On my bookshelf sits the book “Droll Stories”, a collection of 30 stories by Honore de Balzac. I’ve never read it all the way through. I really ought to. The stories within are mildly ribald by today’s standards. But in the 1800’s they caused quite a sensation, I’m sure. The only reason I have this book is that in the 70’s my mother worked at Heritage Press, the publishers of this particular edition, and when she asked for a copy she was told that as the mother of a small child it would be inappropriate to have it.
Oh, but that’s not something you told my mother. She disapproved of censorship in any form. After that she moved heaven and earth to get a copy of this book. It was the principle of the thing, you see. She gave it to me when I was in college. Not because she thought it was a particularly good read, but because someone had the gall to try to decide what would or would not corrupt me. If not for that I’m certain I’d never have heard of this book.
That’s the thing about censorship. It often has the opposite effect. It draws attention to something that otherwise would very likely sink into obscurity all on its own. For example, I would never have attempted to read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie if it weren’t for the fatwa that was issued calling for his death for having written it. I found the book hard to follow and lost patience with it partway through. I suspect a lot of people read this book who wouldn’t have, simply because of the media furor.
I also strongly suspect that the movie The Interview would barely have caused a blip on the cultural radar if it weren’t for the fact that North Korea protested it so rigorously. Described as a gross-out comedy about the fictional assassination of their insane leader, this movie isn’t going to win an Oscar, let me assure you. Normally I’d give it a miss, but now I suppose I’ll have to get around to seeing it one of these days. It’s the principle, you see.
And how many of us in the world would have even heard of the paper Charlie Hebdo if some lunatics in Paris hadn’t tried to cover up their tasteless and extreme cartoons with the blood of their staff members? Honestly, I couldn’t have been less interested until that fateful day. Now it’s all about freedom of speech and the senseless murder of writers, so it matters to me greatly.
Extremists need to learn that if they don’t want people to see something, then the last thing on earth they should do is create a media storm. Everyone will focus on a tempest. Even one that’s merely in a teapot.
[Image credit: theclaystudioofmissoula.org]