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Keeping us safe from racist literature
August 20, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

The Brooklyn Public Library reshelves a children's book—behind locked steel doors
posted by Toekneesan (78 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Find the content objectionable? Leave.
The problem isn't with the books, it's the people.
posted by 2sheets at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The safe is just a temporary measure until they can get the ovens shipped.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2009


Wow. Now we're locking up books because someone finds them offensive? Thank god, because John Grisham has been rubbing me wrong for years.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2009


Good for them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2009


Is it better to lock away books which have attitudes from yesteryear contained in them, or to find a way to properly annotate the books so they can be placed in a good historical context? I mean, we haven't rewritten Huck Finn yet... We just try to use it as a "teachable moment" about evolving race relations in America.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2009


You can still access the books, you just need to ask particularly. Seems like a good idea for books you don't want your small child stubbing his/her eyes on unprepared.
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2009


Find the content objectionable? Leave.
The problem isn't with the books, it's the people.


considering the genocidal behavior of the belgians in the congo:
Leopold's agents held the wives and children of these men hostage until they returned with their rubber quota. Those who refused or failed to supply enough rubber had their villages burned down, children murdered, and hands cut off.[2]

Mutilated Congolese child, a victim of King Leopold’s colonial policiesAlthough local chiefs organized tribal resistance, the FP brutally crushed these uprisings. These rebellions often included Congolese fleeing their villages to hide in the wilderness, ambushing army units, and setting fire to rubber vine forests. In retribution, the FP burned villages and FP officers sent their soldiers into the forest to find and kill rebels hiding there. To prove the success of their patrols, soldiers were ordered to cut off and bring back a dead victim's right hand for proof that they had not wasted their bullets.[3] If they missed, or used cartridges on big game, they would cut off the hands of living people to make up the necessary number.
this is well up there with happy tales about summer camp at Auschwitz. really. i'm not for burning books and adults should be able to read anything they want, but I just don't think that giving children books which trivialize very real genocidal acts against people largely on the basis of them being african, in a city with a large african-american population is a good idea at all.
posted by geos at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


In related news, some asshat in Toronto got To Kill A Mockingbird pulled from a Grade 10 Catholic school english course because it includes a racial epithet.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


here's some more happy tales from colonial africa:
Hochschild tells it better: "True, with a population loss estimated at 10 million people, what happened in the Congo could reasonably be called the most murderous part of the European Scramble for Africa. But that is so only if you look at sub-Saharan Africa as the arbitrary checkerboard formed by colonial boundaries.

"With a decade of [Leopold's] head start [in the Congo], similar forced labour systems for extracting rubber were in place in the French territories west and north of the Congo River, in Portuguese-ruled Angola, and in the nearby Cameroon under the Germans.

"In France's equatorial African territories, where the region's history is best documented, the amount of rubber-bearing land was far less than what Leopold controlled, but the rape was just as brutal. Almost all exploitable land was divided among concession companies. Forced labour, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages, paramilitary company 'sentries', and the chicotte were the order of the day. [The chicotte was a vicous whip made out of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged cork-screw strip. It was applied to bare buttocks, and left permanent scars. Twenty strokes of it sent victims into unconsciousness; and a 100 or more strokes were often fatal. The chicotte was freely used by both Leopold's men and the French].

"Thousands of refugees who had fled across the Congo River to escape Leopold's regime eventually fled back to escape the French [in Congo-Brazzaville]. The population loss in the rubber-rich equatorial rainforest owned by France is estimated, just as in Leopold's Congo, at roughly 50%."
posted by geos at 10:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you're operating a public library, your calling is to serve as a steward of human knowledge, no matter what the actual content is. I think the panel has lost sight of this and views themselves as a group of city bureaucrats.
posted by crapmatic at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2009


The book reshelved was a 79-year-old copy of "Tintin au Congo" from the Tintin series. A book from 1930 about Africans is almost definitely going to be offensive to contemporary racial sensibilities, but the book is still worthwhile as a historical artifact. But if you put it in with contemporary children's book, all that's going to happen is some zealous parent will deface the book. In other words, I can understand that reshelving the book may be necessary to protect the book. On the other hand, putting the book behind "steel doors" doesn't exactly seem like a good solution either. Instead, it would be even better if there was some Historical Children's Book wing where old children's books could be preserved but where we don't have to whitewash how offensive some of these books are.
posted by jonp72 at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2009 [15 favorites]


This is an open-and-shut case, people.
posted by swift at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The relevant letter of complaint and the library's response are here and here.

As far as I can tell, the complaint is based solely on the drawings, and not connected with Belgian imperialism or improper French.
posted by clorox at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2009


Is it better to lock away books which have attitudes from yesteryear contained in them, or to find a way to properly annotate the books so they can be placed in a good historical context? I mean, we haven't rewritten Huck Finn yet... We just try to use it as a "teachable moment" about evolving race relations in America.

you can and people do argue about huck finn... but it does have a nuanced portrayal of the period. it isn't cartoon huck merrily marching onto the plantation and giving some lectures to a bunch of people drawn with fat sambo lips.
posted by geos at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2009


Yeah, I can totally see not having it in the Children's Book section, but it's useful as a historical document and shouldn't be kept under lock and key.
posted by empath at 10:27 AM on August 20, 2009


i'm not for burning books and adults should be able to read anything they want, but I just don't think that giving children books which trivialize very real genocidal acts against people largely on the basis of them being african, in a city with a large african-american population is a good idea at all.

Are you OK with John Wayne movies being shown to children? Those too trivialize genocidal acts.
posted by cmonkey at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


wow, those depictions are pretty difficult to stomach. I suppose they're a product of their time, but damn.

I don't know if they should be kept behind locked doors, though. On the one hand, we don't keep The Birth of a Nation off of shelves or netflix streaming queues. on the other hand, you can't browse a library and just watch Birth of a Nation while you're standing there. On the first hand again, we can't just obliterate any old problematic books from human history. On the other hand, I wouldn't want my kids to grow up thinking of imagery like that as being normal or acceptable. On the first hand, that's kind of my responsibility as a parent to teach them that, though, isn't it? On the other hand, parents often let their kids roam the library browsing without keeping an eye on every single book they touch. It's part of a library's value that you can do just that. On the first hand again, imagery like that exists, and we can't pretend it doesn't. If we're decent parents, we can handle what to do when our children encounter it.

I don't know. It's not outright censorship, I don't think, any more than having an 18+ section of adult videos at a video rental place is outright censorship. But still, the whole situation is a mess.
posted by shmegegge at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


We have a lot of old children's books in my library. Some of them are just trash, but some are old enough to have historical interest. And some of those offend modern sensibilities. Currently we aren't sure what to do about them, but some sort of separate collection seems appropriate. We probably won't lock it, though.
posted by Biblio at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2009


This is an open-and-shut case, people.

Swift said, nearly eponysterically.
posted by Spatch at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2009


cmonkey: "Are you OK with John Wayne movies being shown to children?"

fwiw, I would never show any kid of mine The Searchers until I thought he was old enough to understand it. But then, I would definitely show it to him, and make sure he understood it.
posted by shmegegge at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


but then when he was old enough to understand it, I would definitely show it to him, I mean.
posted by shmegegge at 10:35 AM on August 20, 2009


Yeah, I can't really see much problem with Tintin in Africa being re-shelved somewhere out of the way rather than the kids sections. Near that copy of Lost Girls seems like the right area.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2009


Are you OK with John Wayne movies being shown to children? Those too trivialize genocidal acts.

nope. no john wayne shooting injuns for my children. but can you imagine movie night at some library near the rez in North Dakota showing John Wayne shooting indians? regardless of how you feel about westerns, showing a movie to unsuspecting children showing your own people getting shot for being violent savages is just completely beyond the pale.
posted by geos at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2009


it's useful as a historical document and shouldn't be kept under lock and key.

The sci-fi special collection in the Toronto Public Library system is under lock and key in the same sense that you need an appointment to get in to see it. Not everything at every library is freely accessible but it's still available for public access. It's a bit much to conflate appointments with censorship.
posted by GuyZero at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2009


...or even behind those "steel doors", come to think of it, if it's really the edition from 79 years ago, as it's probably quite fragile and worth a lot.
posted by Artw at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2009


My library still has it, at least the english translation. We also have The Blue Lotus, another of my favourite Tintins.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:39 AM on August 20, 2009


According to the Wikipedia article on Tintin au Congo:
Tintin in the Congo has often been criticised as having racist and colonialist views, as well as several scenes of violence against animals. Hergé later said that he was portraying the naïve, colonialist views of the time. Later on in his life, Hergé regretted this album and regarded it as "the sin of his youth."
Hergé has edited the book for various re-publishings, removing several references to the fact that the Congo was at that time a Belgian colony, and a scene in which Tintin blows up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite.

Add a disclaimer page, noting the history of the book and the outlook of the author at the time of originally publishing the work, and avoid further edits to make good characters less bad or threatening scenes less scary.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:40 AM on August 20, 2009


Interesting, because we all appear to have examples of books that we think cross the line and should be caged off from public access, dumped in a back storage room, restricted to certain groups, or otherwise isolated. One person's To Kill a Mockingbird is another person's The Joy of Gay Sex. One person's Heather Has two Mommies is another person's Catcher in the Rye. Ands so on .....

And of course, now that the New York Times City Room blog has caught hold of the matter, a couple of the offensive images from the Tintin book are available -- in an enlarged size, it looks like -- for all to see. I wonder if I'm the only one who finds that a mordant twist.

Not everything at every library is freely accessible but it's still available for public access. It's a bit much to conflate appointments with censorship.

True, but the blog says that one of the librarians in this instance told a patron (or an inquiring reporter), “It’s not for the public." Sounds censorious to me, unwittingly or not.
posted by blucevalo at 10:41 AM on August 20, 2009


If a controversial item is rare, out of print, difficult to replace, or whatever, I can understand keeping it in locked stacks to protect it from self-appointed people who might try to remove, damage or destroy it.

Rare items on open shelves that gain any sort of notoriety might attract unwanted attention from people who would simply steal them for resale, as well.

(Speaking in general, not to this specific case.)
posted by gimonca at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of interested in this whole blowing up a rhino with a stick of dynamite deal...
posted by marxchivist at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2009


a scene in which Tintin blows up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite.

Hardcore!
posted by Artw at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find this whole matter very interesting. On the one hand, I can understand how Tintin in Congo is egregious for a children's book*, but putting it under lock and key is a bit much, especially given they have Mein Kampf on the shelves.


* Disclaimer: Like any good European child of the latter half of the 20th Century I read Tintin in Congo, and all the other Tintin books, numerous times and it didn't turn me into a blathering racist but I imagine that if I were black reading it as a child would've been a very disquieting experience.
posted by Kattullus at 10:51 AM on August 20, 2009


I am thinking that there were complaints, some took a look at and realized that not that book was racist but an 80 year old original copy and decided that it needed to be moved to the Special Collections area. Most large systems will have a large number of material like that in their collections that are not actually available to children but kept for historical and research purposes.

That said, if that is the case, you would think someone from the library would have stated that. At least for PR purposes.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2009


When you're operating a public library, your calling is to serve as a steward of human knowledge, no matter what the actual content is. I think the panel has lost sight of this and views themselves as a group of city bureaucrats.

Some might say that public libraries exist to serve the will of the public. I might not agree, but I can understand the view point.

It is important to not confuse "the public" with "the public good".
posted by blue_beetle at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2009


I'm kind of interested in this whole blowing up a rhino with a stick of dynamite deal...

Well, first you have to drill a hole in the rhino...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I see that it's the Brooklyn PUBLIC Library.
Next sentence: “It’s not for the public."
Um....er.....(Brain Implodes).
posted by TDavis at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wrote a column about Hergé and Tintin for a column I was doing on Franco-Belgian comics for a new comics magazine, but unfortunately the publication crashed and burned before that column hit print. The column was specifically about Congo (the theme of the issue of the comic was black people in modern comics), and the question at hand was how to deal with Congo; an obviously racist piece of work at the beginning of a career of arguably one of the top five greatest figures in comics, ever, around the world.

Hergé was an amazing person in many ways; he started his career blithely oblivious to racial matters in large part, but later in his career (after being called to task by a chaplain about how wrong-headed he was being) turned around and became a fiend for research and portraying people -- well, not accurately, necessarily, but making a mighty attempt to be fair-handed. The Wikipedia article on The Blue Lotus provides a good write-up on how all this came about.

His later work suffered from "the Disney problem" -- there were "good" minority characters and "bad" ones, and the "good" ones tended to be the most Westernized -- but he made a level attempt at being fair-handed in the second half of his career.

That being said, he maintained a weird resistance to criticism of Congo to his dying days -- even in interviews conducted into the 1980s, he insisted that his portrayal of the Congolese was on the whole positive, and that it was well-received and the volume was very well-regarded in the Congo. I suspect that was self-delusion and confirmation bias working arm in arm, but he never really repudiated the book (though he did edit it and tone it down in subsequent editions).
posted by Shepherd at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


If a controversial item is rare, out of print, difficult to replace, or whatever, I can understand keeping it in locked stacks to protect it from self-appointed people who might try to remove, damage or destroy it.

Rare items on open shelves that gain any sort of notoriety might attract unwanted attention from people who would simply steal them for resale, as well.


This.

The physical book in question is upwards of 80 years old. Many old, fragile, or rare books are kept under "lock and key" in thousands of libraries worldwide, mostly for the protection of the books. Sometimes its also so the librarians can control access to the books ... either by verifying the age of the patron or for you to provide a security item (most often your ID) to insure you return the book in good condition.

The book is not unavailable. Its just not out in the general stacks for everyone to see.

Big difference, and, frankly, a common library policy.
posted by anastasiav at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The book is not unavailable, technically, which is true. But as I said above, at least one librarian there apparently told a patron that the book "is not for the public." I wasn't there, don't know the details, but if the conversation stopped there, end of story, nothing else, no other explanation, that's not okay, and is at the very minimum problematic public service.
posted by blucevalo at 11:17 AM on August 20, 2009


There's a big difference between pulling it out of the children's section for not really being appropriate for kids anymore, and putting it into closed stacks where it's intentionally made difficult to get to.

There's an obvious middle ground: put it in the adult stacks, perhaps with adult graphic novels. (Since if you take away the meant-for-children aspect, it's really just a very short graphic novel in nonstandard format.) If someone is capable of reading Alan Moore, I think they can handle and contextualize the historical racism in Tintin.

Putting them in the closed stacks seems to be making more of a value judgment—it's a "bad book" that the public must be protected from!—that I'm not sure I'm comfortable having libraries make.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:22 AM on August 20, 2009


If I went to the library and asked to read the book, would they let me? Yes. So shouts of censorship seem grossly out of place.

Librarians, for the most part, are big defenders of accessibility. Sometimes they have to take extra steps to ensure items remain available to be read. If it was a modern-day reprint, sure it should go on the adult stacks. An 80-year old original edition deserves an extra degree of preservation.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:25 AM on August 20, 2009


If I went to the library and asked to read the book, would they let me? Yes.

But according to this story, someone did just that, and they were not allowed to see the book.

Librarians, for the most part, are big defenders of accessibility.

Except, seemingly, for one librarian at this particular library, if the information in the New York Times blog is to be believed.
posted by blucevalo at 11:30 AM on August 20, 2009


shmegegge: "on the one hand . . . on the other hand; on the first hand . . . on the other hand"

Man, shmegegge, how many hands you got?!
posted by garnetgirl at 11:32 AM on August 20, 2009


I feel like they only wrote this article because they were able to get a picture of the steel doors, and otherwise the story wouldn't have had a catchy sensationalized metaphor.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:36 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm no zoologist, but in general do Rhinos just sort of stand there when you drill holes in them? Is the idea that you're alright so long as they don't actually *see* a Landrover?
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2009


Many old, fragile, or rare books are kept under "lock and key" in thousands of libraries worldwide, mostly for the protection of the books

If it's truly for the protection of the book, I can't really object to it, as long as it's put with all the other "rare books," and not in some sort of 'subversive literature room.'

Maybe the NYT is sensationalizing, and they're really just locking it up because it would be difficult to replace and they think it has a high likelihood of being defaced or stolen if it remains in general circulation. Granted. If that's the case and the motivation, then I think that's fine.

But there's a difference between saying "this would be in the regular adult section, but it's old and expensive," and locking it up because of content and complaints about it. It's the difference between protecting the book from the public, or the public from the book.

I'm all for protecting books from the public; they need it. The public doesn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:45 AM on August 20, 2009


Where the hell is jessamyn?
posted by grubi at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2009


Jessamyn posted about it on her blog.
posted by Kattullus at 11:54 AM on August 20, 2009


Librarians at the BPL in my experience are between the ages of 16 and 23 and not always the best communicators. I doubt that the one librarians comment is the official stance.
posted by edbles at 11:57 AM on August 20, 2009


Also looking at the link Jessamyn has on her blog post about reader complaints, I'm noticing that most of them seem to be from people picking up a graphic novel without figuring out what it's about showing it to their ten year old and being shocked to find sex in it. They are sort of being taken in by the medium. Reader complaints.
posted by edbles at 12:10 PM on August 20, 2009


Librarians at the BPL in my experience are between the ages of 16 and 23 and not always the best communicators. I doubt that the one librarians comment is the official stance.

Just to be clear, I'm don't think that the one librarian's comment is the official stance of the BPL either. It just seems a bit strange that such a comment would be made at all, but I'll take your word for it about the communication skills.
posted by blucevalo at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2009


Considering this is the first book that was removed due to the documented review process, I don't think they have a whole room for it. So it was probably shelved with the rare/fragile books, but not because it is rare or fragile (though it may be those things.)

If I went to the library and asked to read the book, would they let me?

It says you need an appointment, which is probably the standard for books in this Hunt collection.
posted by smackfu at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2009


I think they should keep it in circulation, but filed in DT655, perhaps with a bit of an addendum pasted in.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:31 PM on August 20, 2009


Librarians at the BPL in my experience are between the ages of 16 and 23 and not always the best communicators

I doubt these staff are professional librarians, as it requires a Master's degree, hence an undergrad degree and an age ~24 by the time you finish your MLIS. That of course doesn't guarantee better communication skills.
posted by Paid In Full at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2009


blucevalo: "It just seems a bit strange that such a comment would be made at all,"

I think you might be getting hung up on this phrase a little bit. I read that and assumed that meant "it's not for public browsing." by which they mean that you have to make an appointment to see it. I imagine this means it's still in the card catalog and that they don't just turn people down out of hand. They might, though, say that children need to have a parent's permission to see it. I don't know. The article doesn't say. The other thing the article doesn't say is that people are turned down when they ask to read it. It says they make an appointment and wait days.
posted by shmegegge at 12:37 PM on August 20, 2009


Sorry, I should have realized that the kids at the front desk in the blue library polos are not librarians and were probably not who the article is referring to. I was taken in by my own imagination because they are the faces I interact with the most at the BPL and I immediately pictured them.
posted by edbles at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was reading through the reader complaints in the NYT link above, and I like the one that starts out: "Greetings in the name of Jesus."
posted by marxchivist at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2009


Librarians at the BPL in my experience are between the ages of 16 and 23 and not always the best communicators. I doubt that the one librarians comment is the official stance.

I really really wish these articles were better. A few clarifying points

- the book in question is a 1974 edition, not the original older one, so the whole "omg it's fragile" isn't really the point
- libraries can and do remove books from the shelves when they feel that having the book on the shelves is going to make the book pretty much 100% likely to be stolen or defaced. However, the exact same books fitting this criteria usually also fit other criteria that people like to think the book was removed because of. For a decent example, Madonna's Sex. Racy book, popular book, hot photos. Also spiral bound which meant the damned pages kepy falling out of it. If you wanted to keep that book in your library you had to limit access to it. There's no decent way to do this that I've seen because often you wind up with the person behind the desk [yes a 16 year old is not a librarian] making some error in speaking that then winds up in the New York Times
- another example is books on drugs. I used to work at a Natural Sciences Library and books about mushrooms with psychedelic proterties vanished. So, what do you do? You know the books will get stolen. You know why. You want to provide access and yet limit theft. It's a quandary. You do not have the option of letting it get stolen and rebuying it every few months or so. The best you can hope for is restricting access to prevent theft but not to prevent use. It's a mess. Good PR is essential and sadly it's rarely what libraries have. They are notorious for not being on message for a myriad of reasons.
- Personally, like I said on my blog, I am freaked out at the challenges that are made publicly available because usually we do a better job at patron privacy than that. I'm sure there are real regulations surrounding what can and can't be shared and shown [and some people have mentioned some in my blog comments] but it's a little weird how personally identifying those things are

It just seems a bit strange that such a comment would be made at all, but I'll take your word for it about the communication skills.

No shit. The library has a nice website. There's a damning article about it in the blog of the paper of record. There's no official response on the website. Communication fail.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


I read that and assumed that meant "it's not for public browsing." by which they mean that you have to make an appointment to see it. I imagine this means it's still in the card catalog and that they don't just turn people down out of hand.

shmegegge, you make a good point. I may have been assuming something that's not in evidence.
posted by blucevalo at 12:44 PM on August 20, 2009


I mean, we haven't rewritten Huck Finn yet... We just try to use it as a "teachable moment" about evolving race relations in America.

I first read the unedited Huck Finn at about 12 years old, and after I read the scene in which Huck decides that he's willing to go to Hell to help Jim escape, I just assumed that the racism in the book was satire. Jim is by far the most noble person in the book, and just about every white person Huck meets is deeply flawed. It was actually a large factor in my deciding that racism was wrong, even though I came from a racist family.

The Tarzan books are interesting in a similar way. The description of Africans varies wildly, from being lower than animals to being the only humans he finds honorable.

Moving the Tin Tin book to the adult section would have been fine.
posted by Huck500 at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2009


Wow. Now we're locking up books because someone finds them offensive? Thank god, because John Grisham has been rubbing me wrong for years.

*lightbulb*

....Hey. Hey, that'd be a kind of awesome idea for an organized "banned books week" protest: pick something that's fairly innocuous, or something that has an innocuous reputation, but which it could be argued has a dangerous impact on people, and then have a set day when a whole bunch of people call their local libraries and request its removal. And they specifically say that "when [thus and such other book] was removed it got me thinking, and I thought that since [thus and such other book] was banned, this should be too." Media attention and the like would follow.

But pick something really innocuous, like Grimm's Fairy Tales or something, to underscore that the nitpicking over the content may not be the point. Or do something extreme and pointed like call for the banning of FARENHEIT 451 because "it's insulting to firemen". (I think trying to pull that stunt with The Bible would raise too many tangential arguments, but conceptually it'd be another good choice.) None of these bans would ever work, but it'd attract media attention, and make for an interesting protest.

I yield to jessamyn's opinion on this, however -- if this just sounds way to much like "HOLY MOTHER OF GOD NO THAT WOULD CAUSE A PAPERWORK HEADACHE THE SIZE OF NEBRASKA PLEASE DON'T", then fair enough. But...it just strikes me that to flip the banning reaction on its head may not be a bad protest.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on August 20, 2009


have a set day when a whole bunch of people call their local libraries and request its removal.

Only do this if you truly hate your public servants. I know this is a thought experiment mainly, but all challenges take time and attention (of which there is a finite supply) because we do actually take them seriously.
posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on August 20, 2009


having been there just recently,
would like to point out the pretty cool entrance to the Brooklyn Public Library
posted by sloe at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


that... is an awesome library entrance.
posted by shmegegge at 3:34 PM on August 20, 2009


Tintin, who will be featured in a Steven Spielberg movie due out in 2011.

That was about as far as I got before I wanted to gag. Putting books in a locked room is ridiculous, but Titin doesn't deserve to be made into some sort of AI pap.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:51 PM on August 20, 2009


i dont understand the fascination with TinTin --they're even doing a fucking action movie based on that racist crap.

even as a child i found TinTin horrendously racist and just couldnt read it. it really shouldn't be in the kid's section ---they should be left in the adult section as historial artifacts.

and NO! to those who think Huck Finn is akin to TinTin you obviously have never read it.

Huckleberry Finn is the most beautiful US novel of all time. contrary to TinTin, Huck does have a moment of reckoning about the iniquity and violence of slavery. and he takes full responsibility and redeems himself as being part of the world that insisted in denying Jim and his family their humanity by choosing to go to hell if that meant treating Jim not just like a man but like family.

TinTin goes on from one adventure after another, blissfully unware of the colonialist blood on his hands. He just doesnt deserve to lick the callous feet of Huck Finn.

Mark Twain turned the ugliness of racism as a means to creating not just a hero but an anti-racist hero.

TinTin could never measure up to Huckleberry Finn.
posted by liza at 6:01 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


forgot to say : it's just stupid to lock those books down. the need to go into the history section or something.

it's really just a stupid move.
posted by liza at 6:02 PM on August 20, 2009


> have a set day when a whole bunch of people call their local libraries and request its removal.

Only do this if you truly hate your public servants.


I had a feeling that might be the case -- sorry I mentioned it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 PM on August 20, 2009


That being said, he maintained a weird resistance to criticism of Congo to his dying days -- even in interviews conducted into the 1980s, he insisted that his portrayal of the Congolese was on the whole positive, and that it was well-received and the volume was very well-regarded in the Congo.

If I remember my Michela Wrong correctly, the Belgians as a whole, circa the late 1990s, have a rather complicated relationship with Congo. The colonial history isn't taught; there had been no reckoning, when she wrote her book, though that's ten years ago now. The ones who do remember are what we might term unreconstructed in their attitude. So it's no surprise that the cartoonist, and contemporary of the colonials, would feel the same.

posted by Diablevert at 6:20 PM on August 20, 2009


would like to point out the pretty cool entrance to the Brooklyn Public Library

Okay, I love that facade and need to put that on my ever-lengthening Libraries I Need to Visit Before I Die list.
posted by blucevalo at 6:55 PM on August 20, 2009


In my local library, the Tintin books are all in the YA/Teen graphic novel area. Seems like a good place for them. However, we didn't have a single book challenged in the year I worked there, so maybe our patrons are just more reasonable :)
posted by amarie at 10:05 PM on August 20, 2009


i dont understand the fascination with TinTin --they're even doing a fucking action movie based on that racist crap.

even as a child i found TinTin horrendously racist and just couldnt read it. it really shouldn't be in the kid's section ---they should be left in the adult section as historial artifacts.

and NO! to those who think Huck Finn is akin to TinTin you obviously have never read it.

Huckleberry Finn is the most beautiful US novel of all time. contrary to TinTin, Huck does have a moment of reckoning about the iniquity and violence of slavery. and he takes full responsibility and redeems himself as being part of the world that insisted in denying Jim and his family their humanity by choosing to go to hell if that meant treating Jim not just like a man but like family.

TinTin goes on from one adventure after another, blissfully unware of the colonialist blood on his hands. He just doesnt deserve to lick the callous feet of Huck Finn.

Mark Twain turned the ugliness of racism as a means to creating not just a hero but an anti-racist hero.


Liza, I don't think anyone is proposing a last-man-standing Huckleberry Finn vs. Tintin cage match, where the Southern Scamp and the Belgian Brawler are both given switchblades and forced to throw down like in the "Bad" video. Besides, Tintin has Captain Haddock backing him up, so you know somebody's gonna get glassed in that fight.

There's room for both to exist in the world, and while I agree that Congo is irredeemably racist, it's valuable context for how the Hergé books themselves change from being thoroughly colonialist to well-researched, world-embracing volumes. I don't think Hergé ever got entirely past his racism -- I don't think anybody does, really -- but I find, as an adult having read the Hergé books as a child, and having looked into Hergé's life story, that the Hergé story of transformation from blithe racist to thoughtful creator is as fascinating and valuable to me as Huckleberry Finn's journey.

Whether or not that justifies keeping Congo on the shelves -- or the equally excreble Tintin In The Land of the Soviets, which exudes Ignorance On Parade just as much as Congo does -- is obviously a tough call. Aside from this current library issue, both of those books have a history of being dropped from publication periodically, and brought back in. Personally, I prefer the "stick a note in there if the Introduction doesn't cover the book's troubled past" approach.

Given how Hollywood treats such things, I'd imagine you'd be glad that nobody is turning Huckleberry Finn into a "fucking action movie" -- it's eerily plausible to envison Huck Finn (Spackle Culkin, the as-yet-undiscovered Culkin brother) and Disenfranchised Jim (Cedric the Entertainer) rocketing down the Mississippi on their rad steampunk raft, joined by hip con men Duke and King (Johnny Knoxville and Dane Cook), fighting racist Klan robots invented by evil cotton baron Maximillian Sherburn (Al Pacino). In the last five minutes, Huck discovers that racism is caused by an evil giant spider from space (voiced by Nathan Lane, who camps it up maybe a little more than necessary), and a dying Disenfranchised Jim tells Huck that the magic was inside him all along and Huck destroys the spider with a hadouken made from pure American exceptionalism. Racism is solved and nobody speaks of it ever again.

Michael Bay produces, Stephen Sommers directs. Released on the third Monday of January. FINN!

So yeah, I don't think a Tintin movie is really something to get that outraged about.
posted by Shepherd at 3:01 AM on August 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


paisley henosis: "but Titin doesn't deserve to be made into some sort of AI pap."

AI is a woefully underappreciated film.
posted by shmegegge at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2009


At least Armond White likes it!
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2009


Shepherd: "I don't think anyone is proposing a last-man-standing Huckleberry Finn vs. Tintin cage match"

Well, we weren't before, but now that you've brought it up...I'd pay to see that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


But pick something really innocuous, like Grimm's Fairy Tales

Have you read the original unexpurgated version? It can be a bit harsh in places.
posted by ovvl at 12:29 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a great deal of respect for Librarians.

The Public Librarians that I have known are deeply dedicated to preserve and share printed knowledge, and they take their vocation most seriously.

On the other hand, School Librarians tend to flinch at the drop of a hat, but they are severely compromised by the political pressures of their employers.
posted by ovvl at 8:50 PM on August 22, 2009


...and by the way, Tintin rocks! When I was young, well... The Black Island, The Crab with The Golden Claws, Explorers on The Moon, The Shooting Star, Prisoners of the Sun... all freaking classics. Not always perfect, but all classics.

Tintin in The Congo was not a classic, I thought it was annoying and rather inferior to his later work, and definitely not something that Herge would want to be remembered by.

Perhaps there should be thread devoted to Captain Haddock's colorful expressions?
posted by ovvl at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2009


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