Watch: Banned Books Week and the History of Comic Book Censorship


"Banned Books Week: Comic Books and Literary Censorship" was originally released on Sept. 24, 2014. The original text is below. 

"Comic books are being challenged with greater frequency than they ever have been," says Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. "We are still fighting age-old stigmas that comics are low value speech."

Reason TV's Tracy Oppenheimer sat down with Brownstein at San Diego Comic-Con to discuss challenges to comic books today, and the history of censorship over the medium.

"Sixty years ago, this year, the United States government actually placed comics on trial in Senate subcommittee hearings around a moral panic that said that comics were a leading cause of juvenile delinquency," says Brownstein. "When you look back at that history, you see that it mirrors what has happened with video games, heavy metal, and other aspects of popular culture in recent years."

Comic books are the focus of this year's Banned Books Week, which runs from Sept. 21-27. The website describes the event as the following:

Banned Books Week is the national book community's annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2014 celebration will be held September 21-27.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported. The 10 most challenged titles of 2013 were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

About 7 minutes. Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Zach Weissmueller and Alexis Garcia. Music byEric Skiff, "All of Us."

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  1. I personally have a bit of a problem with Banned Books Week because it seems to conflate people saying ‘This book is inappropriate for children of this age with people who want to actually ban the book.

    A great example is Morrison’s Bluest Eyes, which is mentioned in this article. That book contains child rape. The claims that it’s being ‘banned’ come largely from parents who are arguing a book containing violent child rape shouldn’t be read by 15 year olds in school.

    Saying a book is inappropriate for teaching in the class room to high school students =/= arguing that it should be banned. It’s idiotic to claim otherwise.

    1. Also, 50 Shades of Grey is explicitly pornography. If you’re going to claim that it’s bad that 50 Shades gets banned from school libraries, you should be equally upset that they don’t carry copies of Deep Throat.

      1. I personally have a bit of a problem with Banned Books Week because it seems to conflate people saying ‘This book is inappropriate for children of this age with people who want to actually ban the book.

        I was just going to pile on that, but you beat me to it.

        you should be equally upset that they don’t carry copies of Deep Throat.

        I complained to the librarian that they didn’t carry it… when I was in school.

        1. I was pissed that my high school library didn’t carry Stephen King. Wait a minute… no I wasn’t. I never expected them to, and if I wanted to read that or anything else I knew my tiny school library didn’t carry I knew where to find it. This whole exercise is stupid.

      2. In fairness though, some of the complaints are interesting. Ie, complaints of ‘viewpoint’:

        The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
        Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

        Also, I’d swear the list has morphed considerably from when I was a kid and young(er) adult.

        During the politically correct 90s, wasn’t there a lot of book-banning tears against things like Huck Finn?

        1. I would think that not all kids are mature enough to get past the constant n-words. Certainly many teachers lack that maturity.

          And I don’t know if Twain would have liked his work being taught in the context of a school curriculum – it wouldn’t fit with his self-image of being against the establishment.

          1. And I don’t know if Twain would have liked his work being taught in the context of a school curriculum – it wouldn’t fit with his self-image of being against the establishment.

            Curriculum is different than what’s in the library.

            1. OK, but I would assume they’re connected, otherwise why have a library at all if it’s unrelated to the school’s teaching mission?

              1. I mean, if encouraging reading is the point, they can just have kids buy books or get them at the county library, and then give them gold stars for reading stuff.

                1. Ha, I like how after you pressed send the obvious answer must have dawned on you.

                    1. I can guess you’re not much familiar with undirected anything, and maybe in your Opus Dei school the library and the curriculum totally overlapped, but most peoples school library experiences were probably closer to Francis’

                    2. Bo, I suspect you’re what they call a “kiss up, kick down” person – you try to bully people when you think you can get away with it, but you’re essentially a coward and you’ll show grovelling deference to your superiors – “yes, sir, that tie looks wonderful on you!”

                      If you show your true nature to your superiors, you’ll be out of a job, or (if you happen to cross a judge) perhaps in prison.

                    3. I suspect you might be a melodramatic, pearl clutching ninny.

                    4. You call that a comeback? I don’t call it a comeback.


                    5. Did they have YouTube at your school? You appear to have studied it quite a bit.

                      That could explain why libraries seem so beyond your fathoming I guess.

                    6. Wow, you need to work on your insults, those are lame. As in, grade-schoolers would consider such insults beneath them.

                      Here, try these on for size:

                      “I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum’s Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most desired to see was the one described as “The Boneless Wonder”. My parents judged that the spectacle would be too demoralising and revolting for my youthful eye and I have waited fifty years, to see the The Boneless Wonder…” – Winston Churchill

                      “Ya think you’re cool wit your curls and your shades
                      I’ll roll thick and you’ll be yelling raid
                      One hard brother that lives in New York
                      Where brothers are hard and we don’t have to talk” – Tim Dog

                    7. *polite applause for referencing Tim Dog*

                      Though, for Bo, you really should have gone with Fuck wit Dre Day

              2. We often did book reports on books of our choosing. We even had a “Library” class in grade school. We learned the Dewey Decimal System. I suppose that’s all PBE now.

                  1. Overtaken by Events? Order of the British Empire? Out of Body Experience? And those are just three of the possibilities in the Acronym Finder.

                1. I recall, with pride, being ordered to the h.s. principal’s office after telling the school librarian the DDS and the card catalog were obsolete.

                  I told him the same thing. He sighed & said not to make the cranky b–ch upset. She was getting pretty old & would retire soon.

    2. What I think this involves is the determination of “professionals” – school librarians and teachers – to select books themselves and decide what to ban and what to allow. That’s not censorship, of course, that’s professionals doing their job. It’s only when outsiders – you know, like parents – stick their noses in that it becomes censorship.

      So if the school librarian decides not to stock 50 shades of gray, that’s not censorship. But if she *does* decide to include it and some meddling parent objects, that *is* censorship.

      Do you get it now?

      1. What they really need is a Bishop to tell them what not to read, amirite?…..ohibitorum

      2. When liberals do it, it’s selection; when conservatives do it it’s censorship.

    3. I think a lot of the censorship involves the school library.

      I agree that parents asking that their kid not be assigned to read material is one thing, but a complaining parent shouldn’t be able to have the book removed from the school library.

  2. Geez, we’ve come a long way from Lolita

    1. Lolita is just softcore teen porn.

      The fact that there is no W.S. Burroughs, ‘Junkies Sucking Alien Dicks’-stuff in here is a sad day for transgressive literature. I mean, even ‘Remembrances of Things Past’ has some whore-abuse. Don’t even get me started on *Celine*

      Do people even read anymore!? Pathetic.

  3. I’d like to see if school libraries carry Thomas Dixon’s *The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan,* or the *Turner Diaries,* or *The Triumph of the Will,* etc.

    If not, then, gosh, why not? I thought they were against censorship and wanted to expose the precious little tykes to all viewpoints?

    1. (Oh, and I don’t mean critical editions with introductions and annotations making clear the editor disagrees with the book/movie. Remember, one of the “intellectual freedom” crusades of the fifties was against some Texas library which wanted to put warning labels on Communist books – so, I mean the “right” of kids to read the worst books without any warning labels on them!)

      1. Here we go:

        “It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.

        “The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.”…..dstatement

    2. Those aren’t very good analogues since none of those sell well or are that well known.

      1. Yeah, it’s not as if Dixon’s *Clansman* was the basis for a movie considered a landmark in cinema history or anything.

        Triumph of the Will, of course, is incredibly obscure and nobody’s heard about it, certainly not George Lucas.

        Would you like some cake?

        1. Reading comprehension fail. Neither ‘sell well or are well known.’

          We know why school libraries might have 50 shades of grey, because it’s very popular. The Clansman is the basis for an admittedly influential film, but the film itself is popularly unknown, much less the book.

          1. Nice attempt at a save, I’d give it a C-.

            1. You’d give it a C-, but I never cared much for my Catholic Theology class anyway.

              Is it really beyond you to realize that most people have heard of 50 shades and most people have not heard of the Clansmen, and that that, not some Glenn Beck ‘a-ha, luberal bias!’ theory, might explain why?

              1. Glenn Beck!

                Tony won’t want you poaching on his territory. Just a word to the wise.

                1. Granted, Beck being Mormon perhaps your Bishop has not granted you permission to listen to him.

                  1. It’s like you’re not even trying tonight. I mean, really?

        2. We watched “Triumph of the Will” in AP history in HS, and then again in film classes in college.

          it would be among the top items in any historical ‘film archives’ in a library, if a library had any video reference library at all. its on par with ‘Birth of a Nation’, or ‘Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ in terms of cinema history documents.

          1. This is, again, not the same thing as well known or sell well.

            Have you people ever been in a small town public or high school library? The ‘historical film archives?’

            1. No one was talking to you bo.

              1. No one was responding to what I wrote, yes.

                1. Find it in your local library


                  1. It’s nice of you to prove my point. How many libraries come up for 50 Shades vs Triumph of the Will? Not even close.

                    1. You didn’t have a point bo, I was just helping you find the Nazi film so you would be less culturally-ignorant.

                    2. The point is that a book like 50 Shades of Grey is exponentially more popular than Triumph of the Will, and much, much more likely to be found in any library, including high school libraries, for that reason, not because as Eddie implies that there’s a liberal librarians conspiracy to censor according to their biased sensibilities. The search engine you linked to provides an easy means to prove that’s true, thanks.

                    3. yeah, you still don’t have a point.

                      Banning stuff is silly. Have you read Celine? You remind me of him.

    3. I remember someone almost getting fired for reading a book (on break time) about how the KKK got their ass kicked when they went to Notre Dame. That’s censorship.

      Far as I’m concerned: Ban a book, go to jail. And if you avoid jail you’ll become a lamp post decoration if I have anything to say about it.

  4. Another interesting thread where far more of the commenters take issue with the Reason writers position and post than agree. And the break is in the usual predictable direction.

    1. Is that because Neocons like Me believe there should be more avante-garde drug-and-sodomy porn/Nazi films in the Kids section, Bo?

      Your perspective never ceases to enlighten

      1. It’s likely hard for you to imagine this, but I wasn’t referring to you.

  5. My high school library had a couple of Gor books, as well as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I know there were at least a couple of other books that would likely be considered highly inappropriate, but at the moment I can’t remember what they were. There were probably a lot more that I never noticed.

    I know that on several occasions the school received large boxes of donated books. I’m guessing they were unsold copies from publishers or distributors. They probably just glanced over the titles without paying much attention to the content.

    1. There’s hardly any fucking in Tom Wolfe.

      but “Swann in Love”? Proust hits mad skins.

      I have long advocated a MORE PORNO policy in libraries to promote reading. Which do you think is more interesting to teenagers? Reading Rainbow? Or the rape scene in a Clockwork Orange?

      At the very least, more tenticle-anime. Its *cultural*

  6. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

    Why do I get the feeling that the political viewpoint of bone is far left wing and it was far left wingers who called for it to be banned?

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