Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grossmont College panel to discuss banned books

What impels some people to call for certain books to be banned?  What might the world have missed if other people had listened to them?  In observance of National Banned Book Week, panelists will discuss these topics at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, in Grossmont College’s Griffin Gate meeting room.

The amazing thing about many of the people who want to ban a book is that they often  haven’t actually read it, says English Prof. Joe Medina, who  will moderate the panel discussion  celebrating the constitutional guarantees of free speech and a free press.

In the area of fantasy, student James Strand will tell of the efforts to ban Superman after the Man of Steel made his first appearance in a comic book in 1938.  English instructor Linda Mitchell will discuss the current resistance to vampire literature, which has become increasingly popular.

In the area of race relations, English Instructor Lisa Shapiro will discuss Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a book which suggests that through its penal system America is re-segregating itself.  Prof. T. Ford will discuss some of the blues songs of Bessie Smith.  

Medina said that during her lifetime Smith faced racial discrimination as well as condemnation for lyrics that critics contended were “racy and overly sexy, filled with sexual innuendo.” However, Medina said,  in the same songs, Smith sings not only about sexuality, “she sings about the Depression, about repression, and about the plight of women being in secondary roles.  That made many people in the audience really relate to Bessie Smith.”

Medina said this is the 22nd year at Grossmont College he has helped to celebrate banned books.  As a result of a reputation the program has developed over more than two decades, with faculty members often offering extra credit to students who attend the forum, “we generally have very good attendance, sometimes even standing room only ,” he said.

While he disagrees with people who try to ban books, Medina says he understands and sometimes sympathizes with their motives.  “There are groups that don’t want young minds to be exposed to profane topics, profanity, an excessive amount of sexuality or violence, death wishes, deception or lying – the flaws in our society – so they get caught up with those types of issues within the works. 

“However, they fail to see the big picture, that in these same works there are often redeeming values, important lessons to be had,” he added in an interview.

An example, he said, is the children’s book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, And Tango Makes Three, based on a true story of two male zoo penguins who paired off, and when given an opportunity by zoo keepers, helped to hatch an egg together and to raise the penguin chick.  Critics suggest that this plot is an attempt to promote homosexuality, said Medina, but “some of the people who want to ban it, haven’t even read it,” he said.   

There are also people who want to ban the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling because they believe it promotes sorcery, he said.

“My mantra is let’s read these works.  Let’s see what is controversial about them and then let’s discuss the works.  What issues are being addressed through these books, and what particular audiences are being offended, and why?  Is there material that they might also find commendable?  And then, after having a discussion about the book, we can make a decision on the merits.”