Yahoo Answers to see what they thought about Brave New World being banned. A user simply named “E” had some arguments I had not thought of…
no why should it be banned? its pure fiction and it sounds kinda like the matrix and besides that you don’t HAVE to read it so why should anyone care if its on the shelves someone wrote it to make money and they should be allowed to do that…since well the first amendment and all
It DOES kinda sound like The Matrix! And Aldous Huxley (d. 1963) really should be able to have it on the shelves to make money! You’ve done it again, Yahoo Answers.
10 | The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Strip away all the magic and marauders maps and Dr. Seuss beasts and gay wizard crushes and, ultimately, the series boils down to the message that love, understanding and tolerance are the most important things in the world.
I know this because J.K. Rowling got lazier and lazier through the series, to the point where, in book seven, she was unabashedly dumping in chapters of exposition (where someone could deus ex machina right into the past through a memory string or some shit). Using that, she explicitly TOLD us that’s the case.
And the Harry Potter books fit this list — religious watchdog groups have fought aggressively to ban a book about tolerance, respect and love because the main character happens to have magical powers (like being able to apparate or make things levitate or turn water into wine).
I also find it fitting that people have worked tirelessly to ban the one book that made an entire generation of kids want to read books. Harry Potter did more for literacy than Hooked on Phonics and Pizza Hut’s Book It combined.
11 | To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Like Huck Finn, another of the greatest anti-racism books of all time is often banned for its n-bombs. (And again, as in Huck Finn, it’s used to paint an accurate picture of the period.)
It’s been banned across the country for using “racial slurs”… for “promoting white supremacy”… and almost (in New Jersey) because a parent thought the way “blacks are treated by members of [the] white community in Alabama would upset black children.”
Of course, all those arguments are ridiculous — never, ever has a book made it so clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Atticus Finch might as well have been named Joe Heroman and Tom Robinson named Innocent McFalselyaccusedblackguy.