Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Politics and Censorship

I know that most of you have read this book before, but before I move on to the discussion of McCarthyism and censorship I just wanted to say that I was sort of surprised that there was really no redemption for Ruth Brown in Bartlesville. There is an effort today to build a memorial for Miss Brown, but it seems like prior to this there was no real attempt to honor her struggle.

During this period there was a great deal of imposed censorship and also self censorship. In Ruth Brown's case it was the reason for her dismissal, and was also seen as others declined to speak up on her behalf. The "Red Scare" gave people the opportunity to exert a certain amount of social control. One of the arguments for the removal of "subversive" materials from the library was the impact they could have on children. This topic also seems to be a large part of the film (I am just basing this on the description in the book) where the young character, Freddie, becomes fixated on communism. This was discussed a little on the blog last week in regards to parental censorship of children. Do you think there are different levels of censorship in libraries for different groups of people? Should the community be able to dictate what materials are allowed in the library, or is it the library that influences the community?


Laura Elizabeth said...

Although I can’t think of too many children who would become fixated by the government structure of communism, I do think that children do need to be censored from certain materials. They can read whatever they want when they’re older, but let’s try to keep the 5 year olds na├»ve about certain adult topics. Mature individuals have no need for the library to censor materials because they should be able to censor what they read by themselves. Even though I don’t believe the community should be allowed to influence the library, I know that it can. For example, I learned from my hometown librarian that the library used to have the Harry Potter movies, but they took them off the shelves after getting a letter of complaint from a parent. As to the library influencing the community, I’m not sure if that is there purpose. As I see it, libraries are a resource for the community and offers information to it’s patrons, but it really has no more power to influence how that information is interpreted by it’s patrons.

I am a little surprised that Bartlesville hasn’t done anything as of yet to honor Miss Brown, but when you think about it, she only passed away 30 years ago and the book we just read was only published in 2000. It is possible that even though people knew of her story, they did not comprehend it’s importance until they read the book and were able to learn more about what happened.

Deanna Olson said...

I am not too convinced that there are separate levels of censorship in libraries today. Last week, my groups discussed the issue of censorship in relation to children and the point was brought up that most libraries allow children to check out whatever they want such as R-rated movies or books that may not be appropriate for young children. I feel like the library’s stance on this issue is that it is more the parent’s responsibility to monitor what their children are bringing home.

megan bacon said...

as I brought this up in another class this week I will bring it up again, in what other public or private sphere is censorship of children happening? I don't think it's the responsibility of the library to censor material from children or anyone that matter, and I don't think taking an anaesthetic approach with library materials is what this county really needs.

Eileen H. said...

In response to Megan, as a former teacher I would say that there is a certain level of censorship that goes on in schools. Children also face censorship through movie ratings--if they decide to see movies in theaters they can't get into certain films without adult consent/accompaniment. This being said, I do agree with you that I don't think it is the library's job to censor material. I think this should be the responsibility of the parent(s).

Gillian D. said...

Saying that children will be drawn into Communism simply by reading about it, reminds me of the modern idea that the Harry Potter books will lead kids to satanism and the like. Or blaming violent video games for school shootings. Not to mention the blame Dungeons and Dragons used to get for everything from satanism to suicide.

Parents blame outside sources for so much, when maybe what they need to do is actually pay attention to what their children read, watch, and say.

As for why Bartlesville doesn't honor Ruth Brown, I'd guess they are still uneasy about the whole issue. It was not the town's proudest moment, and some of them might still feel that she should have been fired.

SarahStumpf said...

I hope that this memorial will talk about her as a civil rights and anti-racist activist as well as just a victiem of McCarthyism. And I think that it is damn time that she got her due, I'm also glad that Louise Robbins book is mentioned as a reason and an inspiration for learning the truth about Ruth.

I think that having "the community" dictate standards is problematic. Who is "the community"? Is it just the majority? I know that a huge issue for libraries is challenges based on homosexual content, and often these challenges bring in the idea that "the community" does not want or need this material. But there are gay people in all kinds of communities, do they just not get a voice or a choice? Are they not considered a member of "THE community"?

And what about other people with minority situations, such as minority religious beliefs? They might not be open about their beliefs in the community, does that mean that they don't get to be part of "the (offficial) community" and their needs don't need to be served? My girlfriend talks sometimes about being raised Wiccan in the 80's when panic about "satanic cults" was everywhere, and having to keep her and her family's religion a secret from grades k-12 after allegations were made about a satanic cult committing crimes in the area when she was very young. Do these people not deserve to be served by the library because they can't easily voice their concerns or status as members of "the community" for fear of harassment? I would argue that they need to be served and represented more because they can't speak for themselves.

Often I feel like "the community" is just a code word for white, upper or middle class, white Christian folks who claim to be able to speak for everyone.

Sharon Stoneback said...

I wanted to talk about this more in class, but figured I'd said enough already. First of all, kudos to Emily for finding the info. about the Bartlesville memorial effort. On the one hand, I agree that its too bad the folks in Bartlesville forgot about her. But on the other, I think its kind of understandable. Louise mentions her preface that she had spent a number of years as a school and academic librarian in Oklahoma and never heard of Ruth Brown until she began her dissertation research(p. xi). Perhaps in the years immediately after 1950, there was a deliberate effort to forget or not acknowledge what had happened (I wonder how much the making of the movie impacted this. I can't remember if Louise discusses the reaction of Bartlesville to the national attention the movie may have brought, but I'm sure they weren't pleased!), but I think as time went on, people just didn't pay that much attention. I think its fairly natural that recent history is more ignored. So in the 1970's or so, people learned more about WWII and earlier, rather than the 1950's. And once something like Ruth Brown was forgotten, it took a lot of work to re-discover it, as Louise shows us. Also, I don't think Bartlesville is unique in its ignorance. How many of us know much about what may have happened in our own hometowns during McCarthyism or the civil rights movement? I know I don't.