I thought the days of banned books were well behind us, at least here in the democratic western world. We generally pride ourselves on how enlightened we are having done away with censors who dictate what we may or may not read, watch on television or at the theatre.
And to a large extent that is true. Nevertheless there are still surprising exceptions. If you read the excellent blogger and commentator AMB’s recent piece you’ll see that, in the USA (where they’ve just held a Banned Books Week), censorship has been devolved to local level. Whereas the constitution won’t ban a book, local pressure groups can ‘challenge’ the appearance of a book in a school or public library.
And you’ll find, if you care to look, that virtually every classic title has come under challenge at some time or another. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (vulgarity, offensive and racist language), Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (vulgarity, racism) and even the Harry Potter series (promoting witchcraft) are frequently challenged. The study of these ‘challenges’ is to hold a mirror to the many and varied cultural attitudes in small-town America.
In Britain the landmark court case in 1960 involving DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover pretty much did away with censorship there. Pretty much the only suppressed titles these days are those promoting terrorism, and ‘how to make a bomb’ books. I imagine there are ways and means that pressure is exerted on printers and retailers in these instances.
Ireland is of course a dream when it comes to the history of censorship. The Irish Free State (from 1922) and the Irish Republic (from 1937) was effectively run – until recent years – under the close control of the Catholic church. Divorce allowing remarriage was banned, as was artificial contraception. Abortion is still illegal for other than medical reasons and more than 4,000 women a year still travel to Britain for this purpose.
The newly-formed Censorship of Publications Board in 1930 went to work with relish and, at one time, 12,491 publications were on the banned list. Kate O’Brien’s The Land Of Spices was banned over a single sentence. The excellent John McGahern was effectively exiled from Ireland over his novel The Dark.
However a 12-year amnesty was introduced and this has had the effect of un-banning all but a few pro-abortion books. Interestingly though, periodicals are not subject to the amnesty and many remain listed although most of them are long defunct.
But here in Jersey, C.I. we have no such issues. Do we? Certainly the Bailiff’s Advisory Panel seems to be inactive these days having been very exercised in the 80s over a certain night club’s Miss Wet T-Shirt competitions. But wait – have you tried to buy a copy of Robbie Garnier’s Nobody Came which deals with child abuse in a Jersey care home? The powers that be don’t want too many people reading that one.