Censorship? Suppression? By Whom?

I’ve been busy.

I’ve been distracted.

I’ve been inefficient.

I’ve been lazy.

Above all, I’ve been quite often neglecting to post a Blog. (Maybe I would move better and faster if I did “tweets” instead of blogs and was limited only to 140 characters.)  BTW,  can someone explain what, according to the “Twitter” program, is meant by a “character”?  I do know that I have been limited on other Websites by being required to use only so many “characters” or my message is cut off at the knees.  And certain nuances of writing (e.g., ”   “) seem not to be “characters.”

Today’s topic is book censorship.  My text comes from a letter to the Editor that appeared a week ago  (June 14) in the “Observer.”  It bore the title “Parents can’t judge a book by its cover” and was submitted by Christine Pavel of Fayetteville. Ms. Pavel addressed the letter to “the parents of all Cumberland County middle and high school students.  As summer approaches, so does the Summer Reading Program, which is implemented by the county, and I am urging parents to familiarize themselves with the content of the book(s) your child/children may choose to read this summer.”

Ms. Pavel goes on to mention two books that were on the list for the summer of 2008 that, she observes, “contained story lines that are totally inappropriate for students to read.”   The books she singled out are Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel “Tom Jones”  and Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel “A Clockwork Orange.”   Both novels were made into motion pictures that were considered both successful and creatively excellent:  “Tom Jones” in 1963 (won four Oscars* including “Best Picture”),  directed by Tony Richardson with Screenplay by John Osborne;  and the second film adaptation (the first was done by Andy Warhol in 1965) of “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

I don’t know whether Ms. Pavel had seen either or both of the film adaptations mentioned,  but I would urge all prospective censors or suppressors to consider that seeing an image directly vs. reading its description in print can have much different emotional and sensual impacts.  Furthermore,  an argument for suppression or rights of access to books should not be supported by references to the film version or versions.

As an example,  Tony Richardson’s treatment of the lustful dining scene with Tom Jones (played by Albert Finney) and Mrs. Waters/Jenny Jones (Joyce Redman), which is cleverly done as a “silent movie” scene,  emerges with far more sensuality and sexuality than the same as originally written by Henry Fielding in his acclaimed 1749 novel.  (Disclosure here:  my doctoral dissertation at the University of Nebraska in the late 1960s was titled “Tom Jones in Adaptation:  A Chronology and Criticism,” one feature of which was a study and analysis of the 1963 movie.)

In his novel as printed in 1749 and subsequent editions,  Fielding did use objectionable or unacceptable (at that time) language–but only in a form similar to the “bleeps” we often hear these days in TV programming.  The subtitle for Fielding’s novel is “The History of a Foundling.”  Tom himself is the foundling and therefore might in print be described by a rival as a b——d.  And a woman might be referred to by the colorful and outspoken Squire Western (the father of Tom’s true love Sophie) as a b——h.

“Tom Jones” is often regarded today,  especially because of its realism,  as the first English novel.  It is certainly worth the reading by a middle school or high school student (who should be strongly commended for his or her patience and persistence and more kudos for what has been learned)  for its elaborate plotting,  its historical references and contexts,  its exacting and robust language, and the worthiness of its transcendent theme,  “Amor vincit omnia.”

I have taught the second novel,  “A Clockwork Orange,” but only once and late in my career at UNCP.  It is not a novel that would probably be appropriate for a middle school student.  Using a different token:  I doubt that a many  (more likely none) of such an age group would be able or willing to read it.  It is replete with “droogs” (gang members) speaking in a strange lingo,  a blend of English and Russian words (for its time, it was futuristic,  supposing that England and Russia were now one nation and culture).

It is also classified as a “dystopian novel,” which is the opposite of a “utopian novel.”  The difference is in that the writer casts out a gloomy view of a future time while the optimistic writer would see the future as improved and enjoyable.  Burress’s novel, with young men acting out sexual fantasies and committing savage acts of mindless violence, is obviously in Dystopia with other twentieth-century fictions, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s much darker “1984.”

I feel that the novel it should be compared to from the nineteenth century is the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”  I still recall vividly my rereading of this novel in the summer of 1955 as I faced great changes in my life:  a pending marriage to a young woman I did not love but whom I felt obligated to wed,  a pending move to a great industrial city  (Detroit,  Michigan, and I had never lived or even stayed overnight in a city of more than 20,000 people),  and taking on the challenge of graduate work in English at Wayne State University, where I would also teach two classes of Freshman Compostion, while not being yet 21.

Finding that summer of 1955 some solitude in the basement of our farm home (we three boys shared one bedroom),  I also brought forth from my subconscious a great fear and a transcending depression as I read anew about Dostoevsky’s hero’s murder of two old women for money as well as of his desire to demonstrate his moral superiority, to see if he had “the right stuff” to be a Nietzschean Superman. I vowed never to read this novel again;  it had threatened to destroy my soul.

I did not, on the other hand, regret having assigned “A Clockwork Orange” (an edition with Burgess’s glossary of coined words as an appendix) to my 200-level literature course.    Even though most of the students seemed to respond AT THAT TIME (and this is important to consider) with but lukewarm fervor to the plot, theme, and characters of the novel, I could tell that it had a profound effect on two or three male students as they identified their own search for manhood with Alex and his fellow droogs’ terrorism and recklessness, and with the state-sponsored psychological and moral rehabilitation of Alex, done so as to make him physically sick every time he viewed or imagined an aggressively sexual or a violent act.

I was fortunate to be able to have as our guest during this study Dr. Tom Leach, who had known and worked with Anthony Burgess when the latter was in residence at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“A Clockwork Orange” has a powerful message for those in gangs or planning to be and for those who harbor or practice random acts of violence.  It is also offers a linguistic pastiche,  almost a miracle in itself,  and worth reading also at that level of understanding.  “Time” selected it as one of the best English-language novels published from 1923 to 2005. And, say I,  deservedly so.

Last night I watched a 2006 movie,  “Little Miss Sunshine,”  on the Oxygen channel.  Every character in that initially dysfunctional family,  except for Olive Hoover,  the seven-year-old eponymous hero,  uses language at times that is “bleeped out” for prime-time consumption.  And all in the family lack at least a good bit of good sense and have not much of heroic character.  Yet,  after many travails and setbacks,  the family unites behind Olive’s improbable quest and becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Far better,  I think, for a young viewer to see this movie (or read either “Tom Jones” or “A Clockwork Orange”) than to view either of the movies screening on the Lifetime Movie Network the same evening:  “Gospel of Deceit,” in which the female partner of a joint ministry falls in lust with a young parishioner; and “My Stepson,   My Lover,”  title being self-explanatory.

Ms. Pavel’s concerns and her interest in ensuring that our children “grow up in a positive environment with positive influences” are commendable ambitions.  But the prospect of suppression or book censorship would make the American Library Association,   the American Civil Liberties Union, and most educational administrators cringe inwardly or rise up in protest.

Parents must share actively in seeing that their children get a sound education.  I seek to keep in mind a sound mantra forged by a colleague at UNCP:  “One must not sacrifice truth or knowledge upon the altar of political correctness.” And “political correctness” comes in many guises and disguises, many of which are donned by parents, guardians,  community members,  and educational administrators who have good intentions or who are too timid to stand the ground on which their intellectual convictions were formed.

RJR

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11 Responses to “Censorship? Suppression? By Whom?”

  1. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Raymond,
    “Twitter” program”
    Sorry, I don’t tweet, lol. Just don’t have the time.

  2. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Raymond,
    I’ll admit. I haven’t read those books, or seen those movies. It’s all kid stuff here. But, I do believe in censorship to a point. By high school, kids are close to becoming adults, and I believe they should be less censored. Couldn’t all this be prevented if they give students a range of books to choose from?

  3. Forest Crump Says:

    “Poetry is a wonderful medium of expression and isn’t that what we are really all about—expressing ourselves.” George Crumpler

    Very interesting read Raymond, very interesting indeed, you give some wonderful insight into your own psyche. I have not read Crime and Punishment but I have read Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. While reading it I felt a great liberation, like a wrecking ball was busting down the walls that had so confined me and my spirit.

    “What is the great dragon which the spirit is no longer inclined to call Lord and God? “Thou-shalt, “is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, “I will.”

    He shatters the old walls of religion and servitude and rules and edicts and gods and messengers of god and liberated man to achieve his true potential not hindered by their limited and close negative loop system that perpetuates a slave and master class while giving to the slaves the illusion that they are free.

    He is free only if he follows the rules they set forth, he is free as long as he is willing to live within the confines of their edicts, within the limits of their thinking, their reasoning, their world, their cosmological view—pretty much like what we still have today.

    I saw the movie Clock Work Orange while in college, that is a long way back to test my memory but there were two poignant themes for me in the movie that I remember.

    First the scene where they are singing, “Singing in the Rain,” while brutally beating a street person, at the time, it was visually shocking cinematography, I remember turning my face from the screen not wanting to see the brutality. The senseless brutality was but a mere game to them, a form of entertainment, if you will, there is no meaning or purpose to it and hence no meaning or purpose in life.

    The second is, after he had been convicted and he is undergoing “…the state-sponsored psychological and moral rehabilitation of Alex, done so as to make him physically sick every time he viewed or imagined an aggressively sexual or a violent act.

    There was one thing that Alex found beautiful and worthy in his desultory world and that was the music of Ludwig Von Beethoven. The method the state used to rehabilitate Alex was to force him, with his eyes clamped open, for hours and hours to watch horrific visual images on a screen while playing Beethoven in the background. We see Alex crying tearless tears as they desecrate the one thing he found beautiful in life.

    Now, which is more cruel or inhumane, senseless random acts of violence, or the authorities, the government, the powers that be, destroying the last and only bit of humanity lefty in a person—to make them a suitable drone to live in culture and society.

    I agree with Tammy, the kids should be give a selection of books to chose from rather than an assigned reading because the purpose of the program is to get them to read something during the summer—why not give them several choices.
    Oh, I know why not, that would make perfectly good sense and god forbid that our education system does something that makes sense.

    I am opposed to virtually all forms of censorship, age and forum appropriateness understood. Several years ago, Eddie Murphy had a special on HBO, “Eddie Murphy Raw,” the whole routine was filled with vulgar language that many find very offensive. I ask the kids in school how many had seen it and almost every kid raised their hands. How many you laughed your butts off, all the same hands went up but it is certainly not anything we could view in class.

    When censorship comes up I immediately think of the Catholic church, the father/mother of all Christian religion burning brilliant thinkers at the stake for proposing that the earth is round or that the earth is not the center of the universe and the heavens do not revolve around us or the Nazi’s burning books because they were deemed inappropriate by the state.
    As a “Born Again American,” (yeah, I watched it), I speak out, no, I shout out, against their censorship—I also respect the right of parents to deem something inappropriate for their children to read and therefore they should be given an alternative choice.

    Personally, I think these reading selections are too difficult for most middle and high school students and my guess is the majority are going to be bored reading either one and probably will not read either one—thus defeating the purpose of the program.

    Summer reading should be light fun easy reading, I would even go so far as to place on the summer reading list a selection of comic books—the concept being we are trying to instill in them a desire and love of reading, why not start out with something they might enjoy and build on that.

    No, we can’t do that we must strap them in a chair like Alex and force feed them something they have no interest in and thus, in some of them, kill what little interest they may have in reading.

    Maybe, just maybe, if they had built on what Alex found beautiful in life there could have been a complete and whole transformation of Alex into a new loving, understanding, and caring human being, rather than an empty shell where his spirit and soul use to dwell.

  4. Raymond Rundus Says:

    For those peering around the corner, “Forrest Crump” was a student of mine at what was then Pembroke State University in the very early 1970s, in fact during my first year on campus.

    Now we’ve become reacquainted and good friends via my blog. I respect Forrest’s authenticity and his forthrightness as a thinker and a writer EVEN THOUGH I mostly disagree with his proposed strategies for overhauling the social order.

    Wonder if Forrest has seen this graffitti: Nietzsche is Pietzsche.

    Wonder if Forrest can identify with the Hoovers’ son in the movie I mentioned prominently in this posting: “Little Miss Sunshine.” That son (he seems drawn in part from one of the Columbine teens) has become a fanatic believer in the philosophy of Nietzsche and is so withdrawn from his family (save for seven-year-old Olive, his little sister) that he has not spoken to any of them for nine months. By adopting Nietzsche’s philosophy, he seems to believe himself able to transcend his family’s pettiness, materialism, frequent quarrels, and propensities to fail at whatever they attempt.

    RJR

  5. Zendak Says:

    To answer your question about “characters” in Twitter and other websites:

    In computer programming / general IT terminology, one character is simply one “written” symbol, similar to a grapheme. It could be a letter of the alphabet, a numerical digit, a punctuation symbol, the dollar $ign, ampersand, slash, plus sign etc. Basically, anything you can type on a keyboard, even a space, counts as “one character”.

    I understand that the term certainly doesn’t make sense to someone not familiar with IT, and to use it on websites is therefore not really user-friendly.

    It’s usually used to tell the user that there’s a limit on the length of text they’re allowed to post in a comment or something similar where feedback is possible. So in the case of Twitter, you can only type in 140 units/symbols per message.

  6. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Blogger Zendak:

    Many thanks for the clarifications. I am wiser. But I am probably no better prepared as of now to “twitter” on a “tweet.” Or is it “tweet” on a “twitter”?

    RJR

  7. Zendak Says:

    Raymond,

    I’m in the same boat. I can see the usefulness of Twitter, but for me personally it does not “add value” to the way I communicate. It’s quite enough to handle email traffic, phone calls, mobile text messages, etc., as it is, and frankly, the thought of constantly sending and receiving updates about every little mundane event in my life and those of others is annoying. That said, it’s my personal opinion and situation and I’m a friend of new possibilities (especially finding useful ways of using the Internet), so this is not meant as a negative criticism of those who do “tweet”.

  8. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    ‘Tom Jones’ is considered the first English novel? What happened to P and P?

  9. Jana Says:

    hi Raymond,

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I only read “Clockwork Orange”, but know I’m also interested in reading “Tom Jones” or just watching to the film!
    You’re so right by saying “the prospect of suppression or book censorship would make the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and most educational administrators cringe inwardly or rise up in protest.”

    During the last weeks we were involved in a similar case. It were also parents, which wanted challenging books, but we could applaude the decision of the – in this case – the Leesburg Library to keep two challenged books on the shelves in the Young Adult section without labeling or restricting them in any way!

    If you’re intrigued in such subjects just join our blog and read more about that theme:

    http://ncacblog.wordpress.com

    We’re glad about a lot comments as well as a lively discussion on our blog!

    Greetings
    Jana (Member of NCAC – National Coalition Against Censorship)

  10. Jana Says:

    Hi!

    One more:

    On June 18, the Litchfield District School Board in New Hampshire decided to remove four short stories from the “Love/Gender/Family” unit of an upper-class elective English class at Campbell High School. The stories, including “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, “Survivor Type” by Stephen King, “The Crack Cocaine Diet” by Laura Lippman, and “I Like Guys” by David Sedaris.

    The Kid’s Right to Read Project interviewed Andy Towne, a member of the Class of 2007 at Campbell High School after he authored an op-ed for the Nashua Telegraph about the School Board’s decision in Litchfield.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.ncac.org/Kids-Right-to-Read-Opposes-LoveGenderFamily-Censorship-in-Litchfield-NH

    I think you could be very interested in this, too!
    Spread the word!

    Jana (Member of NCAC)

  11. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Jana’s posting on this blog (above) deserves your attention. Thanks to her for bring our attention to some widespread attempts to deal in a rational and effective way with challenges to freedom of thought that come from many directions.

    I was especially impressed by Andy Towne’s thoughtful and well-written response to the suppression of the four short stories in a curriculum at Campbell High School in 2007.

    Mr. Towne is to be commended for his considerate and convincing reply to those who would violate established due process and subject to censorship literature that those who would suppress have probably not read with the intelligence and breadth of experience that he has.

    RJR

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