My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

March 7, 2017

CENSORSHIP! (or is it?)

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

                              First Amendment to the United States Constitution



Censorship has been at the top of the news recently.  

 We just had the ‘Milo Debacle’ at UC Berkeley which has a lot of liberals defending free speech.   (On a semi-side note, I truly believe that those 100 ‘demonstrators’ were Milo plants, stirring up trouble to get Milo sympathy and air time on mainstream media, sadly, it worked).

I’m liberal, I love free speech,  I also believe that I get to use speech to fight hatred, bigotry, ignorance, etc.  I also know that the First Amendment is about the GOVERNMENT restricting my speech, not my fellow citizens restricting it and believe me, there are a LOT of people who would LOVE to restrict my speech (probably starting with my daughters).

So, is calling out a book, movie, t.v. show for racism, hate speech or homophobia (to just name a few), censorship?  Nope.  I don’t understand why people are so gung ho to say that bigots can speak up but for us to speak up against them is suppression (especially we liberals, we are so busy trying to make nice – yeah, ‘make nice’ got us a fascist President, but I digress)

Last fall I was at a publishers’ presentation night with various publishing reps showing us their top choices for Fall and Winter.   I started flipping through a book called Bad Children’s Books, a parody of the often treacly, old fashioned covers of the classic Little Golden Books for children.

Having the maturity level of an adolescent, I kept giggling and showing pages to some of my co-workers.  My favorite was Woody Wakes With a Woody, showing a little boy with, um, you know, a ‘tent’ when he wakes up in the morning. (I told you I had the sense of humor of an adolescent).

There was a raffle at the end of the evening and if your number was called, you could choose two books.  I immediately picked this one, with the intentions of reviewing it the next day.

I brought it to my Shut Up and Write group and before we hit the ‘shut up’ part, I was showing everyone this HILARIOUS book.  Then, I turned the page to an illustration of a little girl in a burka holding a ticking bomb and offering it to a little boy.  The title was Happy Burkaday Timmy!  We all gasped, we could not believe what we were seeing.

It was incredibly offensive, hurtful, shocking and, in my opinion (and I get to have one) unacceptable. 

I vowed immediately to write a scathing review of the book.  However, being the Queen of Procrastination, I didn’t do it immediately.  I did send it out to a couple of groups that I’m in. One is my own Bay Area Children’s Literature List and another is the Child Lit listserve.  Thank goodness people on those lists are not the procrastinors that I am and negative reviews were written and an outcry was raised.

The author, who writes under the pseudonym Robert Gackley (but, is children's book author/illustrator Bob Staake - this is public knowledge) asked Abrams (the publisher) to stop publication of the book.  It was not withdrawn from bookstores, but more copies would not be made once it was gone.

Gackley is quoted as saying "The book is clearly not being read by some in the way I had intended – as satire – and, more disturbingly, is being misread as the very act of hate and bigotry that the work was meant to expose, not promote. For this reason, I have asked Abrams to cease publishing the book.”

Let's look at this. Is Gackley owning that he crossed a line? No, he doesn't believe that he has.  Does he at least feel bad that it is hurting people?  No.  Look at his language "not being read..."  "being misread"  Let's call this what it is, it's  'blame the victim'  language.  It's "I didn't do anything offensive/wrong. It's those humorless people who aren't smart enough to read my book in the correct way."

As a woman and a Jew, I can tell you that this is what ALWAYS happens when 'jokes' are made about a gender, race, religion etc.  It's not that the joke is offensive, racist, bigoted, sexist etc.  it's that the offended person just 'doesn't have a sense of humor'.

Or as Abrams says “taking elements of the book out of context and failing to recognise it as an artistic work of social satire and comic parody”.

Again, blaming the humorless victims.  'ARTISTIC work?!?!" so now, those of us who are offended are just uncouth as well as humorless. Wow....

Abrams also released this statement:

“At Abrams, our books and our publishing house have never, nor will ever, stand for bigotry or hatred. Those misrepresentations, aspersions, and claims surrounding the book, and the attempts to promulgate them, fly in the face of the values that our company and our employees hold dear.”

Oh, okay, as long as you say that you don't stand for bigotry or hatred, I should believe you.  Hmm, do you also think I should believe Trump when he says that he's not Anti-Semitic and that his Executive Order is not a Muslim ban?

Just saying it doesn't make it true Abrams.

Recently, Simon & Schuster has come under fire for giving Milo (see above) a quarter of a million dollar advance for a book he hasn’t written yet.  Milo is a dangerous hatemonger who incites violence against transgender people, among others. 

The publishing/literature world blew up.  Some saying How DARE Simon and Schuster do this? Others saying,  CENSORSHIP to those who objected.

Let’s visit this again.  It is not censorship to disagree with the contents of a book or movie and to call out that book or movie for its racism etc.  To question a publisher for publishing/promoting racism and bigotry is not only acceptable, it's necessary.

Note: Since I wrote this, S&S has cancelled Milo's book since he came out in favor of pederasty.  I appreciate they did this, but they also sent the message that transphobia, racism and doxxing your  critics (Milo puts personal information about his critics out on the internet, thereby putting them in danger from his followers) are COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE.  

Again, especially at this terrifying and unsure time in our country's history, it is our duty to speak up, to shine a light on bigotry and hatred. 
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To read more, I HIGHLY recommend these blog posts that really nail the issues:  https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/12/about-anti-vaccine-kid-in-bad-little.html

http://bookriot.com/2016/12/02/its-not-funny-its-racist/

And, this article has some brilliant thoughts, stating the issues so much better than I can:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/03/us/satirical-book-outrage/

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this! So important to point out that it is NOT censorship to take a stand against something, a book, a movie, a TV show, a tweet, whatever, that you find offensive.

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  2. Thank you! I keep hearing 'play nice' 'listen to the other side'. Nope, I don't need to play nice with racist, misogynistic, homophobic, bigots.

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  3. Bravo!! Yes, I agree 100%. I also appreciate your including the First Amendment and pointing out that the government is not allowed to abridge speech. It is immensely important that we call out the isms when they rear their ugly heads!

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  4. Thank you so much for this very well thought out and well written post. I often struggle explaining to people why it is acceptable to stand against hatred in any form...that it is not censorship, it is our right to our freedom of speech.

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  5. Thank you Renae and Cari! Yeah, it's amazing that we're supposed to stay silent in the face of racism, homophobia, etc. To me 'Silence is Condoning' and I refuse to condone bigotry and hate.

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  6. There should be a law for respecting a religion because it is our duty to show respect towards our religion so that others will do the same.

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