Censorship: An Unacceptable Practice

March 1, 2010

Is censorship an acceptable practice? Does it still exist in our country today? Whether in the United States of America or in China, censorship is an unacceptable practice that is rampant, even in this day and age of prosperity and tolerance. The amount of censorship that has taken place throughout history is surprising, but the multitude of incidents that have occurred in our country in the last few decades is shocking. Worse still, censorship is showing no signs of stopping in its destructive course. Censorship, by definition, is “the restriction by the government, special interest groups, or individuals of what people may hear, speak, write, read, or view” (Proquest). Censorship takes place when people don’t want the public to hear or read of ideas they deem dangerous and/or inappropriate. The problem with this, though their intentions may be good, is where do such “protections” stop? Who is to say that children can’t view classic art or read Huckleberry Finn? Censorship can range from the destruction of art to the restricting of books in our public and school libraries. From ancient times to our modern day democracy, censorship’s malignant presence lurks in the corners of mankind. It was common practice for rulers in Ancient China to destroy all evidence of previous rulers (Proquest). In 399 B.C., Socrates suffered at the hands of censorship by death for refusing to refute his “religious heresies” in Ancient Greece (Proquest). Even in Ancient Egypt there was censorship. There were “strict guidelines for permissible artwork” (Proquest). Later on in time, censorship was still ravaging our history. Books were only allowed to be published after being approved by the Vatican, as decreed by Pope Innocent the Eighth in 1487 (Proquest). When Thomas Paine published Rights of Man in 1792 in support of the French Revolution, the British government made it illegal to own any copies of his book (Proquest). Only 80 years ago we were burning books. May 10th of 1933 was a day marking the first of several books burnings during World War 2 in Nazi Germany. Around 25,000 volumes of books by authors such as Sigmund Freud, H. G. Wells, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway were destroyed (Proquest). What about censorship in the United States’ history? The First Amendment of the U.S Constitution entitles us to the freedom of speech, press, and religion (Proquest). Yet in 1917, the Espionage Act was passed to “prevent espionage and to set punishments for acts of interference in foreign policy”, thus giving the Postmaster General the power to censor our mail (Proquest). A year later and this act birthed the Sedition Act, “making it illegal for Americans to publicly criticize the United States government, the American Flag, U.S. military, and the Constitution” (Proquest). The truly horrifying part of this is that large portions of these acts are still a part of our law (Proquest). The list of incidents where censorship has occurred in America is insanely long. A man was taken to trial for “violating state law” in Dayton, Tennessee “for teaching evolution in his high school biology class” in 1925 (Proquest). The U.S. interfered again in 1930 by seizing copies of Candide by Voltaire and only letting it in later after being “re-edited” (Proquest). In 1959, Garth Williams wrote The Rabbits’ Wedding, a children’s book about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit, and parents in Alabama objected to their children being exposed to such a book. It was removed to reserve shelves so that it may only be read if someone specifically asked for it (Proquest). Move ahead a few decades to 1998 when a New York teacher read the book Nappy Hair, a story about an African American girl and her hair, to her third grade class, and was removed from teaching due to parents objecting to this exposure to their children (Proquest). Searching back into personal memories of when the Harry Potter series came to our school, and I recall a time when us children needed a note from our parents to check out these books. Parents and religious leaders complained that the books were “teaching children witchcraft” (Proquest). Books are not the only things that are censored. Music, art, and information in general is censored as well. In 2003, songs by the Dixie Chicks were removed from airplay in radio stations across the U.S. after one of the singers made a “negative comment about President George W. Bush” (Proquest). The censorship of art can date back to the 1500s. “Michelangelo’s depictions of some figures in the Last Judgement were viewed as groping one another in a perverse way. After his death, these areas were painted over” (Proquest). The first film censorship law was passed in Chicago in 1907. In 1931, a Rockefeller- sponsored mural by Diego Rivers was destroyed because its content had communist leanings (Tapky). Let’s move ahead sixty or so years to 1994 when parents wished to have images removed from books about Picasso, Renoir, Kahlo, Gaugin, Nosch, and El Greco due to their “pornographic, morbid, or perverted subject matter” at an Arizona elementary school (Tapky). Then in 2002, blue drapes were purchased by the U.S. Department of Justice for the covering of “the two semi-nude art deco statues that have been in the Great Hall of the Department since the 1930s” (Proquest). Such censorship destroys our culture and history, preventing future generations from viewing and reading what may be their only links to the past. Future generations may not be the only ones to suffer the consequences of censorship. The current population is paying for these acts right now. The spring of 2007 brought about another nasty face to add to censorship’s ugly profile. Due to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, certain religious books were being banned by U.S. prison officials they feared that prisoners would become “radicalized”. “Two prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act have been violated”, leading to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons to reconsider their actions (Proquest). Our well-being is also at stake. On October 23rd, 2007, Dr. Julie Gerberding’s (director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) congressional testimony on the impact of climate change on health was severely edited by the White House. The information that was removed is “on the potential health risks of global warming” and spokespersons from both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the White House deny that such censorship occurred (Proquest). In 2004, the White House changed a CDC website by removing a fact sheet on condoms and replacing it with a document promoting abstinence and emphasizing condom failure opposed to the original content talking about the effectiveness of condoms (Proquest). Censorship is infiltrating our schools and education through textbook content, standardized test questions, and attempts to deplete our book selection, to narrowing choices containing those views that parents deem as “acceptable”. Textbook publishers are “shifting educational fashions by jerkily revising the facts and tones of American history” (Campbell). A censoring panel of testing agencies, school boards, and large publishers removes “all text that could potentially offend anybody” (Teisch). Diane Ravitch’s book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn tells of how she, a historian of education at New York University, “served in the Department of Education and helped oversee the development of voluntary national testing” and also of the controlling of “language, ideas, and subject matter in textbooks”, as stated in the book review by Jessica Teisch (Teisch). All reading passages go through a “bias and sensitivity” panel. For example, “stories about dolphins put students who had never seen the ocean at a ‘regional’ disadvantage” (Teisch). Insanely enough, the Jews were removed from an “Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland” by the New York State Education Department (Teisch). “California rejected The Little Engine That Could on the basis of the engine’s gender” (Teisch). Our culture is being diluted by such panel censoring, and compromising our education. By such standards, “much of the literature written before 1970… is considered gender and/or racially biased”, so we can just say goodbye to Hughes, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain (Teisch). Not only are test questions and textbook content being censored, but books with topics some parents view as distasteful are trying to being eradicated from our school libraries. “A Federal Court of Appeals declared that it was ‘permissible and appropriate’ for local school boards ‘to make decisions based upon their personal, social, political, and moral views’” (Campbell). The book And Tango Makes Three became the most challenged book to be restricted or removed from public libraries (Proquest). And Tango Makes Three is a picture book based on the true story of “two male penguins raising a chick” called Tango (Proquest). Although it has not been removed, other books with political views that local school boards do not agree with are in danger of being removed from our libraries. “As Judge Newman wrote, removing books from a school library for reasons that appear at least partially political could easily be seen as ‘an official message’ to the community ‘that the ideas presented in those books are unacceptable, are wrong, and should not be discussed or considered’” (Campbell). What about censorship in other countries? “Poets, playwrights, and novelists are imprisoned in Turkey, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Myanmar, and Iran for the crime of writing about how the world appears to them”, as Nurmuhemmet Yasin discovered first hand (Hoffman). Yasin is a “34 year old Uighur writer in northwestern China who was arrested in 2004 for writing a story called The Wild Pigeon” (Hoffman). The Uighurs are a Turkish people living in northwest China, once called East Turkistan, now known as the Xingjian Province (Hoffman). Beijing has been “increasing pressure on the region’s citizens to conform, resettling the province with ethnic Han Chinese” to “exploit the region’s rich resources” (Hoffman). The Wild Pigeon is about a young pigeon that is the son of a king and is captured by humans and caged. At the end of the story, he finds captivity too intolerable and eats a poisoned strawberry (Hoffman). This is a blatantly obvious political allegory “about dignity, integrity, and pride in the face of cultural and territorial erasure” (Hoffman). In the story, a mother’s conversation with her son reveals Yasin’s view on the situation of the Uighurs: “They want to change the character of our heritage… strip us of our memory and identity. Perhaps in the near future, they will build factories and high-rises here, and the smoke that comes from making products we don’t need will seep into the environment and poison our land and our water” (Hoffman). “Yasin is one of more than three dozen writers held in prison by the Chinese authorities” (Hoffman). Not only are the Chinese censoring written works by authors like Yasin, but they are also censoring the internet. Chinese MSN portals came under “criticism for censoring words such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’” in 2005 (Proquest). Such censorship, as mentioned before, is nothing new in Chinese history. After all this censoring, it’s surprising that China has a history at all. Is this where America is heading, books being banned to accommodate political, social, moral, and personal views as ruled by a Federal Court of Appeals in 1977 (Campbell)? Where will censorship stop? From music to books, art to congressional testimonies, censoring has been given free rein to the point that school boards can keep books out of our school libraries to fit their personal views. Writers in other countries are being imprisoned for penning their thoughts to paper, art is destroyed because it is politically unacceptable, and music is removed from airplay because an artist doesn’t like the president. Is this what democracy has come to? Future generations may never know of events that happened to us, and our present generation may be completely unaware of past events and views because of censorship. Ask yourself this: can you stand by and watch censorship destroy our world? Works Cited Proquest Staff. “Censorship Timeline.” Leading Issues Timelines 2009: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 03 February 2010 Tapky, Erin. “Scrutinized Art: The Many Faces of Visual Art Censorship.” Art Education (Vol. 55, No. 6) 01 Nov 2002: 48. SIRS Researcher. Web 04 February 2010 Teisch, Jessica. “The Dumbing Down of Textbooks.” Bookmarks July/ August. 2003: 34-35. SIRS Renaissance. Web 04 February 2010 Campbell, Colin. “Book Banning in America.” New York Times (New York, NY) 20 Dec 1981: A. 1. SIRS Researcher. Web 02 February 2010 Hoffman, Richard. “Author’s Pen is Mightier Than China’s Sword.” Boston Globe (Boston, MA) 14 Oct 2009. A. 11. SIRS Researcher. Web 03 February 2010






Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

JustAnIdea said...
Jun. 29, 2016 at 1:41 pm
This is really good and in depth. The one thing I might say would be to separate your writing into paragraphs and remove the parentheses citations. Either do a [1] and [2] after new sources and reference them at the bottom, or juts include the bibliography. But frequent (Proquest)s and (Hoffman)s are a bit excessive. There was great information though, and I agree with your arguments completely.
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback