In Fahrenheit 451, author Ray Bradbury imagined a future in which books were illegal, citizens watched TV on ginormous sets and listened to "Seashell Radio" attached to their ears.
Fifty-four years after the novel was published, we have the 63-inch plasma television, which, in a typical American household, is on an average of eight hours a day. We have the iPod (full disclosure: I own one), whose immersive environment shields us from our surroundings. And some school districts such as Johnston County are banning certain books—in effect, outlawing them—for content the thought police have deemed offensive.
A Dec. 14 News & Observer article announced that after banning the award-winning story How the García Girls Lost Their Accents in response to a parental complaint, school officials are now "scouring library shelves for potentially offensive books to remove."
That's certainly an excellent use of their time. According to the district's Web site, 21 of 39 Johnson County schools didn't meet federally mandated adequate yearly progress, standards that measure advancement toward student proficiency in reading, language arts and math. Instead of encouraging students to read—and in turn discussing and questioning a book's content—school officials are vilifying the written word. They are becoming 21st-century versions of Capt. Beatty, the character in Bradbury's novel who calls books "treacherous weapons."
Beatty is right about one thing: Books are weapons. They can challenge the status quo. Upend conventional thinking. Illustrate diverse viewpoints. Reflect the human condition, as does How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez's semi-autobiographical story of sisters whose family immigrates from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx. It's a gritty, yet poignant tale, a lot like life.
Unless, of course, you're bent on living a hermetically sealed existence, immune from difficulty and difficult subject matter. If book-banners are intent on leading such a sanitized life then here are some immediate measures to take:
Worried about profanity? Take your kid off the school bus, because those vehicles are filthy four-letter words on wheels.
Sexual situations? Ditch the TV set. Toss the radio in the trash. Do not turn on the computer. Eschew all magazines and newspapers. And absolutely avoid the mall. Rip a few pages out of the Bible, too, for there are references to prostitutes.
Certainly, society has become coarsened and oversexualized. But banning books will not transport us to the imaginary set of Leave It to Beaver. Rather, it will push us into a repressive world where we blindly follow orders and refuse to question our leaders; where we shield ourselves from disturbing images and thoughts, lest they disrupt our rosy worldview.
Wait, I think we're already there.