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Banning Maus: Censorship in the 21st Century

Join Xandy Frisch (Jewish Studies) and Diane Skorina (Library & IT) in a conversation about the most recent controversy surrounding Art Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel Maus, which was banned last month from the school curriculum in McMinn County, Tennessee.

In late January, news broke that a school board in McMinn County, Tennessee had unanimously voted to remove Art Spiegelman’s contemporary classic graphic novel Maus from the 8th grade school curriculum. The book recounts the story of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences during the Holocaust in Poland. The Nazis are portrayed as cats, the Jews as mice. Told in a traditional comic book form, it’s a powerful evocation of the brutality and horror of the Holocaust, and the complexities of the lives of those who survived it. It pulls no punches and allows readers – especially younger readers – to grapple with the difficult realities of human cruelty on both the large scale political and small scale interpersonal levels.

This is how book banning in America happens today. There aren’t federal or state decrees, major court cases, or public bonfires. It’s much subtler and smaller than that: local school boards remove books from the curriculum without consulting teachers or librarians; state legislators create lists of books that “shouldn’t” be in school libraries and force librarians to address them; private citizens and public officials alike attempt to ban the teaching of ideas or possible ways of looking at the world. In McMinn County, the school board said they voted to remove Maus “because ‘of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide,’” not because it was about the Holocaust, or because it illustrates how, in a broader sense, racial hatred can lead to the murder of millions and personal devastation that lasts through generations. But it seems that perhaps the school board just found the least controversial language it could use to act ideologically. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, ‘Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?’”

Come and join Xandy Frisch and Diane Skorina to talk about this and related issues, and learn more about Maus if you’ve never read it (you should! it’s amazing!), this Friday February 25th from noon - 1 in the Gold Alcove in Wismer. It’s a free lunch, too – sign in at the register.

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Diane Skorina
Library & Information Technololgy

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