Ban This

There is a popular article by Danah Boyd about book bans and their relationship to screen usage making the rounds across the interwebs. The problem with the article is that it plays loose with the facts. Alan Jacobs points this out in a blog post about the piece and the fury over book bans.”

danah boyd: Over the last two years, I’ve been intentionally purchasing and reading books that are banned.” The problem here is that none, literally not one, of the books on the list boyd links to have been banned. Neither have they been censored,” which is what the article linked to says. That’s why boyd can buy and read them: because they’ve been neither banned nor censored.

I posted about this last week. This is more than just being pedantic. It may be my cynicism, but it seems to me that the media is hyping these book bans” as a big issue is to stir up outrage in order to gin up subscriptions. This is a textbook example of post-journalism. It’s also part of a practice that is becoming more and more common: making your neighbors out to be hate-mongers and fascists by amping up the language you use when you disagree about something.

But thanks to people who want to smear their RCOs, it is now common to use precisely the same words to describe (a) what the nation of Iran did to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and (b) a polite letter from a parent to a school librarian asking that books that offer anatomically detailed descriptions of sexual practices not be readily available to third graders. Of course, many concerned parents are not polite, but polite letters on this topic still count, for the ALA, as a challenge,” and the organization defines a challenge as an attempt at censorship or banning.

At best, the language is imprecise. At worst, it’s deliberately misleading in order to stir up dissension. It reminds me to paraphrase something else that Professor Jacobs has stated in the past: beware of publications that benefit when we hate each other.

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