‘We Are on the Brink of Fascism’
January 28, 2022 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus, has been banned by a Board of Education in Tennessee. It's now sold-out on Amazon. Spiegelman has made a statement.
posted by valkane (188 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
For some reason my brain has decided that this is the most upsetting thing I’ve seen all week. Pulling it down for a re-read, maybe with the kids book group style.
posted by q*ben at 8:03 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


Reported on Holocaust Remembrance Day, fittingly enough (though the vote came before).
posted by adamrice at 8:04 AM on January 28


Justifying the Holocaust is a Small Price to Pay for Abolishing CRT
This was entirely predictable. As much as folks like [Rabbi David] Wolpe and David Bernstein loudly proclaim to be shocked -- shocked -- by the reach of the formal anti-CRT legislation they purport to "oppose", such legislation is the tangible manifestation of the anti-CRT campaign, which never had anything to do with CRT to begin with. It was always a backlash against teaching unflinching and unblinking history in the context of systemic oppression, dressed up in a sloppy "liberal" appeal to "both-sidesing". Once you do that, of course it's going to apply to the Holocaust too.

The thing is, whether we're talking about the Holocaust or about Jim Crow, I concede it may not always be fun to learn their your "group" or your ancestors were the villains of a particular chapter of history. Nonetheless, the purpose of the educational practice is not to "demonize" any student on basis of their identity, and the ancillary effect of generating feelings of "discomfort" is not something that likely can be avoided without utterly neutering the value of the lesson. The Holocaust is uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable in terms of what it did to Jews, in what it says about the moral fiber and moral foundations of a modern European state, and in what it implies about contemporary politics (about Jews and otherwise). Same with America's history of racial apartheid. It simply is discomforting, in terms of what it has done to people of color, in what it says about our collective national conscience and our foundational creeds, and what it implies about present day injustices and inequities.

Nonetheless, Holocaust education is not and should not be agnostic as between whether the attempted extermination of Jews was good or bad, and is not and should not be studiously indifferent over drawing lessons on how to head off similar atrocities in the future. When Texas demands that agnosticism and that indifference under the patina of both-sidesing, then it is impossible for contemporary Holocaust education to function as it should. But these are indeed the wages of the anti-CRT campaign it has embarked on.

To some extent, then, we can perversely admire the principled decision Wolpe, Bernstein, et al are sticking to here. In their view, raw facts may be sacrosanct, but "interpretations" must always be open. And so, in practice, their view is that while Texas schools should not teach outright Holocaust denial, they can and must be more open to debating the Holocaust's merits -- the German side and the Jewish side, presenting is neutrally and dispassionately as possible. White Supremacists should count themselves lucky to have such tenacious advocates. The rest of the Jewish community will unsurprisingly remain appalled.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 8:04 AM on January 28 [53 favorites]


More from Schraub: The New Holocaust Minimization from Europe to America
I want to put two stories in conversation with one another. The first is a right-wing party in Romania under attack for dismissing Holocaust education as a "minor topic". The second is a Republican legislator in Indiana, State Sen. Scott Baldwin, taking flak for insisting that, under his proposed "anti-CRT' law, educators must and should take a "neutral" stance on Nazism.

The Indiana incident is hardly the first of its kind. From the outset, the anti-CRT push has undercut Holocaust education initiatives -- an utterly predictable consequence that thus far has barely even registered an iota of worry amongst Republicans who just a few months ago were holding themselves as the last hope against an incipient tidal wave of antisemitism (then again, it was barely a year ago when Republicans were still holding themselves out as defenders of free speech in education -- who can keep up?).

But it is worth putting these developments in America in conversation with what's happening in Europe, and why it is exactly that they find the Holocaust to be so disposable. For the most part, it is not that I think that the legislators in Indiana or Texas are secret Hitler admirers. However, I do think they may possess, and be acting on, a sort of annoyed indifference to the Holocaust's preeminence. Much like Republican frustration over how all political scandals end in -gate, there is frustration over how the main "shared" exemplar of pure political evil is a right-wing phenomenon. Sometimes this frustration manifests in absurd attempts to pretend that Nazism was "actually" a left-wing ideology. But another play is to seek to undercut the Holocaust as "just another" historical event, one that shouldn't receive undue attention or be subject to special condemnation. Who cares about the Holocaust when somewhere, someone is reading a book on how to provide support to LGBT youth? It's not pro-Nazi so much as it's anti- expending any resources to fight Nazism or inculcate the view that Nazism is bad.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 8:07 AM on January 28 [27 favorites]


For some reason my brain has decided that this is the most upsetting thing I’ve seen all week.

Yeah. This was the most recent straw-that-broke-the-camels'-back moment that I sat alone in the driveway, going nowhere, in my car listening to the news about it NPR and cried furiously for about half an hour.
posted by thivaia at 8:08 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]




If I've learned only one thing from the study of history, it's this:

Sooner or later, they always come for the Jews.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:14 AM on January 28 [76 favorites]


When people show you who they are, believe them.
posted by acb at 8:14 AM on January 28 [57 favorites]


Wil Wheaton post on FB (copied in case people avoiding FB)

Nobody who has ever banned a book, in the history of the printed word, has been remembered as one of the good people.

The only people who ban books are fascist authoritarians.

Big shock that fascist authoritarians on the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee are banning a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel called Maus.

"Originally serialized in Raw from 1980 to 1991, [Art] Spiegelman's Maus depicts the cartoonist -- who was born in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II -- interviewing his father, a Polish Jew, about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The acclaimed postmodernist graphic novel famously depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats."

Maus is phenomenal. It's incredibly important literature, and banning students from learning about it is irresponsible and wrong.

This authoritarian bullshit pisses me off, so I have an idea to fight back.

I searched duckduckgo for "comic book shops" around Athens, Tennessee, which appears to be pretty close to the middle of McMinn county. I count 12 shops, mostly in Knoxville and Chattanooga, that I'd consider to be focused on serving my fellow comic book nerds.

Maus retails for around 31 bucks a copy. So for about 375 dollars, I can put one copy in each shop. I can afford to spend a little more, so I'll get a couple copies for every shop. I'm going to ask each shop to make the copies I bought available to anyone who comes in and asks for it.

If any of y'all can afford it, I invite you to pick one shop (I'll put a link to the search result into a comment) and buy a copy of two from them, with the same ask to give it away on demand. To prevent one shop from being flooded, I'd pick the one that is the same number on the list as your birth month. That ought to randomize the purchases and spread the money and access around their comic book community.

This could be really cool. It could boost the local comic shop economy, move Maus up the bestseller lists, and become a story that makes a difference. In addition to getting this important work into the hands of people who want to read it, if these shops start getting lots of orders from lots of people, and they talk to their local media about it, it could bring some national attention to the abhorrent practice of banning books in schools, which is (sadly) always needed.

Let's put our resources and efforts together, and blow this up in the faces of the fascist authoritarians who are trying to ban books. Streisand Effect, ACTIVATE!

posted by Glinn at 8:28 AM on January 28 [98 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.
posted by Phanx at 8:29 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


Here in Indiana, a bill is making its way through the legislature that would limit the legal defense for libraries if they're prosecuted for giving children access to harmful materials. It essentially says if schools or public libraries share harmful or obscene material with minors, they can't legally defend themselves by saying it's for educational purposes. I have no doubt that works like Maus would quite readily be found “harmful” in this blood-red state.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:30 AM on January 28 [19 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.

However, it's a damn good way of ensuring that kids won't learn about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on January 28 [36 favorites]


That is technically correct, but elected officials banning something from the curriculum for political reasons is close enough that it's a distinction without a difference.
posted by biogeo at 8:33 AM on January 28 [73 favorites]


I agree with Phanx that "ban" is too vague. But the minutes, where the school board members are talking with the school district employees, shows that it's as awful as it seems to be from the press summaries. The school board is telling the school employees specifically what and how to teach, because they think some of the words are "offensive."

One employee explains: "I think any time you are teaching something from history, people did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed, over six million were murdered. I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that. He is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses that would relate to that time, maybe to help people who haven’t been in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language objectionable? Sure. I think that is how he uses that language to portray that."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:34 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.


I disagree. 10 people sitting in a room voting to disallow a book is a ban.
posted by valkane at 8:42 AM on January 28 [66 favorites]


What pisses me off the most is the lying. They always lie about why they want to ban things. Language? Please.

There is a rank disingenuousness deep in the heart of every stunt. The incredible nihilism, the complete dedication to this week’s lie, the straight face they wear when they make their bullshit claims. I find this incredibly infuriating. The easy snark is, they are all just griefers, that’s why they do it. But it’s not. They’re just doing it to fit in. And that’s where this kind of evil rots and grows.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:46 AM on January 28 [36 favorites]


"Our children need to know about the Holocaust, they need to understand that there are several pieces of history ... that shows depression or suppression of certain ethnicities. It's not acceptable today," Pierce said, according to the meeting minutes. "[But] the wording in this book is in direct conflict of some of our policies."

Let's assume for a second that this dude is actually being honest, and that it really is the cursing and nudity that they REALLY honestly think that this is the issue. If you really think that 8th graders can't handle that, how on earth do you think they can engage with something like the Holocaust?
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:47 AM on January 28 [25 favorites]


I wasn't able to find any English language reporting on it, but the Krakow Jewish Community Center put out the following statement on the 25th, in response to a decision by the Krakow Board of Education. Note that Krakow is the biggest city closest to Auschwitz.

We want to express our astonishment at the decision made by the Krakow’s Board of Education to include the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, the “Never Again” Association, the “Open Republic” Association, and the Jan Karski Educational Foundation on the list of organizations whose educational activities can supposedly have a negative effect on the education of children and youth. We believe that these organizations teach open-mindedness and humility, and their contributions to building a society based on mutual respect cannot be overstated.

Debates over the history of the Holocaust have been a major issue in Poland since 2015 when the right-wing Law and Justice Party came to power. In 2018, there was a bill to limit how the Holocaust could be talked about, and specifically, Poland's role in it. Basically, the intent is for non-Jewish Poles to be talked about solely as co-victims of the Nazis (which many were!) rather than as also, in some cases, co-perpetrators of genocide.

There's some scary parallels here between the 2018 bill and the various anti-CRT laws, and it looks like now there's similar rhetoric about "protecting the children" in terms of how things can be taught in the classroom.
posted by damayanti at 8:47 AM on January 28 [22 favorites]




I don't understand the nudity concern. The characters in Maus are all animals. Anthropomorphized animals, but they are still mice and pigs and cats. There is not one human figure, naked or clothed, in that book. Do they seriously think that 8th graders will be harmed by seeing animals?

(Of course they don't; they are being just as disingenuous as the "bothsides" and "just asking questions" folk.)
posted by basalganglia at 8:56 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


I took my kids to an Art Spiegelman exhibit a few years back and it was an incredible experience for them, particularly my elder son. Some of the original manuscript of Maus was displayed, and it opened a world of conversation for us.

I don't think this work was banned for its language. I think it was banned for its power.

This isn't a board that is concerned about a few words or trying to find a better way to engage with the horror of the Holocaust. This is a board which, for whatever reasons, does not want to engage with the reality of genocide.

I think we are experiencing a forgetting and a return to comfort with all kinds of othering, fascist thinking, comfort over empathy, ease over difficulty. Art, teaching the arts, teaching history, teaching science, all those things, are the way forward. I'm glad this story has garned international attention 'cause we all have to wake up. I'm keeping an eye on my kids' curriculum and having those conversations here in our community.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:57 AM on January 28 [59 favorites]


An interview with the Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund about the Maus removal.

This one stings. Through his career, Art Spiegelman has been pushing the entire comics medium forward, not just through his own works, but by publishing and promoting others, including giants of the medium like Jacques Tardi, Yoshiharu Tsuge, and Lynda Barry. He's also contributed to comics history and scholarship—see the Lynd Ward post from the other day for an example. This feels like not just an attack on Maus, but an attack on comics itself, and it's been great to see the comics community's response to this.
posted by May Kasahara at 8:57 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


So how about the publisher makes a bowdlerized version -- which sounds like it would take hardly any editing -- and calls these dipshits' bluff.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 8:58 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


What hurts so much about this particular book getting axed is that it's so perfect for teenagers. I had an extremely cool English teacher who assigned us to read Maus (and Watchmen, too) when I was in 10th grade. I think that was the only time I can remember from high school when everyone in the class had actually done the reading and was fully engaged in the discussion about it. Comic art can pull in a lot of kids who wouldn't otherwise get through such a heavy (and beautiful, provocative, moving) work.
posted by theodolite at 8:59 AM on January 28 [43 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.

The level of open bigotry and violence that Trump gave permission to his people to act on has been escalating — from banning discussion of the Holocaust (in whatever form that takes), to waving and display Confederate flags and Christian symbols during the insurrection in the halls of Congress, to spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (Soros, space lasers, etc.), to holding hostage and shooting Jewish people at their places of worship.

This seems well more than the usual book ban from the usual backwards people, and we'd do well to start taking these acts of fascism on face value. And sooner, rather than later.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:00 AM on January 28 [48 favorites]


I feel like people who say "they're definitely banning this book because of holocaust denial" or whatever, first off haven't read the transcript, but secondly, don't realize that this is the sort of issue the teachers should have been prepared for, because (here in the south at least), we really do have this weird throw-back 1950s vision of what kids are and aren't capable of dealing with. They brought up, for instance, seeing the word "dam" in a book, and how that would prompt a conversation about the difference between dam and damn, and that is...just...very...not-of-this-era. There has been endless controversy in this country about what books are appropriate for which children when, and they should've been ready for just this complaint. (Did no one in this thread ever have that moment of tension, when a teacher realized you were reading a book that wouldn't be approved, that would get the teacher into trouble? Is that just a southern thing?) I think it is very likely that these board members mean exactly what they said--that the holocaust unit should be taught, just with a different book. It's the wrong decision, yeah, but it's not quite the same decision everyone seems to be talking about.

We see plenty of antisemitism and holocaust denial in this country, and it's not exactly shy, you know? It's not subtle. "Let's hear all points of view" or whatever. "Teach the debate." "George Soros." This really didn't feel like that. It's weirdly parochial and small-minded, it was the wrong decision and will now cause a ton of scrambling on the part of the teachers to try to make up for the central text of their unit going away, but it just doesn't look like the same thinking that's being described in these discussions.
posted by mittens at 9:01 AM on January 28 [10 favorites]


As a Jew; as a person for whom the edict "Never again" is understood to mean not only *my* tribe, but all people who are and have been marginalized and systemically unvoiced; incarcerated; state-sanctioned executed -- I genuinely ask,

can we start a MeFi project to help anyone with the willingness to run for a local school board seat to know what they need to do, how to get on the ballot, etc., and help with whatever politicking in necessary to be successful?

There is the aphorism that to change national politics, start at the local level. I believe school boards are root level of that.
posted by Silvery Fish at 9:02 AM on January 28 [77 favorites]


FYI, the Polish issue involved the Kraków school curator (I guess in the US they're superintendents?) putting the Auschwitz Jewish Center on a list of organisations undesirable in schools that was focussed on sex and gender education, just for extra WTF.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 9:02 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Y'know, this is suddenly reminding me of past incidents where schools have blocked screenings of Schindler's List because of nudity - and when NBC ran it unedited (save for some mild snips to a sex scene with Oskar Schindler), Oklahoma congressman Tom Coburn complained that this brought television "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity".

However, that incident with NBC was in 1997, and back then the response to Coburn's comments were a bipartisan and near-universal flood of responses from other Congress reps telling Coburn ".....Dude." Today, I fear that a similar incident would be met with support from other reps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on January 28 [27 favorites]


i'm sure anus mundi: 1,500 days in auschwitz/birkenau, by wieslaw kielar, wouldn't cause any uncomfortable discussion of words.
posted by 20 year lurk at 9:06 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


From the transcript: "Tony Allman- I understand all that, but being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable
or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the
educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy."
posted by warriorqueen at 9:06 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


A rural Washington school board race shows how far-right extremists are shifting to local power

Eatonville is among several rural, conservative parts of the West where members of self-styled militias are making inroads through what researchers call a mix of opportunism and intimidation. Once-fringe views about government “tyranny” now match the mainstream conservative discourse on vaccine and mask mandates, softening the public image of movements linked to political violence.

“If you’re going to make a change, you don’t do it by storming the Capitol. You make change by using the process that you’ve been given and starting at the bottom,” said Matt Marshall, founder of the Washington Three Percent and a member of the Eatonville School Board.

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:07 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I think it is very likely that these board members mean exactly what they said--that the holocaust unit should be taught, just with a different book. It's the wrong decision, yeah, but it's not quite the same decision everyone seems to be talking about.

As some wag I saw on Twitter put it: "Wow, so some kids saw a book with the word 'hell' in it in between active shooter drills? That must have been scary for them, are they okay?"

I get that this particular School Board is approaching things from a particular mindset, but the kind of pressure they are facing is well deserved, and to my mind, indicative of some unexamined biases on their part. Trying to sugar-coat the Holocaust demonstrates a lack of understanding of what it was - and that lack of understanding could be because of willful ignorance on their part, and I bet I know why that ignorance is there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on January 28 [45 favorites]


Spiegelman's far kinder than I would be.
posted by sfred at 9:15 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I feel like people who say "they're definitely banning this book because of holocaust denial" or whatever, first off haven't read the transcript, but secondly, don't realize that this is the sort of issue the teachers should have been prepared for

Just because it's supposedly "softer and gentler" doesn't mean that it isn't a form of Holocaust denial. At the end of the day, it's an attempt by what appears to be a board entirely of gentiles to minimize and whitewash what the Holocaust was by reducing it to sanitized anecdotes and a bunch of numbers. Teachers and anybody reacting strongly to this bear absolutely no responsibility for the board's actions.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:19 AM on January 28 [31 favorites]


basalganglia: I don't understand the nudity concern. The characters in Maus are all animals. Anthropomorphized animals, but they are still mice and pigs and cats. There is not one human figure, naked or clothed, in that book. Do they seriously think that 8th graders will be harmed by seeing animals?

In the short Prisoner on the Hell Planet section of Maus, which depicts the characters in human form, there is a frame showing the death of Art’s mother, in which she’s naked. It’s a shocking, heartbreaking image, but not gratuitous. Having read the notes from the meeting, I think this might be the incident of nudity being referred to in them.

I don’t consider any of the meeting’s points to be sufficient reason to remove the book from the curriculum, but wanted to clarify.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 9:19 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


McMinn County Board of Education
3 South Hill Street
Athens, TN 37303
(423) 745-1612
posted by joannemerriam at 9:22 AM on January 28 [14 favorites]


And To Kill a Mockingbird was dropped in a Washington school. Where will it end?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:27 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


From the minutes of the McMinn County [Wikipedia] Board of Education Called Meeting, January 10, 2022, 5:30 p.m.
Tony Allman- I have one question, is there a substitute for this book that we have?

Steven Brady- No, and that is a short answer to a longer discussion. If you would like, I have some stuff I can run through with you that explains what our curriculum is and how it works and walk you through how this book fits into the bigger picture of what our kids are studying.

Tony Allman- This is a book for the eighth grade on a third grade reading level.

Steven Brady- No, that is incorrect.

Tony Allman- So the 3.0 on the front of the book doesn’t stand for third grade reading?

Steven Brady- No, what you are referring to is the AR number that it is assigned to the book. This is an eighth grade, middle school level book. Not just because of the words but because of the content and the deeper meaning to what is going on in the book.

Tony Allman- Some of this vulgar and inappropriate behavior can be whited out, but because of copyright it is like b-i-t-c-h, they can only white out the i-t-c-h just like the gd word, they have to leave gd. Is that correct?

Scott Bennett- yes sir

Steven Brady- When we see something on television that is a direct quote from an actor or a president, something where it has that inappropriate language, they will blur it out or white out parts of it or they will bleep it.

Tony Allman- I understand all that, but being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy.…
The board banned MAUS by a unanimous vote. Save the children, at all costs: we certainly can’t have them learning about hangings or the Holocaust without school permission.
posted by cenoxo at 9:27 AM on January 28 [14 favorites]


I really like this perspective the mindset discussed above (I've edited it from tweet form):
I think Maus intimidates some Americans because it declines to offer a way out of the evil, never touches a Christian redemption for sin, and most of all, offers no peace in the crushing weight of death or the unlikely absence of it. You're not lucky to live or saved to die. Maus isn't a story told to celebrate any heroism or offer any salvation. It's not told from the perspective of a victim. It's told from the perspective of a Jew, and it's told Jewishly, with what joy may come derived from the minor ways to antagonize the machinery of destruction.

So in each panel I can see how an evangelical eye would be eager to start flipping forward, to see where the unlikely hero stops The Bad Thing, to find where justice is done. But there is no justice. There can be no justice. It must be told anyway.

So when a school board says it wants something more "appropriate," less "violent," what they're asking for is not a tale of the Holocaust from the eyes of a Jew. they're asking for a tale of the Holocaust from a plucky character who-happens-to-be-a-Jew who somehow stops the Nazis. But that's a story no Jew can tell because nobody stopped the Nazis. Even the stories of spectacular Jewish resistance against impossible odds, of which there are many, a Jewish eye knows are all miniscule compared to the absolute fucking insistence of the murderers.

So to tell the stories of the ghetto uprisings, or the stories of the clever ways righteous gentiles held a few Jews away from the machine? That's good, for what it is. But what those flatly aren't is a story of The Holocaust. To tell that story, you need oblivion. You need Maus.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:29 AM on January 28 [161 favorites]


I think it is very likely that these board members mean exactly what they said--that the holocaust unit should be taught, just with a different book. It's the wrong decision, yeah, but it's not quite the same decision everyone seems to be talking about.

I really, really appreciated this thread on how what they want is, in fact, to teach the Holocaust with a less Jewish book, preferably a book that's not Jewish at all.
Maus isn't a story told to celebrate any heroism or offer any salvation. It's not told from the perspective of a victim. It's told from the perspective of a Jew, and it's told Jewishly, with what joy may come derived from the minor ways to antagonize the machinery of destruction.

so in each panel I can see how an evangelical eye would be eager to start flipping forward, to see where the unlikely hero stops The Bad Thing, to find where justice is done. but there is no justice. there can be no justice. it must be told anyway

so when a school board says it wants something more "appropriate," less "violent," what they're asking for is not a tale of the Holocaust from the eyes of a Jew. they're asking for a tale of the Holocaust from a plucky character who-happens-to-be-a-Jew who somehow stops the Nazis

but that's a story no Jew can tell because nobody stopped the Nazis.
On preview: looks like I wasn't the only one!
posted by babelfish at 9:33 AM on January 28 [36 favorites]


I don't understand the nudity concern.

In the short Prisoner on the Hell Planet section of Maus, which depicts the characters in human form, there is a frame showing the death of Art’s mother, in which she’s naked. It’s a shocking, heartbreaking image, but not gratuitous. Having read the notes from the meeting, I think this might be the incident of nudity being referred to in them.

Confirmed, as per Spiegelman's own description in the reaction video posted above: it's a small image of the bathtub in which his mother has just slashed her own wrists, seen from above.
posted by progosk at 9:33 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


thanks for clarifying, Morfil Ffyrnig (and on preview: progosk as well). I'd forgotten that bit.
posted by basalganglia at 9:34 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


On preview: looks like I wasn't the only one!

So good it had to be said twice!
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:35 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Professor Offers to Teach Banned Books to Tenn. Students
Following a school board’s ban of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, Davidson College professor Scott Denham is offering a free online course for eighth- through 12th-grade students in McMinn County, Tenn., where the board voted 10-to-0 to remove the book from use in middle school classes.

“The McMinn Co., TN, School Board banned Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, so I am offering this free on-line course for any McMinn County high school students interested in reading these books with me. Registration details for those students coming soon,” Denham tweeted Wednesday as news of the book’s removal began to circulate online.
posted by Lexica at 9:35 AM on January 28 [51 favorites]


So to tell the stories of the ghetto uprisings, or the stories of the clever ways righteous gentiles held a few Jews away from the machine? That's good, for what it is. But what those flatly aren't is a story of The Holocaust. To tell that story, you need oblivion. You need Maus.

I've been flipping through my copy of Metamaus since hearing the news of the ban, and it's got a whole bunch of interviews with Spiegelman on the various aspects of Maus, his creative process, background material, and so on.

At one point Spiegelman says this:

"Most dramatic films have a hard time with the Holocaust as a subject because of the medium's tendency towards versimilitude and reproduction of of reality through moving photographic images. Holocaust movies usually look like they're populated by fairly well-fed inmates, for example. Movie makers can get involved in some kind of cracy trying-to-rebuild the camps, as opposed to creating it as a mental zone, which Maus does."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:36 AM on January 28 [13 favorites]


There's something so quintessentially American-evangelical-morality to look an artist's graphic depiction of his mother's death by suicide and your takeaway is "eww boobs"
posted by theodolite at 9:37 AM on January 28 [128 favorites]


I don't think this work was banned for its language. I think it was banned for its power.

This is true, and I think a different power is attributed to it as well. In the minutes of the meeting, you can see one Mike Cochran saying:
So, my problem is, it looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language. If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it. You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in.
As another poster, who I don't have a cite for, says: this is a plain implication that Spiegelman is participating in some kind of subliminal indoctrination of innocent children. Although the issue is confused: Cochran was just complaining about the lyrics of "I'm Just Wild About Harry," an ancient showtune that I guess the kids encountered somewhere in the curriculum. But he also is complaining about Spiegelman's character showing insufficient respect to his father.

I have said it before recently: these people are the ones that stood in awe of their parents during the Satanic Panic, who admired them for putting all the bad people in jail and burning the D&D books, who tormented their classmates for showing the slightest sign of "evil." They have learned nothing and never will.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:38 AM on January 28 [21 favorites]


(Parenthetically, I read Maus as a kid -- eleven or twelve, I don't know -- and I remember being utterly crushed by the depiction of the murder of a child. It's not the only one, of course, and I'd better not describe it, but it haunted my nights. It also strongly resembled other stories I heard and would later hear about the South, which was a valuable lesson to learn, and just one of the ones that the school board wants to stop.)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:44 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Remember, kids, the Antichrist will damn us all to hell with his goals of peace, love, diversity, socialism, and free healthcare for all. It doesn't matter what you do, there's no such thing as a good or evil act, it only matters which god you pray to when you do it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:45 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


There's something so quintessentially American-evangelical-morality to look an artist's graphic depiction of his mother's death by suicide and your takeaway is "eww boobs"

Okay just one more and I'll stop. But you're right, and it's been said before: the only sins that the American evangelical truly wants to take seriously are sexual. Anything else can be forgiven and forgotten, but people need to remain obsessed with sexual thoughts and the purity thereof, together with the punishment of anyone else who's not doing the same. That keeps the believer's locus of attention fixed inward and far away from what those in power over them are doing.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:48 AM on January 28 [25 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.

However, it's a damn good way of ensuring that kids won't learn about it.


OTOH, I was once a kid – before I became a parent – and there’s no better (or faster) way to get kids curious about something than by having adults forbid it. You can’t stop the signal.
posted by cenoxo at 9:50 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


there's another book that they should be eager to ban, as it has many pornographic references, 29 by this website's count - and then there's stories about bears abusing children, genocide, people saving prostitutes from stoning and all sorts of subversive things that our children should be safe from

i'm sure they'll be right on banning that as soon as they actually get around to reading it instead of hearing what some guy at a lectern thinks about it every sunday ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:55 AM on January 28 [22 favorites]


Kind of a weird story. Usually, right wingers in the US will do anything to suck up to Israel. Of course, I’ve long suspected they only support Israel because they want all of us Jewish people to go back there. Sadly, their little gambit seems to work on a certain segment of the US Jewish population. Whenever I hear someone say they support Trump because “he’s strong on Israel*” I try to tell them, the fascists have never been friends of the Jewish people. Maybe now they’ll be more likely to believe me.

* Of course, it’s absurd to talk about supporting one mainstream US politician over another because of Israel. Nearly all mainstream US politicians “support Israel.”
posted by panama joe at 9:56 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


because (here in the south at least), we really do have this weird throw-back 1950s vision of what kids are and aren't capable of dealing with. They brought up, for instance, seeing the word "dam" in a book, and how that would prompt a conversation about the difference between dam and damn, and that is...just...very...not-of-this-era.

...have these adults never heard of this new thing called "the internet?" Do they imagine that the kids in these towns are all at the malt shop reading the bible?
posted by cooker girl at 9:58 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Philip Bump in The Washington Post: “The removal of ‘Maus’ from a middle-school curriculum reflects an old debate, not a new one”
The minutes [of the board of education meeting] are revealing. What emerges is a decision driven not by the political rhetoric that is prominent in the national conversation of the moment but by more conventional (or, if you will, traditional) concerns about bad words and naked ladies. The discussion around the censorship is not centrally one about how the woke left is trying to poison kids’ minds but, instead, about how maybe they can just white-out some of the swearing.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:00 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Slight derail, sorry. Those of you on twitter may be interested in this.
posted by evilDoug at 10:01 AM on January 28


If only women would stop having boobs, and men would stop saying dirty words, we could teach history.
posted by valkane at 10:05 AM on January 28 [19 favorites]


One of the main points of Maus' first few chapters is that the Nazis didn't come swooping in with their death machine cranked up to full gear right away. It started as an unjust law here, a confiscation there, an atrocity or two now into the bargain, while people were shocked but doubted it could get worse.

It could get worse. It can get worse. And with people like this in power, it will get worse.
posted by Gelatin at 10:16 AM on January 28 [59 favorites]


I think I was around eighth grade age when I watched the movie Judgement at Nuremberg on TV. It featured for a few minutes, actual photos and films of the liberation of concentration camps. It was my first exposure to this actual history. Those images still haunt me today, fifty years later. It didn’t corrupt me. It educated me about humanity and where it can go. I’m glad I saw it. When I read Maus years later, those images were what I saw in my mind. And maybe Maus would have been a better way for me to learn about this at that age rather than two minutes of black and white footage. But learn about it is necessary. I so do want to call up that damn school board thanks to that posted phone number above. But I’m afraid I would just scream…
posted by njohnson23 at 10:24 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


They’re idiots: but leaving something off the curriculum is not banning it.

This argument keeps coming up, and it's making me crazy. I hate using dictionary definitions, but in this case it is useful: "to officially or legally prohibit." The school board removed Maus from the curriculum for ideological reasons (whether for nudity, swearing, or subject matter, doesn't matter), i.e., they officially prohibited it from being used in the schools. That is a ban. It is very different than simply deciding a book doesn't meet the educational criteria and thus shouldn't be part of the curriculum.

Saying this is not a ban is like saying someone who is not permitted to enter a store because they verbally abused the workers isn't banned, they're just "not on the list of permitted customers."

If this isn't a ban, I challenge you tell me what would constitute banning the book from the school.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:34 AM on January 28 [46 favorites]


The discussion around the censorship is not centrally one about how the woke left is trying to poison kids’ minds but, instead, about how maybe they can just white-out some of the swearing.

Yeah, but it's missing an important piece of the picture to not look at how these things are intertwined. The CRT panic - along with a hint of QAnon - brought book challenges back into fashion. It has advanced the idea that parents deserve complete transparency and complete control. And that plays into the hands of every parent who has a beef with some aspect of the school curriculum - and mostly, that means parents for whom the end goal is either a school curriculum that's squeaky-clean and acceptable to even the most conservative evangelicals, or the complete defunding of public schools.

And it's hard to challenge a book because it advances a political agenda you don't like. Except in the most conservative parts of the country, people are going to balk at challenging books just for being too woke. It's much easier to challenge a book for sex or violence or language - while ignoring the books that have just as much sex or violence or language but are about straight white people. And once you gather momentum with that, then everyone can start yelling, "Oh, while we're condemning books for not being squeaky clean, let's throw this one on the pile!"
posted by Jeanne at 10:34 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


warriorqueen: "I don't think this work was banned for its language. I think it was banned for its power. "

QFT. It's this.
posted by chavenet at 10:37 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Hell, I think the Holocaust is something that can continue to horrify people even if they have "already seen" things.

I was also about 13 when I learned about the Holocaust, and I'm sure I saw some newsreel footage or some pictures. That didn't lessen the impact when I saw Schindler's List in my 20s; I walked out of the theater totally numb from shock.

And then ten years later, when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, already being familiar with certain sights and images still didn't prevent me from being shocked when I saw a boxcar on display, or a pile of shoes that they said had come from one of the camps; or grieving when I saw some of the thousands of photos that the museum had rescued from various Jewish families' collections, happy and loving and lively pictures of a lively community wiped totally off the earth.

And then about 20 years after that, all of that experience and that much more time still didn't stop me from being knocked sideways when I saw the film Night and Fog, the 1950s French short-subject documentary on the Holocaust and the banality of evil. I was watching it for my blog - and there is a shot they have towards the end, a clip of a newsreel from the liberation of one of the camps where they show that it's filled with huge piles of human hair that the Nazis were saving to sell at like a penny a pound to make cloth. And as jaded as I was, seeing that made me want to punch each and every Nazi in the face.

The fact that the Holocaust happened at all is the real obscenity and the reason we need to keep teaching it is to make that clear.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on January 28 [35 favorites]


Okay just one more and I'll stop. But you're right, and it's been said before: the only sins that the American evangelical truly wants to take seriously are sexual. Anything else can be forgiven and forgotten, but people need to remain obsessed with sexual thoughts and the purity thereof, together with the punishment of anyone else who's not doing the same. That keeps the believer's locus of attention fixed inward and far away from what those in power over them are doing.

And I wish someone would stand up and turn this right back on them. When you see that panel in question: a panel of the author's mother in a bathtub who has slit her own wrists. She has committed suicide. That IS a horrible panel. It's horrible to have to contemplate that this woman killed herself. By cutting herself in a bath.

To see that and to think "eww boobs" says more about the person who says it than the panel itself. If you see a black and white drawing of a corpse in a bathtub and you have sexual thoughts, maybe you are the last person on the planet who should have any say in what kids should see. Maybe you're the last fucking person in the world who should ever be around kids at all.
posted by nushustu at 10:49 AM on January 28 [55 favorites]


To see that and to think "eww boobs" says more about the person who says it than the panel itself. If you see a black and white drawing of a corpse in a bathtub and you have sexual thoughts, maybe you are the last person on the planet who should have any say in what kids should see. Maybe you're the last fucking person in the world who should ever be around kids at all.

You know, maybe writing letters to the editor making that very point would be wise.

The person who made that specific objection, according to transcripts, was Mr. Mike Cochran.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:54 AM on January 28 [14 favorites]


So, my problem is, it looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language. If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it. You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in. [from transcript, not a mefite's opinion]

This is an attitude that is in fact part of white supremacy/anti-semitism. White supremacy and anti-semitism work in part by socializing white people into callousness and indifference, into moral under-reacting, so that we can look at terrible violence and hatred directed against non-whites/non-Christians and feel nothing much. How else could you enslave people? How else could you buy into this racist hellhole society?

You only sincerely believe (and I think that a lot of these people are sincere) that bad words and a little stylized nudity are bad enough to justify deep-sixing a critically acclaimed and much awarded book about the Holocaust because you have been socialized into white supremacist callousness such that you believe a few curse words and a little nudity do more harm to your kid than reading the book benefits them. It's an acceptable trade off because you've been socialized to believe that the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust isn't real suffering like Christians have. It's the moral under-reacting that we've learned as non-Jewish whites.

~~
One thing that really sets Maus apart from related material I encountered in my teens - the emphasis on parents, children and intergenerational trauma. I bet this is part of what really bothers people even if that's not what they say - the image of the damaged family and the suicide, Spiegelman's anger, fear and ambivalence about his mother's death, his vexed relationship with his father. The way that the trauma of the Holocaust isn't "survivors felt depressed and sad" but "trauma shaped these survivors and their child and destroyed Anya".

~~
Honestly, if someone were to say, "I think this book would be better taught to fourteen or fifteen year olds because it's such a meaningful and difficult text and twelve to thirteen year olds may be able to read and understand the story but are likely to struggle to approach the serious and intense content", that would be to me an arguable case - I read it when I was sixteen, when it came out as a book, and I feel like I needed all my limited maturity to engage fully with it. But then on the other hand, it might have a lot of explanatory force to an eighth grader who had themselves dealt with intergenerational trauma. It does seem like you'd really need to be thoughtful and skilled as a teacher to do some justice to the book and the subject.

But that's a question for teachers and students; if teachers and students feel that eighth grade is the right time for the book, they are the experts.
posted by Frowner at 11:05 AM on January 28 [47 favorites]


warriorqueen: “I don't think this work was banned for its language. I think it was banned for its power.”

QFT. It’s this.

I would agree, except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue. We want it to be one way because it’s more disturbing, but it’s the other.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:14 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I would agree, except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue. We want it to be one way because it’s more disturbing, but it’s the other.

Of course that's what the complaints in the minutes are about. That's an implicitly acceptable pretext; they aren't going to say "this book makes us uncomfortable because it makes fascism look bad."
posted by Gelatin at 11:18 AM on January 28 [35 favorites]


I would agree, except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue.

And you're actually taking them at their word?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on January 28 [24 favorites]


except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue

It started as "we want to redact these words and this image and there is concern about how that affects Fair Use" and became "this book has people being hanged and kids being killed and we don't want that".

The language was the foot in the door. The real reason for the ban is more than that, explicitly stated in the minutes.
posted by hanov3r at 11:25 AM on January 28 [11 favorites]


Just google "school board antisemitism" if you think people who show up to these meetings think they need to be subtle.
posted by mittens at 11:25 AM on January 28


Just because the Nazis called themselves the National Socialist Party doesn't mean they were actually socialists, you know.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:25 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Where will it end?

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. "

― George Orwell, 1984
posted by kirkaracha at 11:26 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Gimme a sec to find my pearls so that I can clutch them.../s

This is a nothing-burger. School districts banning books mean virtually nothing in the modern era.
posted by davidmsc at 11:32 AM on January 28


I couldn't put it any better than q*ben, at the top of the thread

Anger, fear, disgust, dismay.. the feelings that swirl, thinking about the people in the room saying these things and the way our world is just a little more obscene and wrong, for their efforts. We have to push back.
posted by elkevelvet at 11:32 AM on January 28


I'm disgusted/fascinated by the implications of the reasoning the school board uses, that the book contains mild profanity, so it cannot be part of the curriculum. So that either means that they're turning a blind eye toward the other books that presumably have such language (almost anything something as anodyne as A Separate Peace has similar language), or they really don't have anything with the barest hint of the mildest profanity in their curriculum. I can't imagine what works sophisticated enough for an eighth-grade curriculum would make the cut.

Also, it's not clear to me whether this means that the school library can't/won't have a copy, or it just won't be in the curriculum. I remember lots of popular fiction being available in my (not particularly progressive suburban) middle school, does this district just have G-rated materials in the library? They certainly couldn't have much or any young adult fiction.

Now the profanity issue is just a pretext, of course, it's not really about that--but I imagine that many of the people pressing the profanity issue at least *think* that *they* think that profanity is the issue. So I wonder what's going on. The one guy in the minutes readily admits that the kids are all seeing stuff like that on tv anyway, but that it's some kind of hypocrisy for the school to include such materials in the curriculum. It's curious, it'd make me want to engage one of them in conversation about it, if I didn't know better how unsatisfying that would be.
posted by skewed at 11:32 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


This is a nothing-burger. School districts banning books mean virtually nothing in the modern era.

Just for the record, where exactly DO you draw the line?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:37 AM on January 28 [33 favorites]


School districts banning books mean virtually nothing in the modern era.

Really? Most kids do not read for pleasure - or whatever is outside of the scope of being taught in the classroom.

Introducing them to new ideas/topics and points-of-view in the classroom is important to have a fully functioning society that makes at least an attempt at avoiding repeating history.

At a minimum, this means that Nazi/fascist/racist school board members feel that they are safely in a culture that will support them banning things.
posted by rozcakj at 11:38 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


What we don't know keeps tha contracts alive an movin'

They don't gotta burn tha books they just remove 'em
posted by AlSweigart at 11:39 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I'm re-reading Maus, and coincidentally there's a panel I just read where Spiegelman is discussing his work with his father and Mala, his father's second wife. Mala says "It's an important book. People who don't usually read such stories will be interested." And the elder Spiegelman says "Yes. I don't read ever such comics, and even I am interested."

That's the power this book has, and the threat it poses to fascists. Maus shows not only that the Holocaust happened, and makes its victims relatable, but also shows how it happened, the noose tightening around the population whose lives it would eventually claim, while so many lived in denial even as it was happening. (And, of course, we know that the Nazi regime issued plenty of propaganda justifying the persecution and making it sound "reasonable.")

That's what these cool, conservative men of the school board are afraid of. Maus makes the Nazis real in a way most movies don't, and that's a threat to those who think fascism just might work, as long as they are the ones in charge.
posted by Gelatin at 11:45 AM on January 28 [39 favorites]


To Silver Fish's call that we encourage and enable young progressives to run for school boards and other local offices, there is Run For Something, which is doing exactly that.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:51 AM on January 28 [17 favorites]


My son enters 8th grade next year. My first response to this news of a stupid book ban is to immediately buy a copy of the book, and I intend to put it on his summer reading list.

My second response is thank fucking god I don't live in Tennessee.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:10 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


This is a nothing-burger. School districts banning books mean virtually nothing in the modern era.

wake the hell up - they couldn't take over the capitol on jan 6, but they sure as hell can take over local school boards and that's just what they're trying to do now
posted by pyramid termite at 12:18 PM on January 28 [67 favorites]


My seventh grade social studies teacher invited a Holocaust survivor to speak to our class. Since I’d skipped a couple grades, I was ten when she came to talk to us. Was I too young to hear her story? I sometimes think I was but to be honest I don’t remember anything she said or if it scared me. But the tattoo on her left forearm is a memory that’s stayed with me for more than forty years.

As I learned more about the Holocaust over the years, when what I read was so horrific as to be unbelievable, that woman’s tattoo assured me that it was all true. I felt the same way when looking at the piles of shoes and suitcases and eyeglasses at the museum in DC and at Auschwitz.
posted by bendy at 12:22 PM on January 28 [15 favorites]


The minutes [of the board of education meeting] are revealing. What emerges is a decision driven not by the political rhetoric that is prominent in the national conversation of the moment but by more conventional (or, if you will, traditional) concerns about bad words and naked ladies. The discussion around the censorship is not centrally one about how the woke left is trying to poison kids’ minds but, instead, about how maybe they can just white-out some of the swearing.

I like Philip but he's being enormously credulous here.
posted by babelfish at 12:43 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I would agree, except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue.

And you're actually taking them at their word?


I don't find that difficult to take them at their word. It's not a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's people who have been so conditioned by their religious leaders that words like "bitch" are more dangerous than the slaughter of their fellow human beings. Of course it's it the interest of those leaders to make that exception, so they can condone the killing of abortion doctors or other "enemies of God."

I'm not excusing the school board, but if you don't believe that people can be so small-minded, you haven't spent time in conservative rural areas.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:49 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I don't think there would be any nudity or swearing in Maus that an 8th grader hadn't already been exposed to. I was in the middle of a Stephen King phase at that age and they had lots of swearing, sex, violence, and drug use, in addition to people dying or being killed in various ways, and these were all books borrowed from my school library.

The only reason I could think of for banning Maus is that the board is full of Nazis.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:53 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I feel like this is tone-policing. "I don't like the thing you're saying, but I can't say that without seeming like a jerk, so I'll nitpick the way you said it."

I suspect the reasons why the members of the school board don't like the thing Art Spiegleman is saying are probably complex and overlapping, but it would be hard to pin them down. Some of this is probably raw anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denialism. Some of it is discomfort with anything that isn't "nice." Some of it is probably more indirect—it would cause the reader to start asking uncomfortable questions about injustices closer to home.
posted by adamrice at 12:59 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


"It's not a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's people who have been so conditioned by their religious leaders that words like "bitch" are more dangerous than the slaughter of their fellow human beings."

So.. it's not a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's a slightly different vast right-wing conspiracy?
posted by Horkus at 12:59 PM on January 28 [25 favorites]


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
- George Santayana
posted by bendy at 1:11 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Yes, I read a lot of Stephen King in eighth grade and the political/historical parts made a big impression on me, especially the fire at the Black Spot in It. I was a pretty sheltered kid and it was before the internet, so I had not had access to porn or R rated movies and my parents didn't have the type of books that had a lot of graphic sex or violence in them, so Stephen King was pretty epic in that regard.

Because Maus is more serious and more complex than Stephen King's treatment of history (not to knock King), I feel like it was helpful to have grown as a person and a reader and in particular to have started to get some distance from my own family before reading Maus, but that doesn't mean that reading it sooner would have been bad.

~~
You don't need a vast conspiracy or even leaders to condition people into believing that it's more important that a kid avoids curse words in school than it is to encounter an important and complex work of art about the Holocaust. (I'm sure "hearing the words in school" is part of it - the idea that the school legitimates the words whereas the cussing in the gutter is not authorized, so to speak.) It's just ordinary hardboiled American racism where nothing about non-white or non-Christian people is as real in the way that even the most trivial thing about white Christians is real. That's how we're socialized.

Like, the normal slightly conservative parental attitude in my youth was, "swearing, violence and nudity are not especially welcome in the curriculum, but they are perfectly acceptable in the service of important artistic, literary or moral purposes". It's the refusal to recognize that Maus isn't "let's click around on the chans" that is the racist part.
posted by Frowner at 1:12 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I would agree, except that the school in its minutes explicitly complains about the language as the issue. We want it to be one way because it’s more disturbing, but it’s the other.

Except in the board's own meeting notes, quoted above, Allman specifically states "I understand all that, [being that words can be whited out -- the example given is when "a president" says something inappropriate which kinda made my jaw drop -wq] but being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy.…"

Another example: "I’ve read the background on this author and the series, talked to some educators, and it is a highly critically acclaimed and a well reviewed series and book context. It’s banned many places in Europe because of how critical it is against the heinous acts that were done. So, it can be vetted either direction about the picture that it paints." [bolding mine]

I'm not sure how you read both of those comments - "vetted in EITHER DIRECTION????" What, that it's too critical of the heinous acts? What??? - but I certainly read them as against the work as a whole.

If you keep reading, the Board discusses whether removing the 8 words and one nude picture would be okay under Fair Use. As far as I was able to discern on a quick read, they didn't come to an exact conclusion but they did start to bring up other disturbing images (hangings), the way the son "treats his father like a victim" and there's a member who says:

"I don’t think that there is really any retribution that we would face for removing eight
words in full and a graphic or two in full, if that permits us to use that book. But if it’s more offensive than that, and I have not seen the book and read the whole book, I read the reviews, then it’s a bigger problem." They discuss contacting Spiegleman for permission but decide it's easier to ban the book right away.

So, just going on the record, I think it's pretty clear it's not just about the profanity but the themes and images.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:14 PM on January 28 [19 favorites]


“It’s not a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's people who have been so conditioned by their religious leaders that words like “bitch” are more dangerous than the slaughter of their fellow human beings.”

So.. it's not a vast right-wing conspiracy, it's a slightly different vast right-wing conspiracy?

It’s a right-wing conspiracy that’s very old and kind of entirely decoupled from the general freak out about Trump and the rediscovery that America still has an active white power movement?

There’s this tendency to assume that just because “white supremacy” and “white privilege” (as economic/political structures) are now on the tip of every tongue and incidents like Charlottesville have made it clear that “White Supremacists” are much more extant than they should be, actual, out-and-out Nazis are everywhere and are the cause of everything. Hence, “this school board is full of secret Nazis lying about their motivations!” is the only explanation for why a school board would want to ban Maus, as opposed to the long-running trend of school boards banning books that contain bad words and sex. (The ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books contains quite a few notes about books being challenged for profanity and sex, among a variety of pretty obvious, baldly-stated political views.)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:15 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


So, just going on the record, I think it's pretty clear it's not just about the profanity but the themes and images.

With at least one board member admitting he hadn't read it.
posted by Gelatin at 1:26 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


Meantime, in Polk County, FL a conservative group is pushing to ban 16 books from the schools claiming they're pornography and the superintendent has already pulled them.
This is personal because one of the books is George by Alex Gino published by scholastic press. I know this book because Alex himself gave us our copy. He had previously been in our employ as a manny for our daughter. I have no doubt that the reason why the book got pulled is because it is about a character who is trans.
It is certainly not pornographic.
By comparison, my son's ELA program in 8th grade had the books March (by John Lewis) and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. From both of those books, he initiated conversations with me and my $SPOUSE about the contents. He also ended up reading They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, which I purchased directly from Takei at a convention. And with those 3 books, he learned more about the history of civil rights and subjugation than I learned up through high school. Noah's book has swearing in it. That's OK, my son knows more colorful invective than is in that book and knows when it's appropriate to use it. His final assignment with Born a Crime was to write an autobiographical essay in the style of Trevor Noah. With a little coaching, he copped the style of Noah perfectly and wrote a mini-memoir that was was funny, touching, and honest. It hit upon some challenging things in his life.
This is what happens when you have meaningful curriculum.
I should also note, that the book George has been retitled 'Melissa' and I'm wondering if I sent copies of 'Melissa' to the schools if they'd notice.
posted by plinth at 1:28 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Right. If you read the minutes, you'll also see that they had a conniption earlier over some artwork with "a naked man riding a bull" and the solution was to put tape on the photo to censor the naked buttocks.

They're not Nazis, they're just the people who didn't see why anyone would make a fuss over the Nazi's "cleaning things up."

"We're not angry with the Jews, but if they're the ones creating degenerate art, then that should be dealt with."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:29 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


There’s this tendency to assume that just because “white supremacy” and “white privilege” (as economic/political structures) are now on the tip of every tongue and incidents like Charlottesville have made it clear that “White Supremacists” are much more extant than they should be, actual, out-and-out Nazis are everywhere and are the cause of everything.

Rather, actual out-and-out-Nazis need the support of people like the white supremacists on this school board in order to gain and abuse power, as historian Hannah Arendt pointed out.
posted by Gelatin at 1:30 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


Like, the normal slightly conservative parental attitude in my youth was, "swearing, violence and nudity are not especially welcome in the curriculum, but they are perfectly acceptable in the service of important artistic, literary or moral purposes".

That attitude or one like it is something I remember from being a kid too. But I wonder if it was also easier for these folks to dismiss Maus from the category of "important artistic, literary or moral purposes" simply because it's a comic book. It's still hard for comics to get past their superhero roots with a lot of people, and the idea that you can tell an important, provocative story through comics - that a comic can be serious art and serious literature - is tough for some to accept. I wonder if that made it just a little easier for them to imagine that there wasn't as much on the "this is important" side of the scale.
posted by nickmark at 1:33 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


"I don't think there would be any nudity or swearing in Maus that an 8th grader hadn't already been exposed to" that day.
posted by jamjam at 1:39 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


They're not Nazis, they're just the people who didn't see why anyone would make a fuss over the Nazi's "cleaning things up."

Exactly. They're not fascists, they just have an issue with people who keep wanting to bring up all this ugly history that is harmful for kids to be exposed to and causing division in our beloved country.

They're anti-anti-fascists.
posted by AlSweigart at 1:41 PM on January 28 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I’m all out of benefit of the doubt or tact here: these are people who don’t want kids to get the idea that an authoritarian regime defining members of their own society as an “enemy” then persecuting and slaughtering them in the millions is somehow a bad thing. They know damned well that kids who have seen that story from the viewpoint of the victims might someday prove inconvenient to certain aspirations they entertain with varying degrees of seriousness. Suggesting to kids that Nazis were bad is some of that “liberal indoctrination” they’re always whining about.
posted by gelfin at 1:42 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


See if you can spot the pornography in this image. (hint, it's two black dots).
posted by team lowkey at 1:47 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I'd like to ask these pious citizens if any of them have HBO in their homes. If they answer yes, but say "but I don't allow my child to watch it," I would ask if any of their children's friends have HBO.

I would bet even money that some of these 10 have watched Game of Thrones with their kids.
posted by valkane at 1:47 PM on January 28


Silvery Fish has it, and thanks to PhineasGage for following up.

This is local action that must be resisted locally in as many locales as possible.

Run for school boards. Volunteer for library boards (school and public libraries are getting slammed with censorship demands). Show up to meetings and speak. It's time-consuming and frustrating, but it has to be done.

As for "nothingburger," I can't be the only person who's noticed the would-be legislation allowing for not only censorship, but jailing teachers and librarians. As a librarian and educator, allow me to say: if you think that's a nothingburger, screw you.
posted by humbug at 2:01 PM on January 28 [20 favorites]


they're turning a blind eye toward the other books that presumably have such language

They might well not have read any of those other books, because they're text heavy. Maus stands out as a graphic novel.
posted by doctornemo at 2:01 PM on January 28


it's people who have been so conditioned by their religious leaders that words like "bitch" are more dangerous than the slaughter of their fellow human beings.

I can verify this, having lived and worked across the South, including the deep South. I encountered this many times. One small example: I had one of my PowerPoint presentations censored by a major university there because it had one "damn" in either a slide or notes.
posted by doctornemo at 2:03 PM on January 28


Don't think they won't come after the other books too. Caring more about swears than about the Holocaust is the problem.
posted by emjaybee at 2:13 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


There’s this tendency to assume that just because “white supremacy” and “white privilege” (as economic/political structures) are now on the tip of every tongue and incidents like Charlottesville have made it clear that “White Supremacists” are much more extant than they should be, actual, out-and-out Nazis are everywhere and are the cause of everything.

Rather, actual out-and-out-Nazis need the support of people like the white supremacists on this school board in order to gain and abuse power, as historian Hannah Arendt pointed out.

Yes, but different things are different, as Arendt (I would imagine) also pointed out.

Yeah, I’m all out of benefit of the doubt or tact here: these are people who don’t want kids to get the idea that an authoritarian regime defining members of their own society as an “enemy” then persecuting and slaughtering them in the millions is somehow a bad thing

WHY? Sweet fancy Moses. This isn’t “running out of tact” - it’s just being willfully wrong.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:18 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Going to Maine, can you address the direct quotes that warriorqueen posted? I'm not sure why you're ignoring the stated concerns of the board, which do point to it being more than just a question of language.
posted by sagc at 2:20 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


My grandfather, an actual Mennonite minister, who did not curse and was somewhat scandalized by nudity, gave me Maus when I was a high school freshman, saying "you should read this comic book."

Any fashie dipshit wants to claim they're more pious than my long-dead grandpa can fuck right off into the sun, is all I'm saying.

It matters who ends up on your school board, whether or not you have children.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:52 PM on January 28 [34 favorites]


It's really worth reading the minutes of the meeting if you've not already done so. It's not like the board just got together and decided by themselves to drop the book from the curriculum: there were two instructional supervisors present who made an articulate and reasonable case for why Maus (and not eg the Diary of Anne Frank) should be in that particular module, and for how they decided to put the syllabus together and use an anchor text to contextualize everything so kids can learn in a coherent way that can be built upon later. The arguments made here about how it's hugely unlikely that Maus will be any kid's first exposure to swear words, and that in fact you can have such words in a text while still teaching that they're inappropriate for daily use, were made, very politely but clearly, in that meeting. Possibly even that they'd already agreed to white-out some of the swear words?

You then have this Mike Cochran dude insisting that "we don't need all the nakedness and all the other stuff". He goes on to complain about a poem that uses the word "ecstasy" and recounts approvingly of how teachers put tape over pictures so you can't see some guy's naked ass in them. It seems clear from the minutes that not only is he largely incapable of extracting any meaning from written words other than the utterly literal, he's also horrified by the idea that one might use words to try to make the reader feel something. None of the board members who speak at any length seem like people with a strong grasp of the use/mention distinction.

I have no idea what these folks' actual opinions are of the Holocaust or whether or how it should be taught. But those minutes read like straight-up fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality.
posted by doop at 2:52 PM on January 28 [26 favorites]


Gimme a sec to find my pearls so that I can clutch them.../s

This is a nothing-burger. School districts banning books mean virtually nothing in the modern era.
wake the hell up - they couldn't take over the capitol on jan 6, but they sure as hell can take over local school boards and that's just what they're trying to do now


I think the assumption you're making here, pyramid termite, is that the person you're replying to thinks that the Republican party is bad. The alternative is that they're perfectly happy with the situation.
posted by ambrosen at 3:04 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


We're all trying to perform theory of mind on people whose brains have been deliberately, systematically damaged and misshapen by a culture that requires people to be incapable of certain thoughts and to respond to certain ideas and stimuli in ways that preclude rational, intellectual processes. We can argue about whether they really meant this or really meant that but I suspect that we're like science fiction explorers trying to map a territory where nothing connects the way it does in the reality we're from and arguing over where to put this door that randomly changes the rooms it opens into on the paper we're drawing our map on. You're not going to make them make sense. They have been raised, enculturated, cossetted, threatened, shaped, made into persons that normal people find difficult to comprehend, because they come from an evil (sub)culture that requires people whose minds work like theirs to exist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:06 PM on January 28 [25 favorites]


It strikes me that there are people here that don't want this to be important, don't want things to be as bad as they are, and therefore choose not to see the truth. I don't want to point out that so many people in NAZI Germany felt the same. As long as it moved forward in increments, and it never got to the point that as long as you were not in the proscribed groups, things were still OK. The best thing that ever happened to those people was being forced to see the atrocities, after the war. Of course it was too late for the people caught in the system.
Oh, and, one more thing, there are concentration camps in the US, RIGHT NOW. Yes, under the nice democrats who only want the best for us. As long as we're not poverty ridden, the homeless, or undocumented asylum seekers. they're not after you or me, yet. Though some of us creep ever closer to being in one of these groups. Thank god we have a great economy, which somehow hasn't trickled down to my level but I trust our friends who run major corporations. Any day now they're gonna help us. You'll see.
posted by evilDoug at 3:16 PM on January 28 [24 favorites]


he's also horrified by the idea that one might use words to try to make the reader feel something

Yes, this rings true to me. This area of TN is where my family is from, and there is genuine, acute embarrassment in this culture around strong feelings (other than anger, in some contexts, or religious feeling, in other contexts) sex, and body functions (particularly in the context of “mixed company” or mixed generations). Like, my dad was born in the 1940s and literally cannot utter the word “pregnant.” When my grandmother first became ill several years ago, I was told, by both my parents, she had “female cancer.” They’re actually serious about this stuff. Which is not to say they’re not also antisemitic in their own way, but they are people who have been emotionally stunted for generations.
posted by acantha at 3:18 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


This guy. Jesus H. Christ on a crutch. So the hapless language arts teacher used an animal husbandry text with complicated content to try to show the board how they layer source texts in a curriculum to build knowledge carefully so they can teach not just vocab but difficult concepts. This Jonathan Pierce dingbat fixates on the ruminant nutrition example, proving that he himself must have been social passed through every single one of his own K-12 language arts classes.

I ask that you go back to your Hoard’s Dairy example. Not one time do I see a vulgar word in that paragraph there.

Yes, genius! 'Cause the Hoard's Dairy text is about ruminant nutrition, not atrocity, genocide, and horror. So the vulgarity would be ridiculous, there, and counterproductive. When we're teaching about the unimaginable horrors of history, the source texts are necessarily going to be worded very differently from the source texts we use when we teach about animal husbandry, and the illustrations will be markedly different. If we're teaching bovine GI stuff, we'll have pictures of bovine GI stuff. If we're teaching Never Again, we're going to need to show WHY never again.

My objection, and I apologize to everyone sitting here, is that my standard no matter, and I am probably the biggest sinner and crudest person in this room, can I lay that in front of a child and say read it, or this is part of your reading assignment. I’ve got enough faith from the Director of Schools down to the newest hire in this building, that you can take that module and rewrite it and make it do the same thing. Our children need to know about the Holocaust, they need to understand that there are several pieces of history, Mr. Bennett, that shows depression or suppression of certain ethnicities. It’s not acceptable today. We’ve got to accept people for who and what they are.
Could we teach how to feed cows if we decided that pictures of cow GI anatomy were too disturbing for children? We could still do it, but it wouldn't be as effective. How can we, to use your words, teach that the suppression of certain ethnicities is not acceptable today and that we have to accept people for who and what they are, how can we teach that if we can't show what happened before today, when suppression of certain ethnicities was acceptable and we did not have to accept people for who and what they were? How can we teach children if we deny them access to the knowledge that allows them to learn these important lessons?

This is why we just can't permit these book bannings: it leads to functional illiteracy and America's school board members embarrassing themselves all over the internet like this poor Jonathon Pierce, here.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:37 PM on January 28 [15 favorites]


I'd encourage people to read this twitter thread on what specifically it means to drop a book like Maus even if one tries to replace it with a lighter, friendlier, less Jewish perspective on the Holocaust:
I think Maus intimidates some Americans because it declines to offer a way out of the evil, never touches a Christian redemption for sin, and most of all, offers no peace in the crushing weight of death or the unlikely absence of it. you're not lucky to live or saved to die.

Maus isn't a story told to celebrate any heroism or offer any salvation. It's not told from the perspective of a victim. It's told from the perspective of a Jew, and it's told Jewishly, with what joy may come derived from the minor ways to antagonize the machinery of destruction. so in each panel I can see how an evangelical eye would be eager to start flipping forward, to see where the unlikely hero stops The Bad Thing, to find where justice is done. but there is no justice. there can be no justice. it must be told anyway

so when a school board says it wants something more "appropriate," less "violent," what they're asking for is not a tale of the Holocaust from the eyes of a Jew. they're asking for a tale of the Holocaust from a plucky character who-happens-to-be-a-Jew who somehow stops the Nazis


I've seen suggestions that this isn't really about the Holocaust or antisemitism, just small-minded outdated prudishness. But the prudishness is the whole point: it's a crude and ugly story about a crude and ugly atrocity. To say that the Holocaust should be taught, just with a different book that's less vulgar, amounts to stripping away the entire point of the lesson. You can go back and rewrite that module into a sanitized redemption narrative, sure, but then you're not teaching the Holocaust anymore, and you sure as hell aren't teaching a Jewish perspective on the Holocaust.
posted by zachlipton at 3:45 PM on January 28 [31 favorites]


Usually, right wingers in the US will do anything to suck up to Israel. Of course, I’ve long suspected they only support Israel because they want all of us Jewish people to go back there.

I'm fairly confident that most of the right-wing "support for Israel" stems from a belief very widespread in contemporary Protestant Christianity - especially evangelical and conservative Christianity - that there needs to be an actual state of Israel that will be attacked/destroyed as a crucial element of Armageddon, the end of the world, eventually leading to Jesus' return to Earth and the establishment of a Christian "Kingdom of Heaven" on Earth.

(Note that I am massively glossing over all sorts of debates and discussions and disagreements about exactly when and how and in what order this will all happen in, but that's the gist of it - you gotta have Israel in order for Jesus to come back. And as an example of how widespread this is, Hal Lindey's The Late Great Planet Earth was considered a perfectly acceptable "non-fiction" book to be read and discussed at the boring staid mainstream Presbyterian church I attended as a teen back in the early 80's.)
posted by soundguy99 at 4:03 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


I want to emphasize how important it can be to be assigned reading like this. No, not all kids do read! I was one that didn't. I hated books. I liked videogames, computers, and playing outside. But Number the Stars quietly, yet completely changed the person I was for the better. I was gutted; I was angry; I resolved not to tolerate injustice, not to help others commit it.

It's not easy to live up to my own child-self's standards, but I do still aspire to. You have to live with the knowledge of what evil is, and try not to do it, and hold the guilt within yourself when you fail, yet continue to make the effort. It is very difficult, and asks us to look at the systems around us with a critical eye, even the ones we like, even the ones that protect us. Many people would like to be excused from that--and perhaps humorously, it's often the same people who decry content warnings and talk about how soft leftists are. A lot of Americans subconsciously think: god can forgive anything, so why shouldn't I be comfortable? Why should I have to examine these enormities of which humanity is so eminently capable? I didn't do it. It's not my fault. So I don't care.

But what if there are some things that can't be forgiven, undone, or answered for? What if god can't stop them--only us? These comfortable people, if not fascists, are anti-action, anti-thought, and anti-effort, and that alone should make them our enemy. Perfection is out of our reach. The effort is quite literally all we have.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 4:15 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


there needs to be an actual state of Israel that will be attacked/destroyed as a crucial element of Armageddon
I also grew up in that part of the country, and that’s exactly it. You will hear Southern Protestants even calling Jews “the chosen people,” by which they will explicitly tell you that they were “chosen” to birth Christ, to suffer throughout history, and then finally to kick off Armageddon. Apart from that, the Jews belong in Israel because the Bible says that’s who lives there, and they really don’t like the apparent alternative, and it’s really not much more complicated than that.
It strikes me that there are people here that don't want this to be important, don't want things to be as bad as they are, and therefore choose not to see the truth. I don't want to point out that so many people in NAZI Germany felt the same.
This exactly. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it ain’t so, but there’s about 20% of American adults (and more in the region in question) who are just waiting for the “go” signal from some strong-man leader to round up the gays, the atheists, the Mexicans and the liberals, and probably another 25% at least who will enable them until it’s too late by pretending we aren’t being “fair” to them by crediting their rationalizations, which are only consistent in that they pointed to the same conclusion all along if you’d only bother to look. If you’re looking for Hans Landa types who just give you chills on sight, you’re going to be mighty surprised at who turns up with an armband one day to demonstrate the banality of evil.
posted by gelfin at 4:34 PM on January 28 [27 favorites]


I took my personal copy of Maus I into school today and added it to my class library. Going to go to the used bookstore this weekend to look for Maus II. Going to check with my librarian on Monday and will buy a few copies if they don't have it.

Fuck book banners. As long as I have money and students I will win.
posted by nestor_makhno at 4:39 PM on January 28 [15 favorites]


A rural Washington school board race shows how far-right extremists are shifting to local power

Shifting? The far right, especially the christian right, have been targeting local offices, especially school boards, since at least the 80s.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:50 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


Thank you for the post title.
posted by theora55 at 4:51 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


It strikes me that there are people here that don't want this to be important, don't want things to be as bad as they are, and therefore choose not to see the truth.

Which is quite a thing to say about people who don't share your assessment here, that those people are not just wrong, not just deluded, but willfully self-deluded in a prison of denial.

Please consider at least the possibility that perhaps some of them are looking at the issue, considering what information is available, and coming to different conclusions?
After all there are many, many ways for Americans to do dumb and damaging things at the township level which don't involve rebuilding the Third Reich.
posted by doctornemo at 4:58 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Hal Lindsey was a close personal friend of my partner's father, soundguy99, and stayed at their house when he was in town promoting his books and other ventures. She found him to be more open and personable than the members of her father's church — who along with her father kidnapped her to perform an exorcism on her some years after that.
posted by jamjam at 5:27 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


It's strange how educated, politically knowledgeable people, like Corey Robin, seem to be struggling to reinvent the wheel when they implore us to read the transcript to see that what the parents are saying is all about nudity and swears and not about antisemitism. Like, we've gone through this so many times before, but maybe the advent of Trump means that people have forgotten how antisemitism and racism and sexism once worked, when they weren't trumpeted loudly and explicitly? Who among the educated left today would cite, for instance, the transcript of an antiabortion protest, where everyone was talking about fetuses and heartbeats and life and so forth, and conclude that antiabortionism is evidently about babies and not about hatred and control of women? Who among the educated left would read Murray's book on IQ and race and say, look, he doesn't talk about the inferiority of Blacks anywhere, and what he does say shows that it's just about an interesting and difficult measurement problem?

Nobody at the level of Robin makes -- or at least, used to make -- that kind of error any more. But now you have educated left-leaning intellectuals saying look, these people only talk about swears and nudity and genuinely seem only concerned about these isolated words and images, so it can't be antisemitism and holocaust denial. And the entire intellectual edifice of understanding the conservative mind -- the lies, bad faith, self-delusion, authoritarianism, misdirection, and all the rest -- seems to have been reset back to the stone age.
posted by chortly at 6:20 PM on January 28 [28 favorites]


What I'm reminded of is this letter-writer:
“I request that it be arranged that such inhuman deeds be discontinued, or else be done where one does not have to see it.”

Eleanore Gusenbauer, who lived on a high point overlooking the Concentration Camp in Mauthausen, Austria, in a letter to the SS Leader at the Camp, in 1938
posted by away for regrooving at 6:21 PM on January 28 [27 favorites]


these people only talk about swears and nudity and genuinely seem only concerned about these isolated words and images, so it can't be antisemitism

Very good observation. I'm not great at chasing down references but I thought I've read the very word "antisemitism" was coined to obfuscate explicit wording of jew hate. So it goes, the subtlety of the hatred and oppressiveness is made with more care but the core sentiment seems constant.
posted by sammyo at 6:37 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


But now you have educated left-leaning intellectuals saying look, these people only talk about swears and nudity and genuinely seem only concerned about these isolated words and images, so it can't be antisemitism and holocaust denial.

I mean, Corey Robin directly and specifically addresses exactly that point in one of his threads about the topic, after he had people jumping down his throat about his analysis. The way these parents treat this book they haven't read, reacting to second-hand information about the naughty swears, is, according to Robin, "a huge problem, and while it can be connected to anti-Semitism and Holocaust, and I have no problem with people making that connection, I stand by my insistence that such connections need to be made with some kind of evidence, some awareness of at least the manifest content of the argument, before we start leaping to claims of what the latent content contains."

I mean, I'm fully on board with there being something really dangerous with our acceptance of puritanical stupidity, the way it so easily opens the door to bigotry. As Thorzdad points out above, school boards have been a big target for right-wing infestation, because they see these book-banning decisions as culturally urgent. That small-mindedness is politically useful, because it's so inchoate. Go to a town hall, go to a schoolboard meeting, and you will hear so much craziness; if it weren't Maus, it'd be some other book (in my generation, it was satanic rock music and role-playing games). But do the parents who show up to complain think of themselves as agents carrying out an antisemitic agenda, specifically? What exactly do they think they're doing, and what evidence do we have for it, other than what they say? Why is it useful to attribute an agenda to them--or at least, why this specific agenda, rather than seeing them in a more amorphous state of constant prickly reaction? Or, well, to go back to Robin for a minute: "If I were to take every instance of someone making an incoherent argument as a symptom of their deeper design, well, let's just say there'd be a lot more deeper designs out there."
posted by mittens at 6:57 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Not to derail onto Robin in particular, but what's amazing in his case is that he's aware of all of this context. During his subsequent doubling-down, he cites The Authoritarian Personality at one point, but more to dismiss it than as a possible explanation for how these things all work together. And he even writes:
I understand the argument that links anxiety about sex to Jews to anti-Semitism to fascism. It's an old argument; I'm very familiar with it. And it's conceivable that that is going on here at the level of the unconscious. But in this instance, that move is taking the hermeneutics of suspicion to a whole other level. (Twitter basically is the hermeneutics of suspicion, so that makes sense, I guess.) It requires the hermeneuticist to do something similar to what the obscenity accuser does: to strip a statement from its context, deny its meaning, not just manifest but also latent, within the whole that's presented, within the scope of any material that's available to us. Because if you read the transcript, again, not just the parents' comments but the teachers who are defending the book, they all understand themselves to be talking about a move that takes some bad words and a picture of, yes, a naked mouse, out of context. The teachers try to parry that, the parents blindly move forward with it—comparing the bad words in Maus to bad words on TV.

It's a huge problem, and while it can be connected to anti-Semitism and Holocaust, and I have no problem with people making that connection, I stand by my insistence that such connections need to be made with some kind of evidence, some awareness of at least the manifest content of the argument, before we start leaping to claims of what the latent content contains.
And then shortly later:
The irony of this position is that the reasons cited to ban The Diary of Anne Frank—sexuality, challenging her mother—also motivated Frank's father to eliminate a great deal of the diary. He was uncomfortable with it and wanted to present a sanitized version of her. Now while Cynthia Ozick has made, I think, a plausible argument that Otto Frank was himself the victim of a kind of self-hating Jewishness, which was related to his desire for a "purer" Anne, purged of her sexuality and dislike of her mother, I think we have to be much more contextual and careful with the material (as Ozick is) than I see people being here. Just to stand from afar and proclaim these truths, without engaging the actual text and context, doesn't seem like a good way to proceed.
I guess his dedication to textual evidence and close reading must be overriding his decades of experience with similar "unconscious" processes in so many past instances of racism, misogyny and antisemitism. I won't try to psychoanalyze his decision to grant these folks the benefit of the doubt and to place the burden of proof on those who would see this as just another general instance of a multi-faceted conservatism or authoritarianism. But it's certainly a strange hill to die on.

[Edit: as can be seen from the time stamp, this was posted at the same moment as the comment above. But I think it addresses Robin's attempt to justify himself and the strange way he resets all of our contextual knowledge to zero in setting a high bar for proving that these particular people are incoherent but unaffected by the kinds of interconnected bigotry we have seen so much before. Like, every time a white cop pulls a Black driver over for a busted tail-light, we don't have to start from scratch in proving that this specific guy is racist even if the transcript shows he seems to so sincerely believe it's about driving safety.]
posted by chortly at 6:57 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


Yes. While "useful idiots" can be potentially more damaging than actual Nazis, it really is worth making the distinction. They're not denying the Holocaust, they even admit it should be taught. They just want to watered down to "bad people did bad things," which is very harmful, but in a different category than "those bad things are ok."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:11 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


But do the parents who show up to complain think of themselves as agents carrying out an antisemitic agenda, specifically? What exactly do they think they're doing, and what evidence do we have for it, other than what they say? Why is it useful to attribute an agenda to them--or at least, why this specific agenda, rather than seeing them in a more amorphous state of constant prickly reaction? Or, well, to go back to Robin for a minute: "If I were to take every instance of someone making an incoherent argument as a symptom of their deeper design, well, let's just say there'd be a lot more deeper designs out there."

The problem with this idea, and Rubin's analysis, is that it's focused so completely on "text" that it's missing (or misunderstanding) both the subtext and the context. No, the parents likely don't intentionally and specifically think of themselves as anti-semitic, nor are they guaranteed to be intentionally pushing an anti-semitic agenda - because the puritanism that's the source of their text is derived from, rooted in, a conservative Christianity that is inherently anti-semitic. Anti-semitism is the water they're swimming in, the air they're breathing. It's no leap to recognize this, and so it's . . . somewhere between naive and disingenuous (at best) to insist that the parents intentionally and specifically and clearly have to cite anti-Semitism in order for us to view their actions and motivations as anti-semitic.

I mean, you want evidence? It's like, "I dunno, start with the Apostle Paul and keep going through history. Plenty of evidence that conservative Christianity has a big problem with the Jews." The puritanical stupidity isn't opening a door to bigotry - the two are inextricably intertwined, and have been from the start.

They're not denying the Holocaust, they even admit it should be taught. They just want to watered down

I feel like I should point out that one of the classic techniques of "Holocaust deniers" - even those who are supposedly atheist or agnostic - is not to claim that the Holocaust never happened. Oh my, no. They'll willingly admit that many Jews were killed by the Nazis - it's just that they have all this scientific evidence and analyses that "proves" that it wasn't SIX million dead, no, it was TWO million, or ONE million, or maybe just 500,000. And oh, by the way, if you compare those numbers to how many gentile Poles, or Slovaks, or Romany, or homosexuals died in the concentration camps, well . . .

"The Holocaust only watered down" is well-trod ground by this point. And it's anti-semitic bullshit.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:51 PM on January 28 [34 favorites]


I recently had the opportunity to reread The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was struck this time by how Anne's inspirational words of hope (people are good at heart, etc) were the big focus when I was taught the book in school.

The fact that the diary just ends (yes, with an acknowledgement that she was captured and murdered by the right wing fascists) let's us maintain a kind of sanitized version of the holocaust. "Isn't it a shame that nice, hopeful girl didn't survive? But look at her optimism!"

I think any lesson on Anne Frank in 2022 fails if it leaves out the facst that 1) witnesses report Anne died miserable and mourning her whole family, whom she believed were all dead and 2) the horrible fates of everyone in the secret annex and 3) the fact that two of her childhood friends are still alive today, no thanks to the Nazi,

Anne was an excellent developing writer, but she was also a real human being who died horribly of Typhus because the fascists let it spread through Bergen-Belson. The manner of her death does not diminish her writing. It helps reinforce (or in some cases introduce) some of the true horror of this atrocity.

Maus did this without you having to go to any other sources. Both should be taught in depth. Learning the truth about fascism should hurt your heart so you learn to stand against it at every turn.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:00 PM on January 28 [20 favorites]


----- Interrupting this thread to say fuck me, I can't find my copy of Maus and I either loaned it to someone or put it away in a "safe place" and either way I'm never seeing it again. :( :( :( I feel like crying. Please feel slightly sorry for me.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
posted by MiraK at 8:01 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos > …being knocked sideways when I saw the film Night and Fog, the 1950s French short-subject documentary on the Holocaust and the banality of evil.

The full version of Night and Fog (1956) – about 30 minutes long with overlaid English subtitles – is on Vimeo. It was made 10 years after WWII in Europe ended.

Now, 77 years later, an American school board is discussing whether an illustrated book about the Holocaust should (or should not?!) be allowed in their school. We’re forgetting what Nazism finally led to: a few hard historical punches to young minds will help us stay back from the brink.
posted by cenoxo at 8:02 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


As horrifying as all the subtext and backstory here is, I do have to say that it's absolutely goddamn hilarious that school boards--people whose job it nominally is to deal with the day-to-day operations of students and schools--still think that in the year 2022, banning a book from the school library is going to prevent kids from being exposed to its contents. It's such a perfect representation of everything wrong with this particular kind of authoritarian complex, and with the mouthbreathing yokels who write and try to enforce these rules.

Yup, we just need to put up a big sign saying "this book is strictly forbidden!" and the problem will go away all on its own. Good thing teenagers are so well-known for always bowing to authority and not questioning unjust rules, and good thing there's no other way for these dangerous ideas to circulate. We've solved this problem neat and clean; let's move on to the budget.
posted by Mayor West at 8:56 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I can't find my copy of Maus…

Google Shopping results for “MAUS book”. Some of them may be stamped with “McMinn County Public Schools”, but otherwise they’re like new.
posted by cenoxo at 9:03 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Oh yes Doctor Nemo, you must be right, why ascribe any of this to serious problems? They're just slightly deluded. And that silly little insurrection thing last year? Just some high spirited boys. Boys will be boys after all. Nothing to worry about. Those people in concentration camps? We just can't find the keys is all. Everything is fine, nothing to see here. I don't know what about all of this could possibly make anyone worry.
posted by evilDoug at 9:20 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Re: are they hateful or are they stupid: when the stupidity leads to hateful ends, it's a distinction without a difference and I'm not sure why Corey Robin, who I used to respect before 2016, thinks this is so important. These people are still taking actions that lead to making the world worse, in a specifically right-wing/fascist way.

I mean, a lot of people in the US are dumb? Very few people in either party have coherent political ideologies or grand designs? But if they vote for bad things and bad people, I don't care all that much. I'm leaving nuance and good faith to intra-left fights. The right can suck it.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 10:08 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Also: one thing I find heartening about this dumb and demoralizing episode is that it led to ACTION. A professor teaching Maus for free. A comic book shop giving out copies for free. MeFites linking to Run For Something (and yes -- run for school board!).
posted by pelvicsorcery at 10:09 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Hannah Arendt's banality of evil has been turned inside out into the evil of banality -- only to the nth power. Reading about this whole scary sad sordid story over the week past has just about broke my heart. I could not why I can't even enough. My God, these are hard times. Thank you for that last statement above, pelvicsorcery, you at least provide a straw to which to clutch and keep hope alive.
posted by y2karl at 11:08 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I'm uncertain that trying to blank sexuality out of public discourse is inherently Christian and anti-semitic-- there are lots of people, some of them Jewish and some of them not interested in Jews, who want sexuality kept out of public discourse.

What I'm sure of is that blanking out sexuality is a very convenient tool for authoritarians.

There might be something interesting about forbidding nasty words, perhaps trying to control who's allowed to show anger and how. Granting that there should be some constraints on anger, forbidding curse words is excessively tight.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:19 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


WRT the offending ‘bathtub suicide’ drawing, it’s quite small. See the top center panel of the right page in this zoomable image from Art Spiegelman’s Prisoner on the Hell Planet comic. As inserted in the middle of my 1986 paperback edition of MAUS, the stylized pen and ink drawing is only 1-5/8” wide by 7/8” tall with minimal detail.
posted by cenoxo at 11:31 PM on January 28


Tennessee sued after state-sponsored Christian agency denied adoption to Jewish couple.

I am sure that there are nuances to small Southern towns that I miss - Florida evangelist is the closest I get personally via family. People are complicated in a lot of ways. But I don’t think it’s accidental that Maus is the topic here and not Tom Sawyer or having Fox News on in the background.

To take it a bit personal…My kids study residential schools at grade 4 and grade 8. Ontario was about to take that curriculum out but it’s back in. We have work to do yet though. I love my kids. When my younger child did back-to-back units on the Holocaust and residential schools he had nightmares for a few weeks that people were going to come for him. A few months later, mass graves were revealed of children in my country, killed in a genocide. Did their parents get to prevent their nightmares? No, they lived it. They lived through the 60s scoop as well. Right now, First Nations kids have no drinking water. Moms are getting their babies taken away. Missing and murdered Indigenous women are going unnoticed.

I don’t want my kids to suffer just like any parent and yet, who else is going to stand and fight this battle? So, I held my kid. I reassured him that he will be okay. We kicked some targets to spend that energy. I’m not any different at heart than the board members in Tennessee and I guarantee you I have my blind spots. But the only way we get through is keep on asking ourselves how every child can learn our history so we do not repeat it.

This morning I woke up with the heartening thought of the way the instructional staff handled that meeting, and all the attention for Maus.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:38 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


Teaching Maus: back in the 1990s I came up with a class on multimedia literature for my small, deep Southern college. The syllabus combined digital and analog multimedia texts: illuminated manuscripts, web pages, William Blake, computer games, comics, radio plays, etc. Maus was in there. It went well, with good enrollment and evals.

It came time to choose a summer reading book and I proposed Maus. My colleagues were not impressed at first. Lots of "a comic book...?" remarks and raised eyebrows. The Pulitzer helped, but then they started reading the book. Right away they wanted it for all students. This led to them pushing for a Holocaust unit in all of our first year writing classes.

It was fascinating to teach in a general class, rather than a class specifically about multimedia. Many of the students were shattered by it. This being the deep South, many said they hadn't been exposed to Jewish culture or history before.
posted by doctornemo at 4:54 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


There's a story someone shared elsewhere about a teacher who wanted to use Elie Wiesel's Night in her seventh-grade class. The PTA objected for similar reasons - and the teacher's response, I have to say, was epic:

"Elie Wiesel was twelve when he LIVED this; your twelve-year-olds can certainly READ about it. I hope this never happens to your children, but if it does their ignorance will not save them. However, if they read about it, they may be able to PREVENT it when they get older. I am teaching this book."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:25 AM on January 29 [45 favorites]


I grew up in North Carolina and (unlike most Americans) attended racially integrated public schools. We read K***** Boy (the title uses a South African racist slur that is banned on MeFi) in 10th grade World Literature. A single student's parents objected to it, because of the scene where 12 year old boys allow themselves to be sexually abused in exchange for food. The book is an autobiography. The same parents also objected to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings the next year because of the sexual abuse of a teenage girl. Again, autobiographical.

And yes, the student and parents in questions were white, and yes, they most likely were really objecting to their child learning about white supremacy and using the sexual abuse as an excuse. And yes, we all knew that was what was going on at 15 because we grew up there and we understood how those people work.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:35 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Assuming the BOE are my age and grew up in the south they no doubt like I did spent their tender years trotting down the hall to "music class" where they sang Dixie and the "jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton" song, both of which the curriculum provided free of any problematizing context. These people are completely FOS.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:11 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


A note to those who have said that this is nothing to freak out about, and that our anger is "pearl-clutching" - I found some other stories from elsewhere in the country:

* The town of Ridgeland, Mississippi allocates $110,000 of its town budget to the local libraries. However, their mayor has announced he will not be transmitting the funds unless the libraries remove "all LGBTQ material" from their shelves. The libraries have so far refused, and have started a crowdfunding campaign to get the desperately-needed funding.

* A school in Washington State has banned To Kill A Mockingbird from its school's "required reading list" for all incoming freshmen.

* The school board in Wentzville, Missouri voted to pull every copy of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye from school libraries.

* A conservative political group, "Defending Freedom", has pressured the superintendent schools in Polk County, Florida, to ban sixteen books from its schools on the basis of "pornography". The superintendent is going along with their demands at present; he is publicly stating that he is pulling the books for "review", but it is doubtful he will re-instate them. Among the books pulled are Morrison's Bluest Eye and Beloved, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and YA books and graphic novels addressing LGBT issues. (I have read one of them, Drama by Raina Telmeiger, and can attest that there is no nudity; it deals with kids in a middle school drama club and how some have crushes on each other, and in one case one kid with a crush is a boy with a crush on another boy. I am at a loss to understand why this is being called "Pornographic".)

* There have been several recent incidents of schools throughout the south blocking kids' books that deal with racism, and cancelling speaking engagements with black authors, over resistance to "critical race theory".

....So - to those who thought that this one incident wasn't worth worrying about - are five cases enough?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on January 29 [19 favorites]


Here's the American Library Association's most challenged books of the year.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:30 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


If the last six (twenty? fifty? 100? etc) years has not not illustrated that assuming the right is doing things just because they are just silly Christians, with backwards ideas, no grand designs and "no reasonable or intelligent person would ever go along with that" is a dangerous and shortsighted af, I don't know what to say to you.

I was born in in East Tennessee, about 150 miles from McMinn County. I still have a lot of family there. My right wing relatives (many of whom are politically involved or politically adjacent) are absolutely the kind that would make all kinds of folksy "but think of the children" arguments in school board meetings. They are not being led down a garden path by some charismatic mega-churcher. They are educated people in nice houses in small towns who still feel put out that they had to open up country club membership to non-Christians to say nothing of having to deal with anyone not in their immediate Old Boy network in a position of authority. And while every single person that goes to a school board meeting complain about a four letter word in a graphic novel about the Holocaust may not be looking at ways to bolster white supremacy and codify bigotry and oppression by trying to deny it exists (or has ever existed), there are certainly those that do. And those people are the ones throwing money at school board elections and they 100% know what they are doing.
posted by thivaia at 6:49 AM on January 29 [18 favorites]


The right wing have noted that people who are educated to degree level have a higher likelihood of agreeing with left wing ideas. Naturally, they deny this is anything to do with education leading to greater capacity for critical thinking, understanding of history, sociology, economics and etc. The conclusion they are forced to make is that the education system somehow indoctrinates students against the kyriarchy, or 'right wing ideas'. At least that is their stated conclusion, whether or not they actually believe that I don't know.
Subsequently there have been ongoing campaigns to control what is taught in schools, and attack university level education in other ways.
In May 2021, Steve Bannon said “the path to save the nation is very simple – it’s going to go through the school boards.”, but I don't think this is a new concept to the far right. The culture war is ongoing, and didn't start with McCarthyism.
Whether or not these Tennessee based textual literalists are part of this plan to un-educate school children isn't clear, but they certainly appear to be fellow travellers.
posted by asok at 6:55 AM on January 29 [7 favorites]


Yeah, if you're not aware of how widespread book challenges in school libraries (and even public libraries!) have recently become:

Wake County Public Library (the first library I worked at as a librarian - and it's North Carolina, but one of the most liberal areas of NC) pulled the graphic novel Gender Queer from the shelves (they have since reconsidered, after staff protests.) From the adult section of a public library.

Republican Iowa senators want to jail teachers and librarians who allow children to access "obscene" books.

Across the Des Moines suburbs, there've been challenges to "All Boys Aren't Blue", "Lawn Boy," "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," "Gender Queer," and "The Hate You Give."

(Go ahead, ask me how it feels to be a librarian in a conservative area about an hour outside of Des Moines who has been trying REALLY hard to diversify the outdated collection.)

In Texas, Matt Krause is trying to challenge eight hundred and fifty books in every public school in Texas, from "This Book is Anti-Racist" to "They Called Themselves the K.K.K." (a truly excellent history book for young people) to just about every LGBTQ+ book they could find to put on the list.

This is just from the past few months - October, November, December. My impression is that these controversies started heating up in the fall ahead of school board elections and every Republican trying to scaremonger about "CRT," but they've gained momentum now and aren't stopping.
posted by Jeanne at 7:07 AM on January 29 [17 favorites]


Here's the American Library Association's most challenged books of the year.

I'd initially parsed this as being books banned from school curriculums rather than schools, universities and libraries. Which lead to the wtf moment when browsing past year lists of seeing Fifty Shades of Gray appear.
posted by Mitheral at 7:14 AM on January 29


This Twitter thread makes a good point. Waves of book challenges are often funded by dark money, so whatever actual school board members say (or even think), these are organized waves of hate and repression.
posted by zenzenobia at 7:52 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


The Guardian also has a good recent article on the political lobbying books behind recent book challenges.

Just to be clear - I don't see any clear and direct connection between the removal of Maus from this specific curriculum and the larger Parents Defending Education / Moms for Liberty movement against "Gender Queer," "Lawn Boy," etc. And, sure, it's plausible that these particular school board members are just being puritanical. However - what's happening in a lot of these challenges is that people who are motivated by bigotry and hate, who are not by themselves numerous enough to get a book banned, are whipping up anger and outrage among a much larger group of people who are merely scared of their kids seeing a boob or reading a bad word. That may not be happening in this particular instance. But it sure is a pattern.
posted by Jeanne at 8:12 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


If you haven't done so yet, please click right now to Run For Something. All of our ardent conversatin' here on MetaFilter needs to be matched with action. Run for local office, donate, encourage others to donate, share the link with others. Every one of us here can do something to make a difference in the political arena.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:13 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]




has banned To Kill A Mockingbird from its school's "required reading list"

I was going to say that the book is not banned, just that teachers can now choose to teach it -- a classic book centering the white people for a white audience -- or to choose a different kind of book for their class.

But then I read more of what this school board member said about the decision,
"It's a very difficult book and lot of thorny subjects are raised and we felt that some teachers may not feel comfortable guiding their students through it," Gahagan said. "It deals not only with racism, but it reflects a time when racism was tolerated.

"Atticus Finch, of course is in everyone's memory the great hero of the book, but in fact he was kind of tolerant of the racism around him. He described one of the members of the lynch mob as a good man."
Yeah, no, that's what you'd better be able to teach. That all is arguably of the book what is most relevant to a white audience today, facing the question of what do they tolerate as normal, and how are good people complicit in evil.

Teacher discomfort does not outweigh teaching students.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:35 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I do have to say that it's absolutely goddamn hilarious that school boards--people whose job it nominally is to deal with the day-to-day operations of students and schools--still think that in the year 2022, banning a book from the school library is going to prevent kids from being exposed to its contents.

I've run into this before, including the years I served on school boards (in Vermont, during a major transformation of the system). Sometimes it's folks who don't get the sheer availability of the internet. Sometimes they think it's separate from everyday life, rather than intertwined, as Zeynep Tufecki argues.

Other times I think they know that their actions are limited in scope, but they want to shape the things within that scope. "The stuff I don't like may be out there, but it won't be in here, by god."
posted by doctornemo at 10:36 AM on January 29


In other Washington news, a middle school principal has decided she can bypass the review process and ban books from the library if they're 'explicit' i.e. queer.
“In addition, she started reaching out to other principals, telling them to start pulling books, and to watch out for specific titles,” said Downing.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:46 AM on January 29


evilDoug, it may be that I wrote in haste or without enough clarity, because your comment certainly doesn't address what I was thinking when I wrote that one comment.

You wrote: "why ascribe any of this [the Maus banning] to serious problems?"
That's not what I wrote. I wrote that there are many ways of thinking about this that don't involve a rerun of the 1930s. And those ways include serious problems.

You add: "Everything is fine, nothing to see here. I don't know what about all of this could possibly make anyone worry."
Speaking for myself, I didn't say this. Looking at this thread, I don't see anyone here arguing that book banning is good. Want me to display some bona fides about my opposition to book banning and my support of free expression? Did you catch my comment on this very thread where I wrote about having my own work slightly censored, and think I was happy with that?

On a different note: your guess that I, personally, wasn't worried about January 6 or that I wouldn't be concerned about people in concentration camps? The most polite response I can offer to those horrendous assertions is... that you truly don't know me and that those guesses are wrong. And that such a personal slam is beneath MeFi discourse.
posted by doctornemo at 10:47 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


so when a school board says it wants something more "appropriate," less "violent," what they're asking for is not a tale of the Holocaust from the eyes of a Jew. they're asking for a tale of the Holocaust from a plucky character who-happens-to-be-a-Jew who somehow stops the Nazis

Or who happens not to be: Schindler's List. Number the Stars.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:09 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Rather, actual out-and-out-Nazis need the support of people like the white supremacists on this school board in order to gain and abuse power, as historian Hannah Arendt pointed out.

Not to mention Maus.

They're not denying the Holocaust, they even admit it should be taught. They just want to watered down

I really urge people to read the Twitter thread that has been posted three times now—there's a reason people like it so much. I think it's possible that if you're not an American Jew with survivors in the family this isn't self-evident, but it's nonetheless true: if you want to teach a watered-down Holocaust you are not willing to teach the Holocaust.
posted by babelfish at 12:14 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


(I instinctively specified American Jew because to me "American Jew" is a particular cultural context but I didn't actually intend to exclude non-American families of survivors!)
posted by babelfish at 12:16 PM on January 29


USC Shoah Foundation. Not sure if they'll get into this fray. But teachers and other interested should check them out. The mission statement as it were is cataloging, curating, holocaust stories. If you're like a teacher or maybe even just a parent they have hours and hours of interviews and testimonials and all that stuff.

(disclosure, In a past life I did some of their Netflix level of internet shuffling around videos and such. That's why I know they're there.)

I'll shut up now. Too livid about everything else.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:34 PM on January 29


In other Washington news, a middle school principal has decided she can bypass the review process and ban books from the library if they're 'explicit' i.e. queer.

In other Kent, Washington news, an assistant police chief is under recent scrutiny for Nazi sympathies and Holocaust jokes.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:43 PM on January 29


My son had Maus assigned to his eighth grade class this year - generally 8th and 9th grades are when The Diary of Anne Frank is assigned in schools as well, since that was around the age she wrote it. The idea of banning this just startles me.

Justifying the Holocaust is a Small Price To Pay for Abolishing CRT

Blaming this as the natural next step for the mobs of angry white Republicans fighting “CRT” makes a lot of sense and I hate that there are Republican Jews among those Republicans, but pulling out an opinion piece from last October essentially blaming a “small but vocal” group of Jews for this happening and implying they’re fine with it is in incredibly poor taste.
posted by Mchelly at 4:49 PM on January 29


but pulling out an opinion piece from last October essentially blaming a “small but vocal” group of Jews for this happening and implying they’re fine with it is in incredibly poor taste.

Literally none of that happened, either from myself nor David Schraub, both of whom are Jewish. It does help to set up the context that this was an outcome that anybody not infected with right-wing brainworms could see was coming and no one should be getting all *shocked pikachu face* about it. For all I know, none of these guys have even bothered to get mad about this.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 5:31 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


The thing about "but they didn't say they were banning it because of anti-semitism so it's not because of anti-semitism" is that they might genuinely be unaware that they are anti-semitic. When you grow up in a soup of white supremacy and Christian theocracy, it's like the saying that fish can't see water. They love Israel (because it and all the Jews will be destroyed in the second coming) so how can they be anti-semitic? They think the Holocaust should be taught (highly sanitized) so how can they be anti-semitic? I can't believe people are buying this.

And, I'm sorry but it is absurd to say this isn't a concern because these people have been banning books like this forever. The right has been steadily and successfully building power for decades. Things like this are part of the whole --taking over local and state governments, passing voter suppression laws, propaganda networks, asserting power by banning books. These school board members do not have to consciously think to themselves, "I am going to ban Maus so we can overturn an election" to be part of the system that is working to overturn elections. Decades of banning Beloved is part of why we are where we are. I grew up around these people. We had a banning of our own when I was in high school (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf). They are absolutely part of it.
posted by Mavri at 8:57 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


'There's a phenomenon I actually see extremely commonly when literature is used to teach history to middle school and high school students. Let's call it 'pajamafication.'" Gwen C. Katz on the question of what you replace Maus with, once it's banned, and how The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an utterly inadequate replacement.
posted by mittens at 5:52 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


It's true that the discussion in the transcript centers around naughty words and naughty body parts, and that they insist the holocaust should be taught, but I'm sure if you scratched the surface of these board members (and you wouldn't have to dig too hard) you'd find a much darker set of beliefs than that kids should not be exposed to a naked lady (which, still, is, frankly, absurd and blinkered, they're 8th graders with smart phones and laptops, they've seen a naked lady).

There's something so telling about what one of the teachers (unnamed as a McGinn county school teacher) present at the meeting says:

"I love the Holocaust I have taught the Holocaust almost every year in the classroom, but this is not a book I would teach my students. "

What could it possibly mean to love the holocaust? Or to love to teach the holocaust? I was so taken aback by this expression I reread it 5 times to make sure I wasn't stroking out. Of course, if one was truly dedicated to teaching the holocaust, you would never object to Maus, so then what /could/ this sentiment possibly express. I can't help but think that behind it lurks a whirling vortex of evil, a darkness so profound if let free it would plunge the whole world into night.
posted by dis_integration at 1:42 PM on January 30 [9 favorites]


> WRT the offending ‘bathtub suicide’ drawing, it’s quite small.

Speaking of straining out gnats and swallowing camels, there's another smaller drawing (1" wide by 1/2" tall, smaller than a postage stamp) with less nudity in the bottom right corner of the middle left panel of the first page of Spiegelman’s Prisoner on the Hell Planet. Hardly enough to fan a controversy...
posted by cenoxo at 3:29 PM on January 30


What could it possibly mean to love the holocaust?

I think the meaning is entirely clear, to me, but it does require not thinking too highly of the people involved here -- or apologizing for them.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:33 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


[NYT]The New Wave of Holocaust Revisionism - memorializing the Holocaust by centering and honoring non-Jewish rescuers.
posted by Mchelly at 5:49 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


memorializing the Holocaust by centering and honoring non-Jewish rescuers.

Which, honestly, isn't really anything new for some groups; there are tons of films or books which purport to deal with incidents in non-WASP history, but the actual main character is a white dude who serves as the audience stand-in as a sort of prophylactic instead of just diving in with the actual non-WASP people themselves (i.e., Dances With Wolves or The Last Samurai or Windtalkers).

That last one, Windtalkers, is said to be "about" the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II - which is honestly one hell of a story and would make for an amazing movie. Windtalkers, however, is not about the Code Talkers - it is about Nicholas Cage having angst.

Which means that this isn't just Holocaust Revisionism - it is exoticizing and othering the Holocaust.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Something nice: Nirvana Comics Knoxville Project: Maus (Link to GoFundMe, which has raised over $80k of initial 20k goal)
We thought this would be a local support to help a magnificent piece of literature stay in the hands of students in the McMinn county. But… this has become a global priority!

posted by Glinn at 6:54 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Which means that this isn't just Holocaust Revisionism - it is exoticizing and othering the Holocaust.

Which, we ought to be clear, means ideologically appropriating, historically decontextualizing and commercially exploiting the Holocaust (including in the use and abuse of Nazism in political discourse).
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:40 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I wouldn’t say it’s a major aspect of this story, but there is kind of a battle of two sets of forbidden words and forbidden images going on here which I think is worth paying attention to.

People who post to Metafilter do seem to at least tend to have a broadly similar catalog of forbidden words which mainly have to do with ethnic and indigenous slurs, hate speech toward women and sexual minorities as well as religious minorities; and our forbidden images might also have to do with ethnic and sexualized hatred such as caricatures like blackface, racist portrayals of indigenous people in sports and entertainment, caricatures of women and sexual minorities, mockery of trans people and some of the apparatus of hate such as nooses.

And we have also been inclined, I believe, to liberate scatological words and images, previously obscene and sexual words and images, and blasphemous words and images, and give them a place in our everyday discourse though not absolute free rein, and that has made space for, and possibly even generated a vacuum which has sucked in things we think, rightly in my opinion, are truly pernicious.

The Tennessee school board is determined to keep all those older prohibitions firmly and even immovably in place, and I think this does, in a left-handed sort of way, serve an agenda of keeping ethnic slurs, hatred of women and sexual minorities, and hatred of religious minorities from becoming as reflexively and thoroughly forbidden as they could and should be.
posted by jamjam at 8:46 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


a left-handed sort of way

Does it also do so gingerly? /s
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:37 AM on February 1


Streisand Effect: achievement unlocked
posted by chavenet at 11:05 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Zeeshan Aleem: "From what I can tell, Spiegelman's own reading of the ban meeting is actually very similar to @CoreyRobin's reading, which ended up causing a stir on Twitter."

Corey Robin: "But we can all agree, I hope, that it's foolish to say that if he is wrong, he's not just wrong—and doesn't know about the history of the charge of "degenerate art," etc.—but also aiding and abetting the censorship of his own book, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denialism, and Nazism."
posted by mittens at 12:27 PM on February 1


I’m So Fucking Sorry Your Child Had to Read a Fucking Swear Word in a Book About the Holocaust
Is he fucking okay?

posted by y2karl at 7:01 AM on February 2




29. "How to be an Antiracist," by Ibram X. Kendi

In asking to ban this nonfiction book about resisting racism, an Eanes parent suggested replacing it with copies of the Bible.


Jesus wept.

And The Kiterunner, too?

I would like to think these fools are fighting a lost battle but this is so scary.
posted by y2karl at 8:14 AM on February 2


Slate has put up another mealy mouthed "both sides" piece that seem to always accompany this sort of event - as if there is this knee-jerk reaction to argue that book banning is a bipartisan affair.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:25 PM on February 4


Scribd announces they will be offering 30 days of free access to their library and posts "a list of books being banned right now" that they offer.
posted by PhineasGage at 12:49 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


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