Texas school district book ban highlights who's really canceling the culture
by Maggie Bloodstone -
SGN Contributing Writer
"What about the children?!"
Without a doubt, that's the most clichéd and least sincere phrase that could fall from the lips of any right-leaning "culture warrior" (hand-wringing and Helen Lovejoy impersonation optional).
This trope has been a constant ever since the ultimate example of "cancel culture," the assisted suicide of Socrates for his alleged "corruption" of Athenian youth waaay back in the day.
But outside of actual fascist and theocratic societies, no one can top the US for spittle-flecked mass conniptions regularly thrown by "concerned citizens" whenever the real world threatens to intrude on the idyllic mental Candyland of the American juvenile.
After almost a century of this kind of selective moral vigilance, small wonder the ne plus ultra of this obsessive mindset has manifested in the highly dangerous mass hallucination of QAnon. But the favorite go-to target of the rabid religious and regressive right remains the printed word. And if those words include pictures, then the fear of the "corruption of youth" kicks up a notch. Because comics are still dismissed as "kid stuff" to many, no matter how many Pulitzer Prizes or National Book Awards they win.
And the latest example of this attitude has recently emerged in the school district of Leander, Texas.
English teachers and staff in Leander had recently added a number of fiction and nonfiction titles to their reading lists, with diversity of subject matter and dialogue between parents, teachers, and children in mind - and some of their choices immediately drew fire from a parents' group, unoriginally named "Texas Values," for "inappropriate" content.
It will come as a surprise to no one reading this that most of the problematic content happens to deal with LGBTQ issues and characters. At a recent school board meeting, parents used phrases like "child abuse," "erotica for teens," and "anti-Christian themes" to describe the works in question, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
But the showstopper was indisputably the brandishing of a strap-on complete with dildo by one mother to illustrate a similar item mentioned in one targeted book, In the Dreamhouse by Carmen Maria Machado, a memoir of the author's abusive relationship with a former girlfriend. Which has got to be the most counterproductive use of a visual aid in the history of ever.
Fortunately, for every tone-deaf parent inadvertently giving every kid in the school district an education they weren't expecting, there are those who actually respect their own children's intelligence and ability to know when they're being lied to. Like mom of three Katie Ibarra: "These books were selected so every child would be included and wouldn't be left behind. I have a child that will only read graphic novels, so if they remove all the graphic novels and don't intend to make the program more equitable, he and other children like him would be left behind. This program is intended to be inclusive of every child, and yet the opposers of the program don't see that."
Ibarra went on to mention that parents who object to the books in question have the option to choose alternate titles from the reading list - meaning that the pro-ban parents simply don't want children who aren't theirs to have the choice to read those books. Which leaves the door wide open to harassment and ostracization of kids who read "evil" books and the parents who let them.
Several graphic novels were among the books under fire by "Texas Values," including My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf, a well-told and illustrated remembrance of high school days with the entertaining misfit who would become one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century (and the source material for the film of the same name). Despite the subject matter, the book has no graphic sex or violence. The most unsettling image is probably the skull of one of Dahmer's canine victims on a stake, synchronistically harking back to a book on my own 1973 sophomore English syllabus, as well as a member of many a banned book list, Lord of the Flies.
Leander district English teacher Alexia Huddleston tweeted that My Friend Dahmer "is a story of systems and adults that consistently fail our young people. So naturally, adults are proving its point by banning it and again, failing our young people." An accurate evaluation, which makes one wonder if that might not be the true reason "Texas Values" objected to it in the first place. Because the only thing "concerned parents" hate more than sex and violence is being held responsible for their own failures.
But that might be giving them too much credit, since they would have had to have actually read the book to come to that conclusion. Which I tend to doubt, considering willful lack of knowledge of a given subject is a basic requirement for any guardian of public morals/censor worth their salt.
I mention the Leander kerfuffle as only the latest in a seemingly interminable crusade waged by self-appointed "protectors" of The Children and their assumed "innocence" against the Real World. That's what they'll call it, of course. What they definitely won't call it is "cancel culture," which, like "political correctness," they apply exclusively to those slightly to the left of, say, Mussolini.
Speaking of whom, it seems the "concerned parents" of Leander have their own brownshirts in the form of Mass Resistance, an anti-gay hate group (whose most prominent member happens to be none other than The Obnoxious M.T.G.), and the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders (or WTFers, har-de-har), an Austin biker gang just as anti-freedom as their oxymoron of a name would suggest and who have been making appearances at school board meetings. These groups so far have not been connected to any actual violence as yet, but if recent history tells us anything, it will be only a matter of time and official permission from police or authority figures.
Oh, and Mass Resistance have predictably declared that any teacher against the book bans is a pedophile. Because of course they did. With so many people taking these kind of deranged accusations seriously these days, there's no need to vandalize homes, burn books, or publicly execute the "corrupters of youth." Yet.
"What about the children?" is the new "I'm not racist, but..." Our self-appointed censors lost the culture wars in the '60s. They could no longer get away with keeping "objectionable" material out of the hands of adults, so their focus shifted to faux concern for youth. The same zealots who insisted that heavy metal records played backwards contained Satanic messages in the 1980s are now gnashing their teeth over their children not being able to see archaic racial stereotypes in 80-year old Dr. Seuss books they themselves had never heard of, much less read, even in their own youth.
And while sex and violence are the easiest targets, they definitely have their sights fixed on other ideas: their war against science and actual freedom of religion is all too well known and anything but subtle. And then there was Trump's ill-fated attempt to obliterate the 1619 Project and replace it with his own whitewashed (accent on white) interpretation of American history, the 1776 Project.
Nathalie Baptiste writes in Mother Jones of the conflation of Dr. Seuss and the song "WAP" by the right, who disingenuously suggest that a black woman's ribald lyrics are "okay" to expose to children, but Dr. Seuss "isn't." Of course, it's all about distraction. We have a popular Democratic president whose biggest task is cleaning up after the shitnado of the past four years, so the right defaults to the tried-and-true culture wars in order to keep themselves relevant. Again.
Like "political correctness," a concept originally coined by the left to take the piss out of the more humorless and ideologically hidebound among us, the right has appropriated the concept of "cancel culture," reforming it to mean rampant censorship by the left for the most minor ideological transgression, as opposed to zero tolerance of sexual abuse.
It's all about distraction, and Americans in particular are the most easily distracted beings on the planet, demanding constant stimulation without the responsibility of discernment. The right wing knows this and continues to put far more time and energy into keeping their hordes overstimulated and undercritical.
Never mind the children. What about the adults?!