|January 28, 2015 - Banned Books Week|
We’ve just celebrated Banned Books Week, which is a time of year that always encourages plenty of reflection about the free access to literature we enjoy in this country. I think it’s safe to say we all agree that banning books is bad, but there are still people in the world who think it’s their job to protect everyone else from objectionable material. In the past few months, there have been plenty of articles about people in favor of censorship and their favorite target often seems to be graphic novels. There was the protest from Duke freshmen who didn’t think Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was appropriate required reading (http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2015/08/freshmen-skipping-fun-home-for-moral-reasons), and even closer to home was the objection from a Crafton Hills College student about the use of “pornographic” graphic novels in a graphic novel course (http://www.redlandsdailyfacts.com/social-affairs/20150611/crafton-hills-college-student-parents-protest-material-in-graphic-novels-english-course). One of the proposed solutions to help protect these students’ delicate feelings is adding a disclaimer that courses or materials may contain mature content that some may deem inappropriate.
On the surface, disclaimers seem like a good alternative to outright banning, but is it just censorship by a different name? In the Crafton Hills College example, the school and teacher originally agreed to add a content warning to future class descriptions and syllabi, but, as stated in an announcement from the college President, they eventually decided that a disclaimer “sets an unhealthy precedent … [and] discourages free expression” and would not include a warning label on future class syllabi (http://www.craftonhills.edu/News/July_2015/President_Response_to_Graphic_Novels_Complaint). Disclaimers and warning labels may seem like a safe way to help people determine if they are interested in reading a book or taking a college course, but it also makes it really easy for them to avoid ideas and opinions that might challenge their worldview or experience new perspectives. What do you think?