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On Chicago Public Schools Censoring Persepolis's Images of Torture
March 16, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Suffice it to say, Persepolis is quite a work. It’s a testament to the power of the graphic novel. The art’s simple linework helps the story feel unpretentious and direct. Persepolis was adapted as a 2007 French animated film, written and directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Among other honors, it was nominated for an Academy Award. Why would someone want to ban such a book?
posted by Artw (33 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Starck [one of the parents working to have the book pulled] said. “The question is, is it (‘Persepolis’) appropriate and uplifting for our kids?”

I don't know what to say.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:32 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the sly jokes in the film The Front - where Woody Allen plays a know-nothing schlub who lets blacklisted writers use his name so they can get their scripts produced - is that the anti-communist witchhunters think Allen must be communist because his writing is so good.
I think this principle is generally true. The great sin of Perspepolis is that it's good. A lesser piece would not rile such emotions.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Im not sure it is actually appropriate for 7th graders (more cuz the sex talk which they're probably not able to process without giggling), but this article makes some good points about the absurdity of being offended by torture depiction in America.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2013


Just once, can't we cover this particular squeaky wheel in grease? Like tons and tons of grease? It will forever kill me that a small number of people can potentially deprive so many of something powerful because of their delicate, delicate sensibilities.
posted by nevercalm at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hate going to the library these days. It's like I have to literally step over stacks of coming-of-age books about young Persian women. I'm soooooo glad someone is doing something about it.

Seriously though, I wonder how much of this boils down to "Christian values"?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2013


Popular 7th Grade Reading List Books
posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on March 16, 2013


Good lord, Artw, are there any books on that list that were written in the last century? /hamburg

I'm so glad that my mom gave me free run of all her books in her considerable library as soon as I understood not to crease pages or read with chocolate smudged fingers. Although it made for MANY embarrassing moments as I would always pick the seemingly most inappropriate time to ask a question regarding something I was reading. I distinctly remember busting up my grandmother's fiftieth birthday party asking what a dildo was. Good times.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:49 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good lord, Artw, are there any books on that list that were written in the last century?

The ones from the one before that, duh.

1984 is on page 2, for anyone wondering.
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter has always amazed me with its diversity of membership and voices. Surely, here, we have at least one parent who has stood up and said: yes, I want this book removed from the school's curriculum and/or shelves.

If you are out there, parent, would you please post? Please enlighten me as to how an intelligent person could possibly find him- or herself in this position. I can imagine how otherwise decent people arrived at a lot of odious viewpoints, but this one I just cannot fathom. I'd like to think such a position has at some time been based on something other than anti-intellectual hysteria, but I am just not making the jump.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just now checked Artw's link, and I recognize most of those from seventh grade, oh, twenty years ago.

And, good God, people are still assigning Go Ask Alice?
posted by Countess Elena at 4:03 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have seen this book as part of the curriculum in high school classes here in Seattle. Usually sophomore (10th grade) level stuff. Maus is another graphic I've seen at the same level. I think that might be a more appropriate age level for it, just given the wide range of sensitive topics that Persepolis hits, but I say that because a 10th grader is likely to absorb more of it than a 7th grader would. Either way, banning it seems like a silly step to me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So - some parents asked for a book to be censored and the board said 'no'?

Isn't this the system working just fine?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:05 PM on March 16, 2013


Seriously though, I wonder how much of this boils down to "Christian values"?

I'm curious about that too. The idea that students shouldn't be exposed to anything that isn't "uplifting" betrays a certain type of thinking. It reminds me of people trying to make sure textbooks never say anything bad about the Founding Fathers. Is "Christian Nationalism" a thing?
posted by benito.strauss at 4:14 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


> "So - some parents asked for a book to be censored and the board said 'no'?"

The board did not say no.
posted by kyrademon at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Countess Elena, I am not a parent, but I can easily imagine myself as a parent opposing the inclusion of certain books in a curriculum (although not their inclusion in a library). For example:

A Republican state senator in Idaho introduced a bill on Tuesday that would force students to read and pass a test on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” in order to graduate from high school, though he said he did it to make a point and doesn’t intend to push forward with the legislation.

posted by moorooka at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2013


I am also wondering if "uplifting" isn't a dog whistle. Incidentally, that word choice is hilarious to me because I vividly recall that seventh grade in particular was a time of devastatingly depressing assigned reading. I had to read All Quiet on the Western Front and excerpts from The Jungle.
posted by clavicle at 4:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


moorooka, I see what you mean. But I'd want to teach any child of mine that the solution to bad speech is more speech, and that it's important to read terrible things sometimes so that you can understand why they're wrong. My mom often told me that when I was young.

I don't have kids myself, of course, which is maybe for the best at this point. One of the letters to the editor on this subject read: My daughter was offended by the book and thought it was inappropriate. She stated that she was confused by the teacher giving it to them. She thought that the school was supposed to protect them from “inappropriate stuff.” This nearly caused my actual father's voice to come out of my throat and yell, "The world ain't about to protect you from 'inappropriate stuff,' girl!"
posted by Countess Elena at 4:33 PM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh yeah, assigned reading is the WORST on the "uplifting" front. If I didn't already love reading, I would have learned to hate it. Instead, I just learned that Art With A Capital A is super lame and depressing.

Good work, English teachers!
posted by DU at 4:34 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, sorry. I didn't read far enough.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:38 PM on March 16, 2013


I'd want to teach any child of mine that the solution to bad speech is more speech, and that it's important to read terrible things sometimes so that you can understand why they're wrong.

Sure, but a curriculum, unlike a library, only has space for a certain number of books, and they should be chosen well. I'd be skeptical of the value of thousand-page tomes of poorly-written sociopathic propaganda being compulsory reading (even if it's being treated critically), when there are so many other things out there that are actually worth reading.
posted by moorooka at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a world of difference between putting a book on a curriculum--indicating that engagement with it is considered an essential part of a student's learning experience--and simply including it in a school library's collection. In the latter case, it's there for a student to discover. Restricting it means that a school administration or librarian thinks that such a discovery would be actively harmful to a child.

So, in this case, a single, small line drawing of a penis urinating on someone in a book of several hundred pages is considered a bridge too far. Even though it's clearly marked as an atrocity, it's something that is so harmful that no middle-schooler ought ever to be allowed to come into contact with it, lest they suffer some certain damage. Keep in mind, now, that this is the 21st century, where anyone is a quick google search away from seeing and reading virtually the sum total of the human experience. This is patently fucking ridiculous. If you treat your children like innocents in need of continual protection from even the barest adumbration of the world's ugliness, then you shouldn't be surprised when they grow up to be ignorant, parochial and narcissistic.

These people should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


then you shouldn't be surprised when they grow up to be ignorant, parochial and narcissistic.

...he'd grown up just like me. My boy was just like me...
posted by maxwelton at 7:23 PM on March 16, 2013


but the kids can go home an play Gears of War
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2013


So, in this case, a single, small line drawing of a penis urinating on someone in a book of several hundred pages is considered a bridge too far.

Even weirder is the fact that this is described as "sexually charged", (assuming I'm reading the reporting correctly). "Sexually charged" to me means erotic, dealing with desire and attraction. And, barring any urolagnia, I don't see where that scene is erotic.

Oh hell, I'm sure I'm way over-thinking this guy, who's just reflexively thinking "pee-pee = sex = bad".
posted by benito.strauss at 7:32 PM on March 16, 2013


Between this and the rage inducing ongoing saga in my neck of the woods with a social justice oriented class(which is developing in to being worthy of an FPP in and of itself), i'm beginning to think that principals, or possibly even the school district itself should have some amount of veto power to tell whiny parents, uncomfortable with their own preconceived notions or prejudices to shove it.

It should require nothing less than some sort of majority vote by parents to even consider something like this. And i feel like some sort of arbitration is in order where both sides present their case, and the school district isn't forced in to some lame duck solution to placate the whiners.

I saw several instances of this type of thing go on while i was in high school(and heard about more from my old school while i was in college) that ranged from ugh inducing to heartbreaking but never were big enough to generate a news story. Every time it was one or two whiny parents that screwed it up for everyone else.

I completely agree with nevercalm. For once, can't they just grease up the wheel and ignore it? What is their motivation here to fold. I just never got it.
posted by emptythought at 7:41 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Surely, here, we have at least one parent who has stood up and said: yes, I want this book removed from the school's curriculum and/or shelves. If you are out there, parent, would you please post? Please enlighten me as to how an intelligent person could possibly find him- or herself in this position."

I'm not That Parent, but I'm a school board member, so I've talked to That Parent a few times. Far and away the most common reason is the parent picks it up and reads a few pages and FLIPS. OUT. with no idea what that bit means in the larger context of the book. (Like, I am not even kidding, we had a parent who read three pages of Iggie's House and flew OFF THE HANDLE because she thought the librarian gave her child a book in FAVOR of housing segregation.) We haven't, since I've been on the board, had a parent complain using typical fundamentalist Christian talking points about various greatest hits of censorship (Harry Potter, Mark Twain, etc.); those parents mostly homeschool or send their kids to a very conservative Christian school. We have a handful of complaints that we shouldn't have spent money in the first place to put [some trashy tween novel like Gossip Girl or Sweet Valley High] in the library because libraries, especially school libraries, are for Good Books and Quality Literature, but those parents don't want us to REMOVE them, just not waste scarce library money on trash in the future. (Which, that's a fair debate to have. School library funds in our district are really limited, and should we focus on popular books? classic books? research materials? stuff they can't get at the public library? Should there be a minimum quality bar for inclusion in a school library?)

The ones that are touchy are situations where a child actually is emotionally upset by being exposed to media that's too mature for them. I think there's a cultural idea out there that visual media (movies, video games) can be upsetting for children but that they'll read books they're ready for and the stuff that's too mature will go over their heads. And I think that's largely how it works, but not 100% of the time. And then some books create special cases because of their use of visual material along with written material -- when should a child be exposed to pictures of monks burning themselves to death, or the most graphic pictures of the Holocaust, in history textbooks?

Most of the time, you've got a kid who's particularly immature, or who's easily upset by descriptions of violence or sex or dying pets or whatever, and the parent and teacher realize that and communicate about it and help that kid avoid material that's too challenging for him. But now and then you have a teacher who misjudges the maturity of her class as a whole and gives her 5th graders something they're WAY not ready for, and you've got a bunch of kids crying inconsolably or having nightmares or refusing to go to school because it's too upsetting or acting out in inappropriate ways. And THAT'S when an intelligent parent gets pretty pissed, because you do trust a school to be giving your child developmentally-appropriate materials. Most of the time when things are developmentally inappropriate, kids are just bored, but sometimes it lights up all their panic circuits instead.

(Here's a silly example: My 3-year-old gets EXTREMELY upset by this picture book we have in which a building is torn down. He cried the first couple of times, and then he started insisting we read the book (it has trains) but refusing to let us turn to the page where the building gets torn down and would be inconsolable for an hour after we read it. And then he started worrying about whether our house would be torn down and was afraid to go to sleep because of it. And then he started throwing the book violently across the room when he came across it. So now that book is in hiding for a while. It's age-appropriate and has a happy ending, but it totally freaks him out. We've since found out we can't watch movies or shows where a building is torn down, or even a commercial with a building being torn down that happens to be on while dad watches basketball!)

Anyway, if a high school parent complained to us about Persepolis, I'd be like, "Get over it." If it were a junior high parent, however, I'd have some questions for our curriculum department, because I recall that book as a little bit intense for the average 7th grader, particularly as there are other excellent middle-grades books out there that feature oppressive regimes, genocide, torture, etc. (But! I am not a curriculum specialist or a reading specialist or a middle grades specialist, and that's why I'd ask questions and not just issue opinions!) If the class were doing a social studies unit on the recent history of the Middle East, or a literature unit on teenagers in oppressive regimes, it might be very appropriate required reading in 7th grade -- kids can tackle much more challenging texts when they're appropriately prepared and the book is appropriately contextualized -- but those aren't typical junior high units in our district. But our teachers are pretty good about sending home letters to parents when they're doing "challenging" material, outlining the purpose and context of the lesson, what parents might object to, and how those sensitive issues will be handled in class. (One of the PTAs does a "read along book club" where they ask the teachers to pick a popular, controversial book for their kids' age group and they read that book along with their kids and have a little parent-child after school book discussion about it led by the teachers. Not only is that great parenting and awesome school involvement, but it helps the parents get an idea of how teachers handle challenging or sensitive material in the classroom, so they trust the teachers more about that kind of thing.)

But I can't imagine my board banning a book; the most we've really done is asked the curriculum department to look into the developmental and educational appropriateness of the library at one of our elementary schools after several parent complaints (it seemed like this stemmed from one mom getting a bee in her bonnet and recruiting several other moms to her cause without being super-clear with them about what her problem was, which happens), which they did, and said, "Yep, seems appropriate," and we said, "Cool." And then we said, "Parents, we asked our staff to review the library material and they said it's appropriate, it is always your option to ask that your own child's reading be restricted but we will not be making any changes to the library at this time." And they said, "Oh, um, okay, thanks." And then it was never spoken of again and no parent asked to have their child's reading restricted so, you know, whatever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


The funny thing is seventh-graders can most definitely handle this stuff. I remember there was one girl in my seventh-grade class (recently deceased, alas!) who handed out all sorts of sexy samizdat material at the back of the room, such as The Carpetbaggers, Forever, and Sophie's Choice.

I guess it's the adults who don't want to deal with emerging sexuality.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2013


Far and away the most common reason is the parent picks it up and reads a few pages and FLIPS. OUT.

Then again my Grade 9 English teacher gave me a copy of Dispatches by Michael Herr, and my parents were not amused. He later was fired for having sex with one of his Grade 9 students.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:32 PM on March 16, 2013


"i'm beginning to think that principals, or possibly even the school district itself should have some amount of veto power to tell whiny parents, uncomfortable with their own preconceived notions or prejudices to shove it."

They do! Parents can request specific alternate assignments or exemptions for religious or moral reasons, but those requests are not automatically granted and they can NOT have their child exempted from normal school requirements. You could conceivably say "I don't want my child reading the Diary of Anne Frank because of the sexual material" and maybe get an alternate assignment. But you can't say, "I don't want my child learning about the Holocaust at all because it's too upsetting!" or "I don't want my child learning about the Holocaust because I don't believe it happened!" And schools are totally within their rights to say, "No, this Anne Frank assignment is essential to the curriculum and your child can either read this book or take a zero."

Here's the first reasonably thorough school policy I googled up on the topic (Portland, Maine, I think, not Oregon); here's a blog post about a court case about religious curriculum exemptions. (Usually sex ed has a specific opt-out procedure written into state law or state administrative rules, because otherwise the law doesn't pass, so that's separate.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


but the kids can go home an play Gears of War

Our children must be protected against lazy cover systems and health recharges as a game mechanic.
posted by Artw at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


i'm beginning to think that principals, or possibly even the school district itself should have some amount of veto power to tell whiny parents, uncomfortable with their own preconceived notions or prejudices to shove it.

See, though, teachers and administrators live in abject fear of parents these days. There's enough of a hate-on against public education and educators today as it is, the last thing they want to do is piss-off parents even more.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:00 AM on March 17, 2013


Unfortunately, I think Darius (and Satrapi) are going down the wrong rabbit hole. I'd *love* for this ban to be happening because a parent was disturbed by torture or the larger political context. That would be a conversation we could have—an important one. But the mention of torture is a screen.

Look at the complaint:

"Language that 'would not be acceptable over the open airways via either TV or radio'"—naughty words
"Torture in Iran, including a man urinating on a torture victim"—naughty parts
“Sexually charged”—naughty acts

This was *never* about torture. It was about sex. It was about bodies. It was about bad words, the next worst thing to sex and bodies.

Any book that has these things (and that the parents themselves were not assigned as children—that's why books like All Quiet on the Western Front and Catcher in the Rye get a pass) is going to face trouble in an American school.
posted by djpatch at 12:40 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]




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