Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.”

Henrich Heine

“the vice-crusaders, farting through silk,
waving the Christian symbols . . .”

Ezra Pound, Canto XIV

Wandering through war torn Twitter these days reminds me of Neville Shute’s On the Beach, a novel dramatizing the last days of the last survivors of a nuclear war who await their inexorable doom as a radioactive cloud descends upon southern Australia. Except in this case, Twitter is already burning; perhaps a better analogy would be wandering through the streets of ancient Rome during a hostile takeover.[1] Many of the posts project a Titanic-tinged, goodbye forever friends, end-of-an-era, fin de civilisation vibe.

Among the tearful good-byes, the cancer chemo updates, and the political diatribes, I ran across this depressing piece of tweeted news:

Of course, it’s possible that race had nothing to do with the dismissal. However, the timing is problematic, the board has not provided the grounds for his dismissal, and Moms for Liberty’s viewpoints on Critical Race Theory certainly seem racist to me.

For example, the MFL[2] chapter of Williamson County Tennessee complained that showing students films of Bull Connor’s thuggish cops unleashing attack dogs, fire-hosing protesters, and beating Freedom Riders with billy clubs created “negative view of Firemen (sic) and police.”[3]  The same Williamson County MFLers wanted to counterbalance the negativity of the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo with praise for the Church: “Both good and bad should be presented,” they demanded.

Of course, book censorship is also a high priority. In this morning’s Post and Courier, there’s a below-the-fold front page story headlined: “Removal of books sparks outcry in Beaufort.”[4] On Page A5 the headline “Horry board OKs controversial library book changes.” And below that story, the continuation of the front-page Beaufort story lists 97 titles removed from Beaufort County Public School libraries, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, Margaret Atwood’s The Hand Maid’s Tale, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

The MFLers seem especially, almost perversely, antagonistic to LBGQ children and want to prevent those children from reading about themselves, to keep them from knowing that they’re not alone, that happiness may very well await them.

[Cue Yeats]:    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

                        Are full of passionate intensity.

I guess what we’re going to have to do is organize, be vigil, curate candidates, donate money to try to oust these fanatics from the boards.

I mean, removing Martin Luther King, Jr. from school curricula harms our children much more than their reading about sexual ambiguity. I mean, this smacks of Soviet-style state run education where a free exchange of ideas is forbidden.

[1] I.e., during an invasion of barbarians: burning, looting, pillaging, raping,  . . .

[2] I’m sick of typing out its blatantly Orwellian double speak. The liberty of ban books. From now on it’s MFL. (In a rare display of discretion, I’m not going to provide my alternative wording for the initials.

[3] Not to mention snarling German shepherds. BTW, these examples are culled from Kelly Weill’s article in the Daily Beast:  “Moms for Liberty’s conservative activists are planning their next move: Taking over school boards”

[4] The home, of course, of Pat Conroy.

The Freedom to Offend

The Freedom to Offend

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.” ― Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“[. . .] and above it the mouthing of orators,
the arse-belching of preachers.” – Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

Okay, so we don’t want to ban AK-47s because that would be unbarring the door of tyranny. On the other hand, we don’t want our precious, delicate children exposed to depressing historical events like the Native American genocide, slavery, the Holocaust – perhaps even Sandy Hook – because the truth might make them feel uncomfortable.

I’ll tell you what made me feel uncomfortable when I was teaching: crouching under a Harkness table stifling a fart with my AP Lit students during a live shooter drill.

And, O, my Brothers and Sisters, we read many a bannable book in those AP classes.

Oedipus Rex – parricide, incest, sacrilege

The Canterbury Tales – vulgarity, profanity, nudity, plagues

Hamlet – fratricide, adultery, vulgarity, a corpse-strewn stage

Crime and Punishment – murder, prostitution, crushing poverty, alcoholism

Madame Bovary – serial adultery, suicide, insanity

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – atheism, masturbation, prostitution, adolescent rebellion

The Sound and the Fury – promiscuity, suicide, racial epithets, abject cruelty

The Song of Solomon – premarital sex, vulgar language, murder

The Hand Maid’s Tale – dystopia, sexism, theocratic cruelty

And that’s not even considering the poetry we read.

Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
`Those breasts are flat and fallen now
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

`Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

`A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

~WB Yeats

That’s it.

Thanks for listening to my Ted Rant.


Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

A few years ago, I received an email from a stranger requesting to “interview” me in conjunction with her School of the Arts project on The Catcher in the Rye.  As it turned out, the interview ended up being a survey of written questions that I answered electronically.

    Q.   How old was I when I first read Salinger’s novel?

    A.   Old/young enough to have had my complexion likened to a pepperoni pizza.

    Q. My initial reaction to the book?

    A. Respectful underwhelment.*

     Q. Did I identify with Holden?

     A. Yes, we shared a nostalgia for childhood in a darkening world.

     Q. Have I ever taught Catcher?

     A. No, but it has appeared on my reading lists.

      Q. How do I feel about censorship?

      A. Liberal to a degree: yes, you may read Lolita; no, you may not read Justine.

      Q. What do I think is  theme of The Catcher in the Rye?

      A. Adolescence is a particularly hard time for idealists who have begun to realize the

           Himalayan heights of the bullshit they must conquer in order to succeed in the adult


*In tribute to my two sons’ degrees in German, the “w” in “underwhelment” is pronounced like a “v.”

The student’s query/project struck me as quaint.  Certainly, hapless Holden’s naive attempt to efface the “fuck you” some churl has scratched into the wall of his sister’s elementary school no longer outrages parents of the Late Empire who blandly witness each January the obscene decadence of Super Bowl Halftime Extravaganzas.  After all, the novel is a year older than I, so Holden (if he was fifteen in the year of Catcher’s publication) would have been born in 1936 and if not dead subsisting now off of Social Security and Medicare, a wizened old man in a wheelchair, his orange hunting hat cocked at a jaunty angle in some subsidized assistant living facility.

Last I heard of Catcher causing commotion was twenty  years ago.  This account comes from The Post and Courier.

Perhaps because Mr. Bagwell had pilfered from my former high school’s library and because I had grown up just down the street from him, I felt chagrined enough to send him the following correspondence (signed with my return address):

Answers: 1.D  2. E  3. F  4. A  5. G  6. I  7. C  8. J  9. H  10.  B

At any rate, the student’s interview request prompted me to do some digging into what texts have now replaced Catcher in the Late Empire as catalysts for censorship, those books in 2011 that rile parents into pitching protests, so I googled “most challenged books,” and lo and behold, there in the top 10 was Catcher, along with that other adolescent mind-warper, To Kill a Mockingbird.

No, I was wrong.  Some Late Empire parents still see Holden as a threat; this confused boy still scares shitless certain curtained consciousnesses that seek to shelter their darlings from the muck and mess of the ever looming out there.

The degradation of childhood in the Late Empire is a curious phenomenon.  In some ways it ends way too soon (sex at fourteen) and lasts way too late (under-employed and living with mom at thirty-four).  Books are considered more dangerous than movies, an unclothed human body much more offensive than graphic violence.  However, I truly believe there is little to fear in a good book because it portrays life as it is lived.  Virtually no one gets horny reading the sexually explicit passages from The Color Purple (nor, for that matter, desires to become a homosexual penguin after finishing And Tango Makes Three).

Of course, in the beginning, puritans considered any novel dangerous because novels dealt with worldly matters, tempting readers, especially vulnerable young ladies, from God’s Holy Word into the profane and vulgar concoctions of scribblers who entertained rather than edified.  I don’t know about you, but essentially, my early reading was all about escape.  I’d rip through every Hardy Boys cardboard bound adventure I could get my hands on wishing I lived in a town blessed with abandoned mills, haunted houses, and inept criminals.  Television in those days consisted of two stations that played soap operas in the mornings and afternoons of scorching summer days so reading novels offered a way to slip through the looking glass into jungles where apemen swung through the trees with scantily clad English girls clinging to their backs.

Eventually, I graduated to biographies, books about dinosaurs and deep space, classics like Tom Sawyer and The Count of Monte Cristo, yet even reading those non-controversial tomes posed the danger of a sedentary, cloistered lifestyle that spurned the Wordsworthian glories of nature’s here and now.  In other words, through books you could abandon your own precious life for the abstractions of the printed page, curl up in the bed of one of the houses houses below, and become deathly pale.

Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

Of course, nowadays, computers have replaced books as the vehicles for escape, and now, thanks to cell phones, it’s not unusual to see someone walking on the beach oblivious to the plunging pelican as the beachcomber stares downward manipulating the screen of that tiny computer.  Even though books may have blinded Milton, they are easier on the eyes than this infernal monitor you’re staring at.