By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Recently, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee unanimously banned the novel Maus. For the unfamiliar, Maus is a depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust as recounted to the writer/artist Art Spiegelman by his father. The story is told in a comic book format with the visual device that the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats. Unsurprisingly for its subject matter, the story is a harrowing read. So, of course, in making its decision, the McMinn board focused on nudity.
As a species, sensors tend to be a dull lot. Most live in a world without context. They fret and clutch their pearls over imagined effects upon imagined audiences. In this particular case, a scene in which Spiegelman’s father discovers his wife dead by suicide in a bath tub is one main source of vexation for the censors. The lifeless character is shown nude in the tub, as one might expect a lifeless body in a tub to be.
The absurdity of the complaint is fascinating. My initial thought upon hearing this was Maus gets censored while the pants-less Winnie-the-Pooh remains free to terrorize the citizens of McMinn County! You’re next, Bugs Bunny, you serial exhibitionist! And hey Donald Duck, buy a clue from your pal Mickey and put on some pants, you freak! Once these degenerate cartoons are rounded up, McMinn County can then get on the important work of putting little outfits on real animals in public parks. Tiny pants are expensive, please contribute what you can on their Go Fund Me page to help the cause.
The more I’ve thought about this though, the more scornful I’ve become. What this particular board did, and in fact what most censorship efforts do, is just look for anything. The goal is to get rid of the work. The search then becomes to catch the one thing that they can use to dispose of the work. The message to the author is essentially nice try Spiegelman, but next time you try to tell a story about the horrors of Nazi war atrocities, cover up the bosoms.
The image is not sexualized. The complaint says more about how the censors’ minds work (I do not wish to elevate what the censors did by using the words like “thinking” or “logic”). The message of the scene is about as far from “hey look at those breasts” as one can get. Although I remain unsure of how to label their perspective, whatever the term is, that perspective is depraved.
Author Neil Gaiman said it best when he tweeted in reaction to the news: “There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.”
The good news is that censorship rarely works. Throughout the history of popular culture, most attempts to ban creative works have failed. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, it is far easier for people to access information. Case in point, Maus is selling like crazy.
More of these censors are out there though. School board members right here in Virginia advocated not just censorship but also book burning. Lighting fire to written works is straight out of the Nazi playbook. It’s patently and obviously un-American.