So it goes: Vonnegut gets banned in small-town Missouri, Vonnegut library sticks it to 'em
If you thought banning books on the basis that they fail to fall in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ was a thing of the past, then consider yourself unstuck in time: A couple of weeks ago, a school board in Republic, MO, voted to remove copies of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five -- literary favorite of every 14-year-old whose mind it's ever blown -- from its libraries, at the urging of local University of Missouri professor and humorless turd Wesley Scroggins, whose very name makes him sound like an asshole. Seems Scroggins took offense to the book's crude language and portrayal of the Lord. And while it's somewhat shocking that a university professor could be so intellectually repressive, what's more shocking is that the school board went along with it. Unanimously.
Though the school board cited its reasoning for the ban as concern that the content of Slaughterhouse-Five, a book that has been ranked on several prestigious lists as one of the best 100 books of the 20th century, was too adult for high-schoolers, the fact that it apparently didn't think of it until then pretty strongly suggests the influence of Scroggins, who had penned a number of angry letters to the local paper trumpeting the ban. (Incidentally, Scroggins, who tried and failed to run for the board of education in Republic in 2008, home schools his kids.) "This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame," he decreed. "The 'f word' is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ." He also complained that the book creates "false conceptions of American history and government or that teach principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth."
That's actually not an uncommon complaint about Slaughterhouse-Five, which, besides appearing on many lists of best books, also appears on many lists of frequently challenged books -- it was even burned in North Dakota in 1973. And indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court does give public schools a lot of leeway as to what they choose to stock on their shelves; it's less sympathetic, however, to a school's possible reasoning for removing books from shelves. In the pivotal case on book banning, Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982, Justice William Brennan offers the majority opinion: "In brief, we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'"
So it's some pretty shaky legal ground the Republic district is standing on with the ban, and here's hoping it gets challenged. In the meantime, though, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis is making sure no student is deprived of his or her prerogative to read Slaughterhouse-Five for free: In a statement issued on its website, the Library is offering a free copy of the book to any Republic student who cares to ask for it. On a related note, the KVML is a little short funds right now, so if you could help them out with this, that would really be appreciated.
And while it's pretty sad that book-banning has to happen in the first place, Vonnegut himself would be unsurprised by its inevitability: "The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful," he observed in 2003, and that goes for his writing, too. Can't understand it? Ban it. So it goes.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.