Censorship of Manga Scholarship

You’ve probably heard about the latest case of “save the children!” overreaction. Out in Victorville, California, a 16-year-old checked out a book about manga. (Not manga, but an overview of the medium.) Since it was a survey book, it contained a few not-safe-for-kids images, and Mom “was horrified” that her baby “could check out pornography out of my local library”. Shh, no one tell her about a novel called Lolita, or for that matter, that there’s drunken incest in the Bible!

Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics cover
Manga: Sixty Years of
Japanese Comics
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She requested the book be removed from the library, and the library refused, as they should have. The book was shelved in the adult section, and they believe that parents, not the library, should be responsible for what their children read.

As a side note, the preliminary article manages to work in that she “considers herself and her two kids devout Christians”. Apparently the “I have the right to tell everyone how to run their lives” kind, not the “live and let live” kind, since she went to the press and wound up getting a county official to demand the book’s removal (link no longer available). Like most politicians, he reveals himself to be a complete hypocrite. “The councilman was quick to say he does not believe in censorship of books, but was also clear to point out the need to protect underage library members from explicit content.” Having the book removed IS censorship, dweeb.

MangaBlog has links to more reactions.

Update: MangaBlog has also posted links to an interview with the library head. It looks to me that, with a political change of power coming up for the library chain, he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. I wonder what the library would do if patrons requested the book through inter-library loan?

22 Comments

  1. James Schee

    Ah, yet another of the “I’m too bad a parent to keep stuff I don’t want my kids seeing out of their hands, so I want someone else to do it for me.”

    I feel sort of bad for her son though. Can you imagine the heckling he’s getting at school at the age of 16 over this?

    Of course I feel that the politician is even worse. How do you restrict access I wonder? Put a guard on the adult section who’ll keep anyone under 18 out?

  2. I wonder what on earth this man had to gain from giving in to the demands of some neglective parent? I truly feel sorry for this kid and all the other who won’t be able to read this book thanks to the ignorance of a few individuals.

    I’m curious as to what gives a politician the authority to tell people what not to read. Is this even constitutional?

  3. The man probably got to keep his job. And no, it’s not constitutional, but that’s of little interest to most politicians these days, and relatively few Americans are truly willing to support the First Amendment when it’s protecting something they don’t like. Sadly.

  4. Ed Sizemore

    I own the book, but confess to not having had a chance to read it. So I decided to skim the pages to see what the fuss is about. There is some female nudity in the book. It is all breasts with the genitals either missing or censored out. (There are very few scenes of male nudity it should be noted.) There are also sex scenes. I’m not sure how much First Amendment mileage your going to get out of scenes of a girl having sex with snakes, a woman having sex with a dragon and a fairy having sex with a squirrel. Plus there is a scene of a student having sex with his teacher.

    There are also scenes of very graphic violence. There is a lovely scene where scissors come out a little girl’s eyes with the blood done in red ink against a black and white drawing, a scene where two elementary boys beat each other bloody (no red this time), a guy cutting out his own guts, and a girl hacking off someone’s foot. Where is the outrage over this? A breast with forever scar a child, but a scene of self-mutilation won’t? Can’t see the logic in that. (Don’t get me started on America’s total acceptance of violence, but hyper sensitivity to nudity. Or how male nudity is more taboo than female nudity.)

    There is no age rating on the book and no warning of the explicit content at the beginning of the book. Since this is published by Harper Collins, I bet someone ordered as an art history book for teenagers. Most likely no one looked at the book and simply shelved it without putting some age warning in the computer system. Harper Collins and the library should have been more cautious, especially given typical American reactions over issues of sex and comics.

    (As a side note, it was scary how many of the works cited, erotic or not, I was aware of it, if not actually read.)

  5. Nancy Geffken

    There was a CBC radio interview with Joann Sfar, Frederic Beigbeder and Leila Marouane a few weeks ago in which they claimed that Lolita probably couldn’t even be published today. Whether there has been a fundamental change in what is acceptable to society at large, or whether the majority are cowering under an intolerant and politically powerful minority is debatable.

  6. Ed Sizemore

    Nancy, The problem with Lolita today, would be that it reads too much like the headline news. Given the problems with sexual predators and the internet, I could understand a publisher not wanting to touch that book now.

  7. Since this is published by Harper Collins, I bet someone ordered as an art history book for teenagers. Most likely no one looked at the book and simply shelved it without putting some age warning in the computer system.

    The news reports state that the book was shelved in the adult section.

    I’m not sure how much First Amendment mileage your going to get out of scenes of a girl having sex with snakes, a woman having sex with a dragon and a fairy having sex with a squirrel. Plus there is a scene of a student having sex with his teacher.

    I have read the book, think the art was fine and discussed in a scholarly and not a prurient context, and would be fine defending the book’s presence in libraries even if it were prurient. The point of the First Amendment is not just to defend speech that everyone agrees with.

  8. Ed Sizemore

    Mely, I agree that the library appropriately shelved the book. The problem is that the librarian still checked out the book to a minor. They need either a prominent “Adults Only” sticker on the book, or a warning in the computer to let the librarian know that it is an adult book.

    My point about the First Amendment was that under the current definitions of appropriate art, drawings of bestiality won’t pass the Supreme Court standards. Even in an academic discussion of the subject you would have a hard time justifying the need for pictures under current definitions. This book isn’t a academic tome, but a general history by a free lance author and so it would be under even stricter scrutiny in regards to the art it uses.

  9. They need either a prominent “Adults Only” sticker on the book, or a warning in the computer to let the librarian know that it is an adult book.

    Why? My library doesn’t do this, and I would strongly object to it doing so. I’m not sure my library even has a restriction on children checking out adult books; if it did when I was a kid, I was easily able to circumvent it by checking out books on my parents’ card.

    You’re assuming that restricting access to adult materials is the library’s job, instead of the parents’ decision.

    My point about the First Amendment was that under the current definitions of appropriate art, drawings of bestiality won’t pass the Supreme Court standards. Even in an academic discussion of the subject you would have a hard time justifying the need for pictures under current definitions.

    I’d like to know what cases you mean for this. In fact, pornography often serves as a boundary test case for First Amendment principles in the US.

  10. [...] <a href=”http://www.comicsworthreading.com/2006/04/15/censorship-of-manga-scholarship/”>Comics Worth Reading</a> [...]

  11. Ed, I agree with Mely — parents, not libraries, should control what a teenager checks out, and libraries shouldn’t be carding. There’s just too much variance on what’s “adult” considering whether you’re talking about visuals, sex, violence, ideas, and so on. (Assuming I agree that this book should be considered “obscene”, which is how you’re classifying it, which I don’t.)

  12. Ed Sizemore

    Johanna, I don’t mean to sound like I’m classifying the book as obscene. I do think some of the illustrations were poorly chosen. On the whole, the book does a good job as a general introduction to the history and scope of manga. I do think it should be classified as an adult book given some of the illustrations.

    This is where you and I are going to have to agree to disagree. I have no problem with library books being given an age rating and having the library refuse to lend books to those who are underage. Growing up I had access to a library within walking distance. I could easily have checked out any book I wanted without my parents permission. It isn’t hard to sneak a book in the house with a backpack filled with school books. I did it a couple of times.

    Mely, the issue with the First Amendment that I am trying to emphasis is protected versus permitted speech. A community can CHOOSE to allow books not protected by the First Amendment into thier libraries. The HAVE to let books in that are protected by the First Amendment. If this book went to the Supreme Court, I can’t see it winning the case. As I understand the current Court rulings on First Amendment issues, this book would not qualify. It simply can’t argue enough merit to be PROTECTED speech. I think the Justices would leave it up to the community to decide the merits of this book and whether to let it in thier library system. There are other books of Manga history that do as good a job, if not better, that don’t have the same troublesome illustrations.

    I’m not arguing the book be banned. I plan to keep my copy and use it as a reference tool for my own education in manga history. I just think there is some merit to the idea that this book have restricted access in a public library.

  13. Any book that aims to capture the full range of manga needs to include coverage of that type of material, just as any book aiming to cover the full history of comics would need to talk about the undergrounds.

    I think there’s already too many attempts to sanitize popular culture for everyone in the name of protecting kids. I applaud libraries for having open stacks and requiring parents to police their own children.

    Don’t forget two key facts: no complaints were made about the violence in the book, and the kid who read it was 16. He can drive (presumably, if mommy lets him). If we want to protect him from porn, are we going to shut down all the 7-11s next? How about Maxim down at Borders? Too much of a slippery slope for me.

    You’re using “First Amendment” in a really weird sense here: ALL books are protected by the First Amendment, just as our words here are. And that particular book is clearly eductional, of literary value, and not solely of prurient interest, so yes, it would be protected. The only way it wouldn’t be was if it was judged obscene, and you’ve already said it shouldn’t be classified that way.

  14. Johanna, let me know if you’d rather Ed and I took the discussion elsewhere.

    Ed,

    Mely, the issue with the First Amendment that I am trying to emphasis is protected versus permitted speech. A community can CHOOSE to allow books not protected by the First Amendment into thier libraries. The HAVE to let books in that are protected by the First Amendment. If this book went to the Supreme Court, I can’t see it winning the case. As I understand the current Court rulings on First Amendment issues, this book would not qualify. It simply can’t argue enough merit to be PROTECTED speech.

    I am sorry to be so blunt, but the discussion of whether libraries ought to be responsible for enforcing age restrictions is a matter of opinion, about which we can argue; the discussion of what the First Amendment protects and prohibits and what current case law says is a matter of fact, about which your understanding is wrong.

    The First Amendment, in general, is not based on the idea of classes of “protected valuable speech” and “unprotected or obscene speech.” As Johanna says, all speech except speech leading to direct physical harm (the “Fire!” in a crowded theater rule) is protected; over the past fifty or so years, the Court has in fact steadily eroded the exceptions previously granted for reasons of “obscenity” as violations of both free expression and of the Fourth Amendment guarantee of the right of persons to be secure in their persons and property. (This is historically related to the Court’s rejection of the Comstock Laws, which made it illegal to transmit information about birth control through the US mail; the arrests of women’s rights’ activists for passing on this information made the issue a matter of concern regarding both the First and Fourth Amendments. If you are interested in following up what I say, you’ll probably find information listed under both Anthony Comstock and Margaret Sanger.)

    That said, you’re also wrong about the First Amendment requiring libraries to stock protected books. Public libraries are free to choose their own selections. What makes this is a First Amendment issue is that the book was stocked and then pulled–which is the dictionary definition of censorship. Now, the First Amendment technically only applies to the actions of the federal government. The California State Constitution also protects freedom of speech, however, and if public libraries are considered a branch of the state government, this case may fall under that. The state clearly prohibits *laws* limiting free expression, but the state official in this case circumvented this by taking extra-legal action. Friends of the library might have a case based on the clear violation of the spirit of the law if not the letter, though.

  15. [...] In a timely followup on the manga censorship controversy, Mely provides more information on the banned book itself. The most recommended books are still, I think, Frederik Schodt’s introductions, Manga! Manga! and Dreamland Japan; they’re valuable, but they are also, respectively, twenty and ten years old. [… Gravett’s book] is carefully researched, insofar as I can judge without access to the primary sources; it is engagingly written; it is so comprehensive it could serve as a primer for beginners and a coursebook for experts. This isn’t a disposable cash-in book on a popular topic; it’s a model of popular scholarship. [...]

  16. [...] Not wishing to repeat the details here, I direct readers to stories here and commentary here and here. [...]

  17. [...] The Beat Boing Boing Bookseller Chick Booksquare Christopher Butcher Comics Worth Reading, where Johanna nails it: Like most politicians, he reveals himself to be a complete hypocrite. “The councilman was quick to say he does not believe in censorship of books, but was also clear to point out the need to protect underage library members from explicit content.” Having the book removed IS censorship, dweeb. [...]

  18. I must first denote that I have never read said book and therefore my opinion may not have validity to you. But concerning censorship in any forms, I consider the library a home of intellectuals. This is a place to shelve knowledge concerning all aspects of the universe whether trivial or neccessary and in doing so it is only right to show evrything contain therein that universe. To pinpoint certain things that surely do exist (e.g. sex, violence, drugs and spirituality that deviates from the societal norm) and consider them “bad” while another “good” is simply ridiculous when they are not being judged empathetically, with awareness of where it stands in deviation to society and why. This mother was obviously not worldly, and no one should judge this piece should be censored in such a way considering the maturity of the child who checked out the book. To be sixteen and have not already seen such images is to have been shelled in your whole life. Of course, the mother sounds like that type of woman.

  19. The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to San Bernardono County Supervisor insisting that the book should be returned to library shelves.

  20. [...] Following up the story of a valuable manga reference book being censored, [...]

  21. The following has some “offensive/obscene” commentary but I only speak what I’ve read:

    Nothing surprises me anymore with what happens in the good ol’ US of A. With the Patriot ACT stripping us slowly of our civil rights and making the Constitution wish it had never been born, it’s good to know that we have our own fanatics in the name of religion here.
    Hasn’t this “devout” Christian REALLY read her Good Book?: the maimings, the mutilations, guys getting their guts splattered on more than one occasion, a woman being eaten by stray dogs after she’s thrown out of a window (Jezebel)? A guy struck dead because he *ej*culated* outside his woman? Yes! It’s all in there!
    This reminds me of a story I read with ElfQuest (r) creator/artist Wendy Pini: a woman had mailed her pages torn out of her son’s comic. The pages were two elf women friends dancing naked, and yet, this woman DID NOT mail the pages of a very brutal and violent battle between the elves and the trolls (I’ve read these comics so I know what I’m talking about). For every Harry Potter hater (Rowling has commented she believes in G-d), and for all these so-called “devoutly ignorant” people that make me feel violent to want to strangle them, there is the ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ wannabes that NEVER READ ENOUGH to make a good cause. I’ve ranted enough. Let’s sit back and wait for the next idiot to step up to the plate.

  22. that poor poor kid. its not just that he cant read that book anymore, which yeah myabe he shouldnt have, but probably all manga will be off limits to him now. thats no way to live! and hes sixteen hes gonna be having to deal with sex at some point tho matbe no whats as disturbing as in that book but ive read alot of western novels that had some gruesome stuff in it too. i can think if one that my teacher gave me in 9th grade that had tons of sex, drugs and murder. its really not anybodies business to tell anybody what to read unless its the paarent and there underage! but u no most parents hav absolutely no idea what goes on in manga! they think its all just silly comics and there all the same as pokemon! i could bring hardcore yaoi into the house and my mom would be none the wiser. i dont bring it into the house tho the most that i own like that is loveless and its nothing…but yeah if i were that kid id be royally pissed that my mom was stopping me from getting into anime. its one of the things that can really give a person a chance to let out some steam and express themseles. ppl who like anime and manga can actually let themselves ingulge and just be weird sometimes without fearing public embrassement

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