In the country where I grew up, textbooks came with thick black lines drawn over certain sentences and certain maps. Ladies' magazines, like Cosmo and Vogue, featured models with long black sleeves, long black skirts, and buttoned-up busts, all overlaid by the same inky hand.
My friends and I imagined a friendly local censor—like a postman—sorting and sanitizing the mail with a disappointed look ("The Victoria Secret catalogue at Salwa #5, again!"). Or, sometimes we thought there must be hundreds of censors, rows and rows of black markers carefully defacing the nation's mail, lengthening shorts into long skirts, giving in to sartorial fancy with a few creative black wiggles, or cutting history shorter by a few years here and there.
Censorship made my first read of Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? very confusing. Playboy. Period. Jewish. Breast. Menstruation. Kiss. Not only were words missing, but every premise of the classic American adolescent crisis (and then some) had been blacked out.
Americans aren't so intimate with censorship. We expect to receive our Victoria's Secret Catalogues in full detail. But even here, books still do get banned, limited, or "challenged"; in fact, Judy Blume made it to the the top of the American Library Association's "Most Frequently Challenged Authors" list in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2010. A "challenged author" is an author whose works American lending libraries have been asked to remove or restrict. In the '90s, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? was one of 100 most challenged books in America.
So in the 1990s, I could have visited libraries in two different countries, thousands of miles apart, radically differentiated by dominant religions, cultures, and standards of censorship, and still struggled to find a full copy of anything by Judy Blume, peddler of smut like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Incredible. Yet I'm still not sure censorship is all bad—at least, the will to censor makes a lot of sense. Have you ever wanted to take a black marker to a "sexy" ad or magazine cover?
This post builds on thoughts developed in the comments of my previous post (Required Reading: Disgrace). My next post will continue along these lines, so please add your input about censorship, pornogrphy, visual culture and literature in the comments.
Previously: Disgrace, Aya de Yopougon