Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hunger Games Makes The Top Ten Challenged Books in 2011

I don't know about you, but I have never understood the desire to burn or ban a book.  If you don't agree with the premiss of a story, the simple answer is don't read it.  The idea that free individuals in a so-called free society should not have the ability to choose their reading material is ridiculous. If it's a case of parental concern, it's a simple matter of keeping track of what your child is reading, rather than censoring it for everyone else. This makes to much sense for the small minded book banners of the world to consider however.

"The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) received 326 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011 include the following titles; each title is followed by the reasons given for challenging the book:" 

1) ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
2) The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
3) The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
4) My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
5) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
6) Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
7) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
8) What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
9) Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
10) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Offensive language; racism

Seeing the list of complaints against The Hunger Games Trilogy makes me wonder if these people have ever actually read the book.  Katniss volunteers to enter the games so that her sister does not have to.  She and Gale both apply for tesserae - an extra allotment of food for their families, even though they both know that by doing so, they exponentially increase their chances of being picked as a tribute from district 12.  After the death of her father, Katniss learned to hunt to support her family.  The majority of her motivation in this book revolves around her mother and her sister and yet somehow The Hunger Games is anti-family?

I don't even know how to begin to address the argument that The Hunger Games is anti-ethnic.  In the movie version, Katniss is played by a White actress, but the book clearly describes her as being olive skinned.  Both Rue and Thresh are Black.  I think that there most certainly is room for more inclusion of characters of colour in this story, but I doubt that is what these small minded people are actually upset about.

They further charge insensitivity.  It would be great to have an example of exactly what is meant by that comment.  It is far too vague to address.

In terms of offensive language, I can only deem that the concern is the constant question of the status quo in the novel itself, because I don't remember any one of the books being filled with profanity. If it is indeed the idea that the Youth of Panem question and refuse to follow the status quo, then it can only be that they don't want the little automatons they are raising to become free thinkers.  One of the best things about The Hunger Games is that Katniss does not simply accept the new order when the revolution is complete, instead she asks is there a difference between a past dictator and a new dictator? She questions whether taking on the tactics of the oppressor is appropriate.

In terms of occult or Satanic, I can only say that these people have not read the book.  I assume that they are referring to the alterations that people from the capitol make to their persons.  Some do their best to change their features to look like animals. Our society may not go as far as to encourage people to change that drastically, but there is constant pressure to conform to a very narrow norm.  If you don't belong, you are 'othered' mercilessly.  It is clear by the third book that these alterations are seen as a reflection of personal value and wealth.  Those unable to conform are stigmatized much like we currently do today.  The point is also made that these transformations are seen as a sign of the Capitol's excess.  The impoverished people of the districts don't have the time, money, or inclination to worry about appearance.   

Finally, we get to violence.  There is no doubt that the violence in the arena is terrible, or that the violence during the revolution is graphic.  The violence in the arena illustrates graphically the violence of being poor.  We don't normally see it that way when we walk past a homeless person on the street, but having no home to call one's own, no food, no clean clothing and no place to shower is absolutely violent, because these constitute basic subsistence needs that are being denied specifically because we live in a capitalist state.  Capitalism is not pretty, nor is it clean, and everyday acts of violence are committed against those who are the most vulnerable to maintain an unbalanced system. 

Kids should know that rebellions or war regardless of the reason are violent.  After 9/11 the military received an upsurge in people volunteering to serve.  The motive of course was vengeance and violence, though it was couched in nationalism.  Today, much of the talk concerning Afghanistan and Iraq is based in the cost of running two wars, but what is forgotten are the innocent Afghani and Iraqi people who have died due to American aggression.  Their blood still stains the streets of their homeland.  War or rebellion should never be seen as anything other than violent and children should know this.  The should understand that there is no glory in killing another.

No, I am not convinced that these complaints came from concerned individuals who actually read the series.  The following quote from Barbara Jones proves my point.  

Barbara Jones, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Associated Press that many of the complaints leveled against The Hunger Games books focused on the film version directed by Gary Ross. “There was complaining about the choice of actors for the film,” she said. “You had people saying someone was dark-skinned in the book, but not in the film, or dark-skinned in the film and not in the book. In general, a lot more people were aware of the books and that led to more kinds of complaints.”
Deciding that a book is dangerous based on a movie is ridiculous.  These are the types of people who probably read the cliff notes in school, rather than reading the actual book.  No matter how good the movie, something is always lost in translation to film.  Books allow the reader to use their own imagination to set the stage. whereas; a movie does all of that for you. 

That these people couched their complaints in how the characters were raced in the novel vs the movie, tells me that they have no understanding of the nuanced story that The Hunger Games is.  Yes Rue and Thresh were obviously Black.  Cinna's race was not described, so he could potentially have been a man of any race.  I personally believe that Katniss should have been a woc based on her description as having olive skin, but what race these characters were in the book vs the movie, is not now or ever will be justification to ban a book. 

The Hunger Games, just like any other text -- does have its problematic elements -- but it certainly is a great story that has some wonderful messages for teens to read. Instead of seeking to ban, these people should be seeking to understand the story itself.  Thinking that you have the right to choose for another what they should or shouldn't read is beyond arrogance, it is fascist and therefor counter to a free society. Ideas do transform to action, but unless you are exposed to a myriad of issues, how are you ever to have the experience to make the right choices?  No one wins when we censor.